There has been no public heartbreak, no battle with booze, no unsavoury spats with fellow celebs. And so, for the most part, Kimberley, 31, has been able to slip under the radar, while quietly carving out a successful, mixed bag of a career away from multimillion-selling, Brit-award-winning Girls Aloud, with her sanity firmly intact.
“I’ve managed to come through the whole thing unscathed,” she nods. “It’s been relatively peaceful for me and I’ve been able to have a private life.”
She puts much of this down to the fact that she’s been in a solid relationship with Justin Scott, 30, the former Triple 8 singer, who has been a constant in her life for the last 10 years. While the often complex, exhausting love lives of bandmates Cheryl Cole and Sarah Harding have hogged the headlines, Kimberley and Justin have been happy to be largely ignored.
She says: “If you’re dating someone in the public eye, it’s hard but, because I never have, and I’ve been with Justin for such a long time, there’s no drama.
“The people I surround myself with are family, and friends I’ve known for years before this started. Most of my friends in London have moved down here from our hometown of Bradford for their jobs, and things are exactly the same.
“That’s my life. That’s who I spend my time with. I hate to say ‘normal’, but everyone I’m around has ‘normal’ jobs and lives and… that’s where I live too, if you know what I mean.
“My job has never affected my personal life or my family to a level that it could destroy me. That’s the only thing that could break me – if it affected people that I love. But nothing that I’ve done or anything to do with work has ever come back negatively on anyone else.”
“No!” she replies, aghast at the very thought. “I really don’t feel it’s something I would ever want to do. Even if I had anything dramatic to talk about, I’d still struggle to put it out there.
“I always wanted to keep a bit of myself back and I think I’ve managed to find that balance. I’d never want to feel like I was exposed.”
The privacy she’s so careful to protect has given her a level of anonymity that means she can still happily hop on to public transport unnoticed.
“The tube is one of the places that you can get away with it, as everyone’s so focused on where they’re trying to get to or reading their paper. That was one thing that scared me a bit about doing Strictly. I really wanted to do the dancing, but I was worried it was going to make people recognise me more!”
Time to shine
Having said all that, it really does feel like this is Kimberley’s time to shine. During Girls Aloud’s recent three-year hiatus, she’s enjoyed a critically acclaimed seven-month West End stint as Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical, waltzed all the way to the Strictly final at the end of last year, and has also recorded her first solo album, Centre Stage, a collection of musical tunes released next month, which showcases her surprisingly lovely voice.
“I think it will probably be a bit of a shock to people,” she says. “I’ve never really done ‘my’ style of singing on any of the Girls Aloud stuff, and I guess anyone who didn’t see Shrek has never really heard me sing.
She bravely tackles some huge numbers including West Side Story’s Somewhere and As Long As He Needs Me from Oliver! – songs she admits she wouldn’t have dared take on in the past.
Does she feel like this is her moment? Is she enjoying stepping out from the shadows?
“Yes,” she says emphatically. “I mean, I love being in the group and can honestly say that, throughout it all, I have never felt like I was desperate to do stuff on my own.
“But taking the break and doing Shrek was the thing that really made me realise how much I love singing and being able to sing the kind of stuff that suits me best.
“The label came to watch the show. They were surprised as well, and said they’d love to do this album. I jumped at it because it’s a chance for me to let go and push myself.”
Perks of the job
And in the midst of all this is the small matter of the Girls Aloud reunion. No wonder Nimble Kimble (as Strictly head judge Len Goodman nicknamed her on episode one) is knackered.
“It’s been a bit like buses – everything came at once,” says Kimberley. “It’s all been a bit mad. I’m very much the kind of person who gets fully engrossed in everything I’m doing. But Strictly took over everything like I never could have imagined. I was well and truly bitten by the bug.”
“It’s given me the kind of tone and definition that you don’t really get from the gym or any other kind of training, so that’s been an added bonus really. It’s quite nice to see muscle definition in places you’ve never ever seen before,” she says.
“My legs have changed shape a lot and while I wouldn’t say my stomach was ever fat, now it’s defined. If you’re dancing for seven, eight hours a day, it’s inevitable that you’re going to tone up, so it was a perk of the job.”
Being in the best shape of her life right now is good timing for getting back out on the road with Sarah, 31, Cheryl, 29, Nicola Roberts, 27, and Nadine Coyle, 27. The girls’ nationwide tour kicks off in Newcastle next month.
But the suggestion that some of them had friendships to renew, makes Kimberley ever so slightly cross. Behind the scenes, she says, that side of things never went away. However, she does appear to concede that there were artistic quibbles to work through.
“It’s really strange for us to see the perceptions from outside… People seem to be like: ‘Oh, it’s been three and a half years, you need to become friends again.’ But we’ve all seen each other over that time! So that was never the issue.
“Obviously, you have to gel together in a working capacity and make sure that you all can get on the same level with what you’re trying to achieve for the group… But friendship-wise, nothing changed throughout the three years at all for us.
“In a lot of ways, it feels like we’ve never been away. Our first performance back together was for Children In Need in November last year, and we were really nervous. But as soon as we got out there, we were like: ‘Oh, yeah. This is what we do!’”
“Some of the girls like to make their own up sometimes. I’ll say: ‘Erm, it was never that! And they’re like: ‘Really?!’. Nicola’s the worst.”
Kimberley chuckles. Despite the post-Strictly/Christmas/New-Year fatigue, she’s upbeat, and smiles and laughs often – the perfect choice for the cover of our Happiness issue.
“I’m definitely happy with myself and who I am. I’m quite comfortable in my own skin and I would never continue to do something that wasn’t making me happy or fulfilled because I feel like life’s far too short.
“There have been tough times when the other girls have been going through certain things. I’m a massive worrier. It’s in my nature really, I just worry about everyone – that they’re all right, and about things that you can’t really control. But I’m generally a happy person.”
Twist of fate
Kimberley might never have ended up in Girls Aloud had it not been for Hazel Kaneswaran’s last-minute disqualification from Popstars: The Rivals. Hazel, then 25, was booted out of the competition before the live shows started because she was overage, and Kimberley, who hadn’t made the final 10 girls, was drafted in to replace her.
It’s made her a firm believer in fate when it comes to explaining life’s ever-baffling ifs and whys.
“I really do believe in it, I kind of live by it. I’ve been auditioning since I was five and several times came very close to jobs that would’ve completely shaped my life. I kept coming second and wondered if it was ever going to happen. So when I got into Girls Aloud, it was almost like: ‘Oh, so this is how it was meant to work out.’ It’s the reason I don’t believe in regrets. I think everything happens for a reason and any lessons I’ve learned, I was supposed to.
Speaking of which, boyfriend Justin is in the middle of starting up a property company that will see him buying, renovating and selling houses. Kimberley says the former boy band star isn’t fussed about having turned his back on his own music career.
“He’s never really been bothered about trying to pursue it. Once it was done he was kind of like: ‘It’s finished, it’s fine’. He’s never once wished he was back doing it. He worked in event management for a while for my brother-in-law, but I think he just wanted to find something he could really sink his teeth into. He’s the kind of person who knows how to do everything, so he started off doing the work himself, renovating our house, and now he’s more project managing.
“He’s very grounded and comfortable in himself. He’s very supportive and is always the voice of reason.
“I just don’t know how I’d have really done this without him. Life would have been very different.”
She cites a recent trip to Venice together as one of her favourite ever holidays.
Is Justin usually romantic?
“He was when he took me there! I was like: ‘What’s happened to you?!’ He’s not really one for grand gestures, which is fine with me. I’m cool with that. But he does look after me and he’s romantic in other ways. I always enjoy it when we go away together because it’s the only time we can really be without any distractions.”
Not that there’s going to be time for holidaying over the next few months.
“I feel extremely spoilt and very lucky. And it is luck to a point. Everything’s fallen into place in a really good way for me and I’m just loving every minute of it.
“I’ve grown in confidence and I think that’s quite a nice place to be.”
Whole lotta happiness
Probably my mum’s 60th last July. I threw a big party for her at mine and all the family came down, all the kids and my grandparents. Having everyone under one roof was very special.
Anything by Beyoncé usually gets me up on the dance floor!
Who makes you laugh the most?
Justin, I think. He’s very dry, so we laugh a lot. I think that’s healthy for a relationship.
Favourite feel-good film?
I’m happiest when I’m…
In bed! And also when I’ve got all my family around me. I feel the most content when everyone’s together and it stops me having to worry about anyone, because they’re all there.
What’s your happy food?
Sushi and pan-Asian. Which is quite funny really because, when I first moved to London, I would never have eaten that! It was very alien and I thought: “Raw fish? Oh no!”
Gilgamesh in Camden. I love the food and how relaxed it is there.
I had a really good holiday in Cape Town with my friend. And Venice with Justin was one of my favourite trips ever. I love that place so much.
- Kimberley Walsh’s debut solo album, Centre Stage, is released on February 4. Tell us what you think on Twitter #FabMagKimberley