For seven years, she was in one of the sexiest, sassiest and most successful girl bands of all time.
But by the time the Pussycat Dolls split in 2010, Ashley Roberts was a shadow of the effervescent girl she’d once been and faced an uncertain future in the fickle world of showbiz.
“I’d lost the passion,” she says, simply. “I love what I do and so losing that really scared me. I had moments where I thought I’d never find it again. By the end, I’d become robotic because I was so exhausted and we were all burned out.”
She tells a quite shocking story from the latter days of the band, illustrating just how divorced from reality she’d become. While touring Europe, Ashley was admitted to a London hospital with symptoms of a severe migraine. Doctors suspected a brain aneurysm and warned that she could die if she boarded a plane to play a planned gig in Berlin.
“The doctors said: ‘You need to take a break’ but I wasn’t listening. I said: ‘I can’t take a break I have a show tomorrow in Germany – I have to get on the plane!’
“It was my disciplined mind telling me I had to go. I didn’t want to let anyone down. There wasn’t any time to get ill.”
Ultimately, common sense prevailed and Ashley was forced to miss the show. Her health scare turned out to be a false alarm, but she looks back at the bizarre episode now and shakes her head.
“After the Dolls finished, I took time out. I needed to take a step away from the industry to find that passion again. So I wrote music a bit, travelled and settled back down with myself.
“It was 18 months before the passion came back. Life is a journey and I know it sounds so cheesy, but sometimes you gotta stop, smell the roses and have some time for you. Everything’s amazing now. I’ve left being a Doll behind, and now I need to be Ashley Roberts.”
And she’s doing a pretty good job of that. The surprise star of last year’s I’m A Celebrity!, 31-year-old Ashley’s kick-ass attitude and infectious sense of fun saw her finish second to EastEnders’ Charlie Brooks, 31. Straight after, she bagged a spot on the Dancing On Ice judging panel, where she’s proved to be an inspired addition. She’s quit her LA home and moved to London, and is thoroughly enjoying her adopted Brit status.
“Yes!” she laughs. “I’m so appreciative of the love I’m getting. Acclimatising to the weather has been the biggest hurdle. But my dog Cooper makes me feel at home.”
Determined Ashley was pulling herself up by the bootstraps and cracking on with things long before the Pussycat Dolls. After finishing high school in Phoenix, Arizona, she worked three jobs to save up money to move to LA in search of stardom at the age of 17.
She says: “I had $1,000 cash, packed up a van and left. I knew what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I found a place to live in Coldwater Canyon, right in the valley. I had two roommates and a plastic curtain for a bedroom door and it was awful – but I loved it.
“When you’re 17 and you’re in LA, you’re just so excited. I was eating noodles for 10 days straight because I had no money and they cost me 10 cents, but I was still like: ‘Whatever!’”
Ashley was 22 and had appeared as a dancer in various pop videos when she landed a place in the Pussycat Dolls, after an audition for what began as a dance troupe. She had no idea just how much it would change her life.
She says: “It was a rocket ship. It was worldwide, you’re going to Japan, London, Russia. I didn’t quite know big the whole thing was going to become.”
The group, which also made stars of Kimberly Wyatt, 31, and Nicole Scherzinger, 34, sold 15 million albums and 40 million singles, including UK No.1s Don’t Cha and Stickwitu.
Ashley says: “The Dolls were a brand. I remember Ron Fair [a veteran American music executive] said: ‘We want you to look like aliens.’ Kimberly and I looked at each other and said: ‘We’d better get our asses to the gym!’ So we did boot camp and we’d eat together. We toned up. It was what it was,” she shrugs.
But tensions within the band proved too much and by 2010, following several members’ departures, it was all over. Ashley says she’s still in touch with everyone, including X Factor judge Nicole – whose status as lead Doll is often cited as the source of the problems – although she admits the two of them were recently at the same event and didn’t cross paths.
“We missed each other at the National Television Awards, she went up to hang out with her friends in their box at the O2, and I went to the after-parties. But we’ve emailed and she might come back to the UK soon.”
Aside from the professional dramas, there have been personal difficulties, too. While in the jungle, the story of Ashley’s strained relationship with her bankrupt father Pat, 65, emerged, as well as news of younger brother Jayce’s criminal record which includes cases of indecent exposure and drug possession. The 26 year old has spent time in jail and is reportedly a constant source of worry for Ashley.
It’s not a subject she’s keen to delve into, but she says the Christmas break gave the family a chance to reconnect.
“We go through moments in life when things are up and down, but the holidays were a good time for me to touch base with my family and the jungle was a chance to reflect and really see what I want to change or work on. It was good.”
So her relationship with her father is back on an even keel?
“Well, it always was, really. I’ve never not had a good relationship. I think sometimes you have an argument with a family member, but there’s always love,” she says.
“I don’t have any issues and I love my family to pieces – they are the most supportive, amazing people. But everybody has their little tweaks here and there, you know?”
Ashley’s certainly not showing any signs of trouble today. A natural in front of the camera, leaping around the studio as she models ’90s-inspired trends for our Style issue, we can’t help but notice her enviably toned body.
“My mom is a personal trainer, so I’ve always been into kick-boxing and step aerobics and that kind of thing. I love being active. I love yoga, boot camp and circuit training. When I’m back in LA I hike. And I drink lots and lots of water.”
She follows a healthy diet, too, politely declining the Thai curry on offer at our shoot in favour of a packed lunch she’s brought along herself.
“This,” Ashley says, pointing to a bright green shake, “is spinach, celery, cucumber, apple, ginger and lemon.”
“And this,” now gesturing to her food, “is chicken and feta cheese. I actually don’t eat that much cheese, I try to stay away from dairy. I like almond milk if I have a choice – that’s my favourite.
“I still have pizza and cookies when I want to. And I went out the other night with some girl friends, we drank and had a blast. I mean, come on, we gotta have some fun! But I also like to feel like I’m giving my body some nutrients.”
The jungle, she says, was the best thing she’s ever done. It’s given her a new lease of life and a second chance. She’s formed a firm friendship with the ITV2 spin-off show presenter Laura Whitmore, 27, and winner Charlie who she loves “to pieces”.
“It’s changed me. I feel this inner strength and confidence. And it’s given me a launch pad to start my career over here.”
And could there be a British boyfriend on the horizon?
“Well,” she says coyly, “I have friends who want to introduce some guys to me. It’s always good to have a little night of flirting and I think the British accent is adorable, but I haven’t met anybody yet. I’m still scouting.
“Right now, I’m just enjoying my life, and my career is booming. If someone comes along that’d just be a bonus.”
Ash has panache!
Fun and funky, but it depends on my mood. Sometimes I’ll go for a beanie, Converse trainers and be a little more skater-ish, and sometimes I’ll throw on a Bowie T-shirt and a funky hat and be a little more rock.
I love Balmain, Alexander Wang and Givenchy.
Favourite fashion store?
I love Opening Ceremony because they stock cool labels. I need to go to Zara because everybody’s been telling me about it since I got here!
My jungle badge of honour is my new black Chanel bag and I’m going to wear her with pride. She was an expensive little thing.
Oh God, have you seen some of the Dolls’ stuff? I’m like: “Was anybody there to give us a glance over?”
Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Alexa Chung, Kate Bosworth. And J.Lo is still kinda fun and cool.
Legs or cleavage. If you’re showing the goodies then you cover up the bottom half!
● Watch Dancing On Ice tonight, 6.15pm, ITV1.
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