From a very public divorce to overcoming crippling self-doubt, the past few years haven’t been easy for LOUISE REDKNAPP. But, as she tells Cole Moreton, her struggles have made her stronger, wiser – and ready to take on the world.
At the start of her new book, Louise Redknapp says, ‘I don’t want to hide any more,’ and when we meet in person I soon realise she’s really not kidding. ‘I knew this would only work if I was absolutely honest.’
The pop star and TV presenter has made it a rule to never say anything much about her private life over the years, but smashes that completely with You’ve Got This: And Other Things I Wish I Had Known.
Frank, funny and inspiring, her book also reveals hidden struggles with self-doubt, body image and depression. She talks for the first time about a secret childhood trauma that still haunts the way she parents her sons Charley and Beau: ‘I am a paranoid mum.’
And Louise describes the end of her marriage to the former England footballer Jamie Redknapp in 2017, when the sorrow was so overwhelming that only the thought of the boys stopped her from taking her life.
‘I sank to my knees, crouched down by the radiator and sobbed and sobbed. That was the first time I ever wondered whether I would be better off not being here.’ She was serious, the book says.
‘I would be standing in Central London, watching the buses whiz past and I would wonder whether it would be easier for a bus to take me out. All it would take was for me to step out at the wrong moment and it would all be over.’
Writing that down is one thing, but talking about it in person is quite another. I have to ask, was she really going to do it? ‘I think so, for a split second. But I’ve got two little men I know need me more than anything. That’s where my selfishness stops – when it comes to them.’ The boys were 12 and eight at the time. ‘For a split second I was, like, “I would really like this all to go away.” But I remember looking at Selfridges and the buses and being, like, “God, I’ve got two people that need me, and they’re the loves of my life, so…”’
She turned away. ‘They’re the only thing that kept me going. Them and my mum.’
She’s not saying that leaving Jamie was the wrong thing to do, only that making the change was huge and hard. ‘I really took the wind out of myself. I feel like I lost a year of my life – like I almost can’t remember some of it.’
Louise tugs fretfully at the sleeve of her comfy grey hoodie and grimaces. ‘I’m really scared. Do you think people are going to be unkind because I’ve been so honest?’ But more people will be encouraged by You’ve Got This, because there is wit and warmth in its pages as well as wisdom, each chapter ending with lessons she has learnt over the years. Speak up for yourself and follow your heart are among them. ‘I would say to anyone reading this, have the confidence to do what you love. If I had my time again, I would throw caution to the wind and make the absolute most of it all,’ she says keenly. ‘I would be really confident in my own thoughts and decisions rather than second-guessing and giving other people so much power. Just own my own moment.’
Still, there’s no doubt her candour will shock those who have long seen her as – in her own words – nice, safe and silent. ‘My really bad time came after the divorce,’ she tells me. ‘Before that, I just kept a real lid on everything. I felt I had no right to have issues, because I had a wonderful life. I felt embarrassed to open up and go, “Guys, I don’t feel very good right now. I’m really struggling with myself.”’
Looking back, the book reveals, there were clues to the crisis inside her. She’s already tiny but Louise lost so much weight for a TV show called The Truth About Size Zero in 2007 that doctors pleaded with her to stop. She became addicted to the feeling of control that not eating gave her: ‘For a time, I could see how easy it would be to slip into having an eating disorder.’
So was it that she didn’t speak up about her struggles or that those around her didn’t hear? ‘Probably a bit of both. I suppose I was just waiting for someone [to intervene]. My mum would sometimes go: “I’m worried about you.”’ She frowns and changes tack: ‘I wasn’t unhappy all the way through. I really want to point out that I had an amazing marriage. Jamie was like my best friend.’ But saying that brings up deep emotions. ‘You’re going to make me sad…’ Her voice tails off and there are tears in her eyes so I ask if she’d like to stop recording. ‘Yeah, just for a second.’
I feel for her. While she’s taking a moment, I think about what the book reveals of her early life in South London, where she was born 46 years ago: ‘I never knew my father. He walked out of my life before I was born and I’ve always been OK with that.’ She did turn down the chance to meet him through an aunt. ‘I never wanted to create heartache for his family or for my mum.’
One set of grandparents ran a pub in Lewisham, her other grandfather was a market trader. ‘Mum worked hard to survive and get me everything I needed and I’ll be forever in awe of her.’
When she was seven years old the family went to Spain on holiday and something happened that still haunts her now, the book says: ‘I was playing on my own and my mum, nana and grandad were eating dinner nearby. A man drove up to me in his car and, rolling down the window, asked me if I wanted to see some kittens. He told me to get in the back. I knew something wasn’t quite right, so I said no and ran away as fast as I could in my flip-flops back to my family.’ Her grandfather – ‘a big man with arms full of tattoos’ – hoisted her up on to his shoulders and set off to find the man who had tried to kidnap her, but he was long gone. ‘I’ve always been nervous about my own children ever having a similar experience.’
Louise was 15 when she was spotted dancing in a nightclub by the manager who put together the band Eternal. They were massive in the early 1990s, and Louise had her own very successful solo career afterwards. Robbie Williams introduced her to the footballer Jamie Redknapp, who was playing for Liverpool and England, and they married in Bermuda in 1998.
‘It was probably at this point that my insecurities about not being good enough started to spiral. Everywhere we went, glamorous and gorgeous women tried to get Jamie’s attention,’ she writes. ‘They would sidle over to him in clubs, flicking their hair, all dolled up in their heels and tight dresses. It was like I was invisible to these women – or maybe they just didn’t care. Either way, I started to feel even less confident in myself and what I had to offer Jamie.’
It’s worth saying Louise was as famous – and as famously desirable – as her husband at this point. She’d sold millions of records both with Eternal and as a solo artist and been on the cover of countless magazines. FHM would name her the Sexiest Woman of the Decade. But that didn’t help the way she felt about her body, says Louise, who is ready to talk again. ‘Even though it’s you getting those awards, you know what goes into those shoots. There’s a lot of people making you look that good. That’s not real – I don’t actually look like that. I am just a normal woman and I look very normal.’
The contrast between the glamorous images and the reality she saw in the morning knocked her back. ‘I suppose you start questioning everything about yourself and start to not feel good enough in your life.’
Then there were the other kind of photographers who staked out her house or drove her off the beach on holiday, leaving mental scars. ‘Whenever there are paps around, I panic. It means I can never truly relax in a public space, and that is not easy.’
Louise was told she might never have children because of endometriosis, but after two operations she had Charley in 2004. Beau followed four years later.
Louise started making regular TV appearances, and became a permanent presenter on the BBC’s Something for the Weekend in 2010, alongside Tim Lovejoy, and was a judge on So You Think You Can Dance. The Redknapps seemed like a couple with everything, but the book sums up what was going on under the surface: ‘For a long time, I ticked all the boxes of being the “picture-perfect” wife. I smiled and said the right things at the right times and tried very hard to maintain that image and make everyone else happy. The truth? For a lot of that time, I actually felt lonely, anxious and unimportant.’
She loved being a mum but began to feel the loss of her old life. ‘You get a bit scared going into your 40s, especially as a performer and as somebody who has not done what they love doing for a long time. A little bit of panic hits you.’
Jamie by now was emerging as a TV star himself, with shows such as A League of Their Own. ‘Yeah, my job! Although I was so pleased for him, it was a constant reminder that I wasn’t doing that any more. I was the one just putting stuff in the oven, waiting for someone else to come home from the job I wished I was doing.’ She sighs. ‘And I think it did really take its toll.’
What does she mean? ‘I completely lost myself. I don’t want to place blame, it wasn’t anybody else’s fault. I very much made my husband and my children the most important thing in my life. Anyone who knows me well would say that’s my nature: to love and give. But it got to a stage where I really did need to do something.’
What happened next was as much as a shock to her as it was to everyone else, she says. Louise went on Strictly Come Dancing in 2016 after years out of the limelight and was sensational. She nearly won. ‘I had a spring in my step. I just thought: “God, I’m all right. I look better, I feel better, I’m good at what I do, the audiences are voting for me.” I was super-grateful. And for the first time in a really long time, I loved myself.’
This being Strictly, rumours of the shows ‘curse’ emerged, something Louise is quick to squash; ‘I could have had any [dance] partner, there’s a sense of falseness. It’s not real. Once the show finishes, you move on. You go: “OK, we weren’t that good friends!” So, no. I don’t often say much because I don’t want to draw attention to it, I just think it’s so ludicrous, this wasn’t about anyone else.’ The show was about her rediscovering herself, she says. ‘I was expecting to do it – go home and get back on the school run. I wasn’t expecting to go: “This is the Louise I used to be!” And the Louise she wanted to be again: a performer who would go on to take a starring role in the West End and make a new pop album. Did Jamie not want her to? ‘He never said the words: “You can’t go and do that.” You just know what the home requires. For whatever reason, I felt I couldn’t.’
So instead she surprised herself, within months of Strictly, by leaving him. ‘I didn’t want to lose so much of the good feeling. Before anyone could stop me, I just ran, as fast as the wind would take me. I never once looked behind, until maybe too late. I should have paused for a minute and thought about other people and had just a bit more time to work out why I felt I couldn’t do it any more.’ Could she have saved the marriage that way? ‘All I know is, I wish I’d tried.’
She’s very clear about this lesson learned. ‘I want to say to anybody who is thinking of running: “Just slow down. Don’t run.” Because once you run too fast, you can’t make up the ground you’ve lost. Stop, say what you need, say what you think, don’t be afraid to say what’s really going on. You don’t have to be quiet.’
She clearly has no regrets about reclaiming her career, though. ‘I don’t think I would have been in the West End or made a new album if I hadn’t maybe f***** things up. There’s a part of you that thrives on the fight, to make you what you are.’
How did Charley and Beau take the break-up? ‘The kids had a tough time, but as parents we did shield them from it all as much as possible. We’re both so totally for our children, Jamie and me.’
He is now with Frida Andersson-Lourie, a Swedish model ten years his junior. ‘I see him all the time, because he lives up the road. The kids are back and forth. My mum lives with me. It’s fine. It’s what I know. I’m used to it.’ Can they be mates? ‘I hope so. We’re getting there. It is tough. From my point of view, I don’t need bad feeling. I don’t need to argue or fight. But a lot of that needs to come from me, I get that.
I need to be the grown-up.’
She still calls herself Louise Redknapp, three years after the divorce. ‘People ask me about that a lot. First and foremost, my kids are Redknapps. I don’t want to turn up at a school function and have a different second name to my children. I’m proud. Those little things mean a lot to me.’ It goes much deeper than that, though. ‘Also, I’ve been a Redknapp longer than I’ve been anything else in my life. I was married to Jamie for longer than my time without him. So it’s really hard to… It’s like my last bit to cling on to.’ Her voice breaks and her eyes glisten again as she says quietly: ‘I feel like a Redknapp.’
Louise writes about how her own mates stood by her after the split but their joint friends as a couple all dropped her, with the exception of Jimmy Carr and his wife Karoline, who invited her to a party after the divorce. ‘I don’t even know if I responded because I was in such a bad, stressed way, but that invitation from Jimmy meant the world. I thought: “Not everyone hates me. Not everyone’s against me.”’
Did she go? ‘No, I couldn’t face it. But I was grateful for the invite.’ She gives another little nervous laugh. ‘Oh God, I’m going to get in so much trouble, aren’t I?’
Why does she fear that? ‘I hope I don’t make trouble with Jamie. I’m not horrible about him in any way, shape or form.’ No, she’s scrupulously fair to him in the book. ‘I think fairness is important. Another lesson I’ve learnt is that I can’t keep blaming other people. I can’t keep going, “You shouldn’t have done this, I should have been allowed to do that…” I’ve just got to look at myself and go, “Right. No more. Onwards and upwards.”’
And that includes dating, although for a while nobody asked her out. ‘It really scared me. I used to think: “I’m never going to be in a relationship or fall in love again.’’ Has she got someone now? ‘Not serious, no. But if I’m really honest, for the first time in my life I am happy with just being on my own. I felt the need to meet someone so I could know I was still likeable and fanciable, but looking back I wasn’t ready. I still had so much to sort out. I would have gone for completely inappropriate people, too young or too this or that.’
She’s more together now than she has been for years, and hopes other women who feel like they’ve lost themselves somewhere along the way will read her story and feel encouraged to reclaim their lives, come what may.
‘I was really lucky. I want people to know I realise that and I’m grateful. I want to celebrate what I’ve learnt. I also want to say: “I’ve got a long way to go.” I still have really crap days. I still cry really easily, but I’m aware of it. I’ve still got lots to learn. All I can say is, “I’m doing my best.”’
You’ve Got This: And Other Things I Wish I Had Known will be published on 4 March by Little, Brown, priced £16.99. To pre-order a copy for £14.44 until 7 March, go to mailshop.co.uk/ books or call 020 3308 9193. Free p&p on orders over £15