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Billie The Kid Has Grown Up

Just two years ago, she spent her time downing pints of lager in the pub, piling on the pounds and looking like she'd just rolled out of bed.

But Billie Piper's down and out days are well and truly over. She's ditched the frumpy clothes, restyled the bird's nest of a hairdo, shed the excess weight and even got rid of husband Chris Evans. And the transformation from scruffbag to sex kitten has done wonders for the 23-year-old's career.

After playing a huge part in the revival of BBC1's smash hit drama Doctor Who and winning critical acclaim for her portrayal of the Doc's sidekick Rose Tyler, Billie has become one of our hottest young talents.

Today, she makes her big screen debut alongside Dougray Scott and Emilia Fox in Simon Shores Things To Do Before You're 30. The story tells the tale of a group of people trying to live their complicated adult lives in 21st-century London, while desperately clinging on to their youth.

Billie plays art student Vicky, the youngest of the gang, and she enjoyed every minute of filming.

'I always wanted to make movies,' she says. 'I feel totally at home in this job.'

It's all a world away from the Billie Piper of old. After getting hitched to DJ Evans in 2001 following a whirlwind romance, she seemed happy to ditch a moderately successful pop career in favour of hanging out with her hubby. At 35, Chris was 17 years his teenage bride's senior. But the age gap didn't seem to bother them.

The mis-matched couple opted out of the rat race, enjoying an extended honeymoon in LA and Surrey which eventually lasted two years. There were endless paparazzi shots of the pair looking less than glamorous as they wallowed in wedded bliss, not giving two hoots about their appearance.

Billie's parents, who werent even told about the Vegas wedding ceremony, were furious. It sparked a family feud and Billie has told how she has only recently been reconciled with her father.

'I didn't give a f*** about what other people thought,' she admits. 'I still don't. That's why I didn't tell my parents we were getting married, because I knew their response would be negative.'

However, the marriage hit the rocks after just three years and towards the end of 2004, Billie and Chris admitted it was all over. He has since conceded that his wife was simply too young for him.

'She was only 18 when we met,' said Evans. 'But it was a real adventure.'

The split seemed to kickstart Billie into life. She cut down on the boozing and quit the fry-ups and takeaways which had left her so overweight people thought she was pregnant.

'I'd been so groomed since I left school and I didn't know whether that was actually me,' she says. 'So I went the other way and put on loads of weight. I just needed to do normal things - eat curries, stay in bed for a day, watch movies back to back, eat H?agen-Dazs. I had missed life.'

Within a few weeks of snapping out of this routine, Billie dropped a dress size, revamped her image into something much more smart and got the television bigwigs talking.

Her performance in The Canterbury Tales won rave reviews and alerted the team behind the new Doctor Who series, written by Russell T Davies. The show pulls in up to 10 million viewers and Billie has won a place in the nation's hearts. Last year, she scooped the National TV Award for Best Actress.

'I was shaking like a leaf,' she admits, 'and had to have a word with myself on the way to the stage because I thought I was going to cry. That would have been too embarrassing. It was a brilliant night, but I spent the whole evening in shock, chewing my nails.'

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Billie - born Leanne Paul Piper - had bagged a multi-million pound deal to write her autobiography. The book, which is planned for a Christmas release, will detail her rise to fame as a teenager, the breakdown of her marriage to Chris and her astonishing success as an actress.

But perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised at Billie's revival. It was surely only a matter of time before she rediscovered her passion for stardom. Even as a young girl she craved the limelight and dreamed of being famous. She moved to London from her Swindon home at the tender age of 13 to join the famous Sylvia Young Theatre School which has spawned the likes of Denise van Outen, Tamsin Outhwaite and Emma Bunton.

At just 15, she was signed up by a record company and became the youngest ever female solo artist to top the charts with her debut single Because We Want To in July 1998.

Her follow-up single later that year, Girlfriend, also hit the No 1 spot, while her debut album, Honey, made it to No 14. Billie then took a year off to record her second album and had another No 1 single with Day And Night, but her days of pop stardom were fading fast.

These days, despite her new-found success, she remains level-headed and down to earth. She has displayed incredible maturity in the aftermath of her marriage to Chris and although she is now dating law student Amadu Sowe, she remains on good terms with her ex and the pair regularly meet up for coffee.

'Chris and I are pretty much inseparable and live opposite each other,' Billie says. 'It's an extraordinary situation that I don't expect anyone else to understand.'

This summer, she'll be filming a new drama for the Beeb called Ruby In The Smoke with a string of other lucrative projects also lined up. But for now she's looking forward to the premiere of Things To Do Before You're 30.

The film's producer Marc Samuelson was hugely impressed with her  and wastes no opportunity to sing Billie's praises.

'She was a complete knockout,' he says. 'In the first meeting, she'd read the script, she was completely focused, very serious, very nice. She's perfect for the role. It's nice to discover that we knew exactly what we were doing.'

It sounds like the perfect role for Billie. Her character in the film, Vicky, is a free spirit and up for a laugh. A girl with the world at her feet. Not unlike Billie herself.

Source: The Daily Mirror