In her most revealing interview since her divorce from husband Jamie, Louise Redknapp tells YOU’s editor Jo Elvin the real reason why she had to walk away from her marriage.
Louise Redknapp’s nearest and dearest know she’s in a dark place when they find her at home, curled up on the couch wearing… The Cardigan. It’s multicoloured, with big threads hanging off and reaching past her knees. ‘It’s called the man-repeller,’ she laughs. ‘The kids go, “Mum, you’re wearing The Cardigan. You all right?”’
I’d hazard a guess that The Cardigan’s taken a pounding over the past 18 months. Because, in reviewing the recent dramatic events of Louise’s life, it’s hard to know where to begin. When she split her chin open mere days before she was set to star in 9 to 5 The Musical – the West End version of the film, with music by Dolly Parton – the man-repeller went on and didn’t come off for nearly a week. But more on that later.
Happily, today it’s spray-on grey skinny jeans and a killer pair of Céline ankle boots. Her leather baseball jacket is oversized, but fashionably so. We’re at Louise’s record label HQ to discuss her brand new music. A single, ‘Stretch’, will be the first from the album due later in the year. She’s co-written all of the songs, her first foray back into the charts since her solo success in the 1990s and early 2000s. At 44, she’s the same doe-eyed, honey-skinned beauty she’s always been. The only visible clue that she’s aged is when she prises herself off the couch to hug me and winces; everything aches following yesterday’s music video shoot for ‘Stretch’.
After nearly two decades away from pop, no one is more surprised about her 2019 comeback than she is. And she’s clearly excited. But the bittersweet reality is that Louise’s career rebirth has only been made possible because life as she knew it, for 20-plus years, has been irrevocably shattered. She’s been to hell and back. And got the cardigan.
I’ll attempt a simple recap.
It was 2016 when Louise agreed to strap on those Strictly Come Dancing shoes. As fate would have it, I was working with her the day before she started rehearsals and I remember her talking a lot about having been a stay-at-home mum for quite long enough. ‘It’s about time that I got to do something just for me again,’ she told me.
Back then, her relationship seemed the least likely candidate to fall victim to the fabled ‘Strictly curse’. Her marriage to Jamie Redknapp was a 90s fairytale. When they met, she was Louise Nurding, the undisputed ‘hot one’ in the platinum-selling girl group Eternal. Jamie wasn’t as famous, but the boyishly handsome footballer was a rising star. They were introduced by Robbie Williams and, from the beginning, their marriage had a quality that eludes most celebrity unions: authenticity. Sure, they did the flash footballer thing of having a lavish wedding in Bermuda in 1998. But it was notable for its lack of famous guests and its absence from the pages of Hello! magazine.
Children soon followed, at a time when Louise’s solo career was at its peak. She walked away from it all to raise her sons Charley, now 14, and Beau, now ten. She and Jamie generally shunned the red-carpet circus in favour of Surrey-based domesticity. In more than 20 years, their marriage didn’t give off even a whiff of scandal. The odd TV stint aside, Louise bowed – apparently happily – from the spotlight, while Jamie’s career thrived, first on the pitch and then on TV with shows such as A League of Their Own.
Which is probably why Louise got such a pasting in the tabloids almost as soon as she started working on Strictly. Lips were pursed as headline after headline tutted about her ‘abandoning’ her husband and kids for wild nights out with people ‘half her age’. There were even rumours that her relationship with a fellow Strictly contestant, the model Daisy Lowe, was not platonic.
‘I did go out more than I’d ever gone out,’ Louise says now. ‘I’d found a bit of a spark. I was enjoying myself. I guess I’d always been such a perfectly well-behaved pop star, and then I got married, had children and kept myself away from playing the game. But I remember reading headlines like, “Louise, out on the town, drunk again” when I knew I’d been home at 9.30pm, sitting with my son having a bowl of Frosties.’
Whatever the fact or fiction – although Louise makes a point of telling me, with an eye-roll and a belly laugh, that ‘Daisy Lowe was not my girlfriend at any time throughout Strictly!’ – by her own admission, ‘Strictly switched a light back on.’
It seems it also very firmly switched off a light on her marriage of nearly 21 years. In an interview last year, Louise admitted to feeling as though she’d ‘spent most of my life pleasing everyone else, and thinking I should always do the right thing by staying at home, looking after my kids and my husband. I lost myself.’
Strictly reopened the door to new opportunities and she was no longer happy to turn her back on them. She won’t give blow-by-blow details on the reasons behind her marriage collapse, but I think I’m safe in guessing that her renewed ambitions played a big part. ‘Who gets a second chance, you know?’ she asks. ‘I just didn’t think it would ever happen for me. I am pleased I did Strictly, because without it I think I wouldn’t have had the courage. Any woman who’s hit her 40s will understand that.
‘But I don’t blame Jamie. I wish, three years ago, I’d been able to just speak up. For a long time it was easy to blame him. But actually, in the past six months, I’ve thought, you know what, it was down to me to say, “Something’s not right. My self-esteem is really struggling. I’ve got no passion. I love my kids more than anything in the world. I love what I do, too, and I haven’t quite got the guts to go out and try to do it again.” I just didn’t speak up. I don’t blame anyone else for that. I wish I’d just gone, “Right, the kids are getting older, and I love my job and I’m going to give it a real go, and Jamie, if you don’t like it, tough. But if you do like it, let’s talk about it.”’
Earlier this year, YOU featured a photo shoot and interview with Jamie’s parents, Harry and Sandra Redknapp. Married for 51 years, they still carry on like hormonal teenagers in each other’s company. It seems to me, I say, that Jamie grew up in a very traditional household, where the dad who worked and the mum who stayed home was the unquestioned model of a marriage. That, I venture, must have felt like a lot to live up to?
‘Well, yes, you feel a bit of a failure,’ she says. ‘For 21 years, I was in a secure marriage. You know, through good times and bad times. Alot of those 21 years were incredible. And there were moments in those 21 years when I was sad. Not due to Jamie. Most of it due to me.’
When the couple finally did announce their separation in late 2017, they both kept a dignified silence but Louise found that that, too, carries a price. ‘The hardest thing to read about myself was that I’d walked out on my children,’ she says, and the tears are welling now. ‘I promise you, Jo, I got up that morning when that was in the papers and I wanted to stand on the top of wherever and yell, “Do you think I would walk out on my kids?!” Those boys are my everything. It was like watching somebody else’s life unfold in front of me.’
The most recent rumours have Louise and Jamie getting back together, and while that’s wide of the mark, things are better.
‘I have to say, Jamie’s an amazing dad. And when it comes to our kids we’re both completely on the same page. I hear so many people going, “My husband won’t have the kids.” Jamie’s the complete opposite. I actually phoned him earlier and said, “Can I have Beau-Beau tonight, because I’m home a bit earlier?” and he said, “Oh, I was going to get him.” And I’m, like, “Oh, can you do it tomorrow? I’ve got him steak and chips tonight and it’s his favourite” and Jamie’s, like, “Oh, OK.” We actually both want them all the time.’
When Louise last released an album, 2000’s Elbow Beach, she was every teen boy’s fantasy. Now she is the mother of a teenage boy and the signs are already there that pop life and mum life could be an awkward mix. Charley has banned her from watching his cricket matches; the older boys were enjoying making him cringe, banging on about how they fancy her. ‘He says I can come to rugby in winter, when I wear a Puffa jacket and hat,’ she laughs.
I dread to think what he’ll make of the music video she’s just been telling me about. She’s not wearing a Puffa jacket in it, that’s for sure. She roars laughing, and recalls the conversation they had, one the Louise of 20 years ago might have had with her dad.
‘Charley phoned me from school yesterday and asked how the video was going. I said… “Um… I’m currently wearing a leotard” and he said, “I’m just not going to look at it!” I said, “Chas, you’re going to have to understand, this is the pop world.”
‘It is quite sexy,’ she says sheepishly. ‘Not, you know, “boobs out” sexy, but real, empowering for women my age. People have probably been expecting the heartbroken song. I didn’t want to be that predictable. So I’ve gone sexy and funky for the first single back. I want people to say, “Oh, it’s not what we expected.”’
It’s customary to mine a singer’s music for clues about their private life, and the track called ‘Breaking Back Together’ will no doubt fuel speculation that it’s about Jamie.
‘Ah, but when you really listen to it, that song was everything my mum and close girlfriends said to me during such a hard time. There are lines in it my mum would say to me in the morning, like, “I’m not going to lie, it’s going to hurt, but you’ll break and you’ll get yourself back together.”’
Is she there yet? Back together? Yes and no. ‘I’m really scared,’ she says matter-of-factly, with a shrug. ‘I’m scared about the future. Jamie and I have got to a really positive place with each other. But I don’t know what life is going to be like. I’m nervous about work and career and all those things, because I’m not young. And people are judgmental. The music industry has changed so much. I’m just now trying to understand, you know, iTunes and Spotify. It would be really nice for the music to do well enough to be able to do a tour next year. I hope people are going to like it but I’m well aware that it doesn’t always work out. So I’m just going to give it what I’ve got. I never thought this would be an option for me.’
And as for second chances at love? Has she given Tinder a crack? ‘No way am I ever going anywhere near that,’ she says with a shudder. ‘Could you imagine? My two younger brothers are on Tinder and they have a horrific time! They get blown out, they don’t get replies. I don’t know, I haven’t crossed that bridge yet. I think if I met the right person, but… I think I have issues. I’m quite reserved. I’m not that person on the dancefloor, flirting with all the men. I’m more likely to go and sit in the corner.’
I find it hard to believe that the once crowned ‘sexiest woman of the decade’ (in 2004 by lads’ magazine FHM) could feel this way, but she insists, ‘I’ve been single for a year and a half now and no one is ringing me up asking me for a date. That’s all I’m saying. But who knows? At the moment, I just don’t know if that’s ever going to happen. What I will say is, if it happens, I’m going to be honest and open and embrace it. But my kids get the last say.’
It’s hard to imagine where she’d find time to date right now, anyway. She’s a mum of two, after all, and as well as her new music, she’s finally returned, just this week, to her starring role in 9 to 5. It seemed she really couldn’t catch a break when, during January rehearsals, she took a tumble down the stairs of her new house, landing chin-first on concrete.
‘My mum came running out of the house and started crying,’ she says. ‘She thought someone had slashed me. I was covered in blood.’ Ten stitches later, with a broken wrist to boot, she – incredibly – ploughed on to rehearsals. But by the next day it was badly infected and she couldn’t move her mouth at all, effectively putting her out of action for weeks. She put on the man-repeller cardigan and cried for two days.
I wonder if, with everything she’s been through, is Louise happy? Happier than a year ago?
‘Yes, I’m happy. I’m really happy. I’m scared. I’m scared happy. I’ve definitely learnt that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. And you know what? I’m excited again. That’s something that’s really lovely because I’d forgotten what it felt like to be super-excited about things you’re doing.’
Something tells me Louise won’t let herself forget that again any time soon.
Louise’s new single ‘Stretch’ is out now. She is starring in 9 to 5 The Musical at the Savoy Theatre, London WC2, until 29 June; 9to5themusical.co.uk