She gives Cheryl Cole both barrels and opens up about bulimia, loneliness and crippling shyness. X Factor’s Nicole Scherzinger lets us into her world
Photography by Mark Hayman
There can’t be many people who’ve managed to turn public opinion on its head quite as dramatically as Nicole “Schamazing” Scherzinger.
Announced in June as the newest X Factor judge to a collective chorus of WT actual F?, she’s won viewers over with gobbledygook, wit and warmth.
“People were just too soon to criticise,” she says. “But stuff like that only adds fuel to my fire.”
Has it been satisfying proving her doubters wrong?
“It’s not so much satisfying, because I don’t ever do anything vindictively. I just always want to let my work speak for itself. My experience, my expertise, my passion.”
A world away from the anodyne, saccharine all-American bore most people were expecting, Nicole’s musings have been a breath of fresh air compared to the old clichés we grew tired of sometime around 2005.
Never afraid to send herself up in the name of entertainment (she’s been down the pub eating pork scratchings with James Arthur, at a vajazzle salon with Rylan, and has even taken a trip to Asda with Jahmene where she gamely donned their black and green uniform), she’s the judge we all want to hear from. And with her growing repertoire of Scherzisms, she is single-handedly making Saturday nights worth staying in for. From the so solemn: “No, baby, no,” about District 3, to her neat description of a Jahmene performance (“jah-mazing”), we’ve fallen a little bit in love with the 34-year-old former Pussycat Doll. And frankly, she surpassed herself with the advent of “schamazeballs” a few weeks ago.
“Yeah,” she nods sagely. “I was quite pleased with that one. Sometimes I’m in the house cooking or cleaning and I’ll think of one and say: ‘Oh my God, this is brilliant, if the right moment arises, I’m totally using this!’
“I’m just finding more creative, fun ways to critique people as opposed to the same words everybody’s been using for nine years. Let’s have fun, let’s get creative!
“Everybody knows what schamazeballs means. You’ve never heard of it, but you know the feeling behind it, right?”
However, if we were expecting Nicole the kooky, confident sass-bucket off of the tellybox to turn up at our cover shoot then… oh, woes. Away from the cameras, Nic is far more serious, quiet and shy. She hugs her knees tightly throughout the interview, like a barrier. She speaks thoughtfully, and rarely gives a glimpse of her trademark chutzpah.
Apart from, that is, when the topic of Cheryl Cole’s less-than-complimentary descriptions of Nicole temporarily raises the Scherzinger hackles. In her autobiography, Cheryl accused Nicole of pitching to Simon Cowell for her judging-panel job on The X Factor in America.
But even more bizarre was the Girls Aloud star’s claim that the first time they met, Nicole launched into a full rendition of Cheryl’s No.1 single Promise This. It was, she said, embarrassing.
“I swear to God the woman sang the whole song, to my face,” wrote Cheryl in Cheryl: My Story. “It was just so awkward, and every time I stood next to her she started singing it again.”
“What I read didn’t seem like it was written to make me look very well. But I never know what to believe.
“I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that she would only have spoken highly of me because I’ve not spoken poorly of her.”
But the quotes were in Cheryl’s book. You don’t get more horse’s mouth than that.
“I haven’t read the book, but the quotes that I have seen…”
And then something in Nicole seems to snap.
“No,” she says defiantly. “No. The story is I met her once at The X Factor and I wanted to make her feel good. I said I’d heard her song on the radio and I think I sang the words ‘promise this’. But I really don’t know any lyrics after that.
“And then that is made out to be something else and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why anybody would do that. It’s been blown out of proportion and it’s silly.”
Nicole is now probably as close to angry as she’d ever allow herself to become in public. She narrows her eyes and talks as if addressing Cheryl directly.
“I’m a very nice girl. So, be nice to me. I’m a credible artist. A very credible artist. I’ve sold a lot of albums in-ter-nation-ally. And that is the key word.”
Wow. And that, we guess, is Cheryl Cole well and truly told.
For the most part though, like a true professional, Nicole saves her best performance for where it counts – in front of the camera. As soon as our photographer starts shooting, she transforms from meek into wild, throwing eye-popping shapes like they’re going out of fashion.
She admits that away from the spotlight, she’s an introvert, preferring her own company to socialising.
“I’m a very private person and only have a handful of friends,” she says. “I get very shy if I have to go to an event or walk a red carpet and be around a lot of people. It takes me a while to come out of my shell. I’m a loner – in the Dolls, when I was in college, always a loner. I think it’s because I’m always in work mode with a million things in my head. It’s just how I was made. It’s got me to where I am today.”
There’s no doubting the fierce ambition that has propelled Nicole out of her humble beginnings in Hawaii to global superstardom. But it also drove her to an eating disorder. For years while in the Pussycat Dolls, Nicole was making herself sick on a daily basis.
“I guess we all have a darker side and maybe ghosts that we can’t escape,” she says. “Everybody has their insecurities, vices. For me it was a way of feeling in control as well as a way to keep my weight down. I’d think: ‘That’s going to make me better, make me look better and I’m going to go further.’ It’s not healthy and whatever I did, it was never enough.
“I was in such an unhealthy state. It’s even hard for me to think or talk about. I just can’t. It’s a really ugly picture, a really dark, sad, ugly picture and I never want to feel that way again.
“I think women and girls growing up, we beat ourselves up. We’re just so hard on ourselves.” She got through that time with the help of counselling.
“Lots of therapy. A lot of work on myself. And once I got a hold of this thing called ‘taking a vacation’ once in a while, watching a film here and there and eating what I want when I want, I was like: ‘So this is the good life, I’m kind of liking this.’
“I just want to encourage other people to find a way out. Put that nervous anxiety into something else as opposed to hurting yourself. There’s a better way to live life. I’m a different person. It doesn’t mean I don’t cry or hurt. But I’m stronger.”
Keeping the spark
Her relationship with British F1 driver Lewis Hamilton (who she refers to as “my boyfriend”, never by his name) has, she says, helped to heal her. After four years together, the passion is still there.
“Yeah and I think it’s amazing after four years. You’ve to [keep the passion], right? You’ve got to try, you’ve got to work at it. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Our time is precious so we enjoy every moment.”
She pauses and looks momentarily very sad.
“I don’t know, distance is hard on a relationship. It just is.”
Lewis, 27, and Nicole met at the 2007 MTV Europe Awards, where he said how beautiful she was, adding: “Can you feel the heat, man?” Nicole shrieks at the mention of it.
“That’s the cheesiest line ever. That is not cool, buddy! He did a number on me back then because ever since that night we kept in touch and remained friends until I went to the Monaco Grand Prix, and… the rest is history.”
When they first got together Nicole was very much “Lewis Hamilton’s girlfriend”. Since then, it might be fair to say that her fame has eclipsed his.
“It’s just as equal I think, now. But when we go out I still always hear people saying: ‘It’s our nation’s hero!’” Really? “He’s very well respected here, as he should be.”
When asked about their temporary split in 2010, Nicole shifts in her seat and glances over at her publicist. It looks like we might be on borrowed time as far as Lewis is concerned.
“I think that in relationships if people separate, it’s good to take time apart to grow as people. The best relationships are when both of the people are whole, not with holes in them.”
A Scherzism! Hurrah!
“So you can take time, but you’ve always got to come back stronger. Always.” And then, as predicted, it is decreed that the topic of Lewis is closed.
Of course, the relationship is a prime example of the sacrifices Nicole has made in the name of success. She’s missed countless family occasions while chasing fame with the Dolls and later due to her blossoming career as a solo artist.
“I’ve missed all my mom, my dad and sister’s birthdays,” she says. “My sister moved her wedding for me three times. My mother had to go to hospital a while back and have some work done on her heart and I couldn’t go because I was working.
“My grandma passed away recently and I had to say goodbye, so I flew back to Kentucky for the day of the funeral and flew right back to make sure I didn’t miss The X Factor.
“When you’re successful in this business it’s a machine, it’s a monster and you’ve got to keep up. Everybody who’s gotten anywhere has had to make sacrifices. And sometimes you lose yourself, you lose relationships. I don’t know how many times my poor friends… I don’t think they know who I am any more! Thank God for Skype.”
She’s relying on that more than ever at the moment. Despite initial homesickness, Nicole reveals she’s embracing Britishness.
“I came here not knowing anyone except for my boyfriend’s family. I left everything: my home, my friends. And the first week was scary, moving into a new place and cooking noodles and rice every night felt like I’d gone back to college and was stuck in my dorm.
“But once I got past the first show and didn’t fall flat on my face, I felt more at ease. And then I went to some events and had a warm welcome and it gave me more confidence.
“I’ve been really blessed to find a group of people around me – my glam team, my publicist, my assistant, my new family. And then I made new friends here as well and it’s really nice.”
She’s also had a chance to do the tourist thing.
“After that first or second week, my boyfriend came over and we had a sightseeing day. We went to My Old Dutch pancake house and I just love, love, love it there. And then we went to the zoo! It was raining but we still had a good time. And we went to the arcade by the London Eye.
“I really like the people’s sense of humour here. I feel like there’s a lot of heart, people are so compassionate. I just feel that I’m creating my own little home.”
She’s not even put off by the weather… much.
“It’s very changeable,” she says diplomatically, “but I’ve kind of just embraced it and said this is the ‘charm’.”
She glances out of the window at the driving rain.
“Like, this is the sort of day to sit down and cosy up and,” – she adopts a plummy English accent – “read Ernest Hemingway with a cup of builders’ tea.”
Nicole says she feels more able to be herself here than she did during her stint on The X Factor in America.
“Here I can be a little bit cheekier and a little bit more free and fun. It’s just about having a right old laugh. It’s been a new start for me and I kind of let go. I think that the British people really take well to a good sense of humour, so I think I’m just pushing it more.”
A lot of people forget it was Nicole who (while filling in for the malaria-stricken Cheryl two series ago) had the foresight at boot camp to take five boys auditioning as solo artists and put them together as a group. They became One Direction.
“I know!” she cries. “Simon Cowell forgets that too, or he’s trying to forget that. I think they said the footage of me suggesting it mysteriously disappeared!
“I just thought: ‘Wow, these boys!’ None of them were strong enough to make it through, but they’d make a killer group. All the girls are going to want to see these guys in a band together. And look at what they’ve done.
“I’m just really sad that I don’t have a piece of it!”
Nicole will be releasing her second solo album in 2013 (it’s been on hold until The X Factor finishes), and describes herself as “raring to go” with the new material. But for now she’s not looking any further ahead than tonight’s grand final where she’s hoping one of her boys will be crowned the winner. During the series she’s formed strong bonds with Jahmene, James and the polarising-but-hilarious Rylan.
“I care deeply for them. I’ve got to know them so well, I believe in them and I see big things for all of them. They’re like my little brothers. And oh gosh, Rylan and I have got to stick together. He is going to be my tanning and shopping buddy!”
Was there any other contestant she’d have liked to have mentored? “Ella,” she replies in a heartbeat.
“I wanted the girls because of Ella Henderson. I think Tulisa did a great job with her but I would’ve maybe just had her sing more Motown, some soulful tunes to really show off her voice. But Ella’s going to be fine – she was born with it.”
Once the X Factor madness has died down, Nicole will be going to the US for a family Christmas. Lewis will be there too.
“I’m either going to be in Colorado or Hawaii with my boyfriend. Because my whole life is being out in public.
“You really cherish that time without always making it a big event. And so much of my life is an event.”
- Watch The X Factor Final tonight, ITV1, 8pm.