Extract From Growing Pains
The morning after my first date with Chris Evans, in December 2000, I woke up at about ten and had already missed four
calls from him. He'd left a message saying, "Why are you not up, you lazy cow? It's a beautiful day - you have to see it.
Wake up and call me because I need your address."
I called him. An hour later he arrived at my door. He didn't kiss
me, just smiled and handed over an envelope. We'd been drinking the night before and I was still in my sweat pants, had black
mascara all over my face and was wafting around in my own personal cloud of vodka fumes. It turned out he hadn't done his
radio show that morning. It was the first he'd ever missed. But not the last.
He told me to open the envelope. There
were some car keys inside, and a note.
"I know you don't care about any of this and nor do I, but I had to stop you
in your tracks. If you don't want it, sell it and give it to charity. I think you're wonderful. Will you marry me?"
held up the key. That unmistakable rearing yellow horse dangled from the ring. Parked outside was a silver Ferrari covered
in red roses. Inside and out.
I didn't have a clue what to do. What is the etiquette when presented with a racing
car? Get in, I suppose. I did just that. I wanted Chris to see me in it. I wanted to show him that I liked it. And what I
really wanted was to kiss him. I beckoned him over and we had a quick peck. I said: "Thank you."
He said: "You're
welcome", and then rode off on his bike. It was the most bizarre morning of my life.
The most ridiculous thing of
all was, I couldn't even drive.
By the time I met Chris, I'd been in the music business for three years, performing
under the name Billie.
Mum says that I was creative from the start, constantly dressing up, prancing round the living
room, putting on plays and shows.
I enrolled in a dance class and attended as often as I was able. I knew hard work
paid off because Dad was a labourer who worked his way up to running his own construction company in Swindon. My parents are
working-class through and through, but towards the end of my childhood Dad had worked so hard that we had a nice redbrick
house with a conservatory and double glazing in the new part of Swindon.
At the age of 13 I auditioned for the Sylvia
Young Theatre School in London and got in. Then a record-label manager signed me up after spotting me in a television advert
for Smash Hits magazine.
In 1998, when I was 15, I was the youngest female artist ever to debut at Number 1 with my
single Because We Want To. Amazingly, I went on to sell 450,000 copies of my first album.
In May 2000, I met DJ and
TV presenter Chris Evans for the first time. My single Day And Night, from my second album, had just gone straight in at Number
1. I had a new name, Billie Piper, a new look (thin) and a new image (sexy) because thin looks good on the page, and now I
was all of 17).
But I was hiding a terrible secret. I was thin because I was anorexic. I had developed the eating
disorder on tour, relying on powerful laxatives to help me lose far too much weight. I was living pretty much off black coffee,
Diet Coke and cigarettes.
I'd also started having doubts about my career. Sales weren't as good as they had been,
my work schedule was horrendous and I'd come close to suicide on a disastrous, punishing promotional tour of the United States.
I was invited to appear on TFI Friday but although I'd always fancied Chris and loved his programme, I thought it
would be a stitch-up. All I got was humiliation when I'd appeared on Never Mind The Buzzthingys: I think I was invited on
only to fulfil the role of "stupid little pop star".
Now I was terrified. I tried to get out of Chris's show but he
wouldn't take no for an answer and sent a helicopter to pick me up. As we touched down in Hammersmith, the panic set in. TFI
was live. Chris wasn't known to suffer fools gladly. Was I walking into a trap?
But as soon as I saw Chris's smiling
face I started enjoying it. It was brilliant. He made it so easy for me that I even forgot to be nervous. That's his gift.
During the break I said: "I really like your shirt", and he said he liked mine, and we said: "Why don't we swap",
We stepped behind the curtain and stripped. He didn't say anything suggestive: we were just like little kids behind the curtain
trying to hurry up before we went back on air.
During the second half it was pretty clear we were getting on very
well: there was just a natural affinity between us, an easy banter. My overriding memory is that I couldn't stop laughing.
I forgot about the record company, my voice, calories, everything.
But after TFI, I started pushing myself harder
than ever, promoting my album, Walk Of Life. My body started to complain. I was taking laxatives, having some wild nights
on the town and working a minimum of 16 hours a day.
The problems started with cystitis.
I should have had
antibiotics and taken time to get over it, but I was working too hard. On June 17 my body said stop. Five minutes after arriving
at a bar in Soho, I collapsed. A bladder infection had moved up to my kidneys and I had started to pee blood: haemorrhaging
I remember leaving the loo feeling sick and light-headed and slowly walking up the stairs. The next thing
I knew was that I was in hospital. I told a doctor I had to pee but I couldn't get up without help. I was in agony, but I
didn't want to keep ringing for nurses. The doctor said: "Just pee in the bed, Billie." So I did, crying every time with the
humiliation and pain of it.
We put out a statement saying I had a kidney infection combined with exhaustion and that
I'd be back on my feet in no time. I told my mum I'd taken the morning-after pill and had had an allergic reaction to it.
She believed me. She'd noticed how much thinner I'd got, but maybe it was easier for her to believe the lie.
in hospital made the cystitis disappear but it did nothing for my anorexia and now I had got used to the numbing effects of
sleeping pills. I started using them to sleep my way thinner. If I was asleep, I wouldn't have to eat at all.
my single Something Deep Inside went in at Number 4. I was gutted. The treadmill was running at a furious pace yet we were
going backwards. At one point I managed five days without solid food.
A few days before my next single was released
in December I went into the Virgin radio station to be interviewed by Chris; the second time we'd met. Just like on TFI, the
mood between us was easy, relaxed. We both giggled continually, then halfway through Chris said: "Why don't we get married
and sell the photos to Hello, then give all the money to charity?"
I replied: "OK, let's." I didn't think he was being
serious but I wasn't absolutely sure.
At the end of the show Chris asked me to his Christmas drinks. I was gutted
because I had to be somewhere else that day but I gave him my number. A couple of days later, he called and asked me out.
I had just done Top Of The Pops and by the time I got to the pub in Belgravia with my friend Nicki, it was closing time.
and Webbo, his friend and fellow presenter, were outside with their drinks even though it was freezing. Chris said: "Right,
let's go somewhere else!"
And the four of us jumped into a cab. We went to another bar, had a few drinks, then went
on to Stringfellow's. From the moment we met that evening we were inseparable. He had his hands down the back of my trousers
all night playing with my thong, and I let him.
It was a bizarre night. After Stringfellow's we went on to another
nightspot. Chris was wearing brogues. Don't know why, but I love a man in brogues. I told him, so he gave them to me and I
walked around the club in his brogues all night. I remember him leaning towards me and saying: "I just wish you were 26 at
He was 34. I said: "It doesn't matter how old I am. Let's not talk about how old I am because that's just
going to hijack this evening and ruin everything."
At the end of the evening he went off with Webbo and I with Nicki,
who was plastered. I'd just put her to bed when my phone rang. It was Chris. "What are you doing?"
"I've just made
beans on toast."
It was a sign. "I had a really great night", I said.
"It was wonderful,"
I went to bed happy for the first time in a long time. And I woke up to a silver Ferrari on the doorstep.
I read Chris's note again and again. It was quite clear what he wanted. My hand in marriage. Woo-hoo!
he'd certainly succeeded in stopping me in my tracks. The question now was what the hell was I going to do about Rich Neville,
my on-off boyfriend from the boyband 5ive? We'd been together for two years and had fallen into a destructive cycle of rowing,
splitting up and then getting back together. If it had been an easy thing to walk away from I would have. But it wasn't.
Friday December 15, 2000, I went to the Royal Albert Hall for a huge charity performance. I had a stinking hangover as usual.
There were photographers everywhere. I thought I knew what it was like to be hounded by the Press, but I knew nothing.
This was major league. I suddenly realised that all I'd ever been was a minnow. It wasn't a depressing realisation. It was
I'd gone from being a bubbly, fun person, always wanting to have a great time, to this withdrawn person
perpetually dragging on a cigarette. My eyes had lost their shine. They didn't dance any more.
I was a shell. Underweight,
uninspired and boring. I had no energy to do anything. I had let the anorexia steal whatever fun I could have taken out of
the experience and turned it into something to fear. Just days later, my single Walk Of Life charted at Number 25.
my second date with Chris, in a pub, we greeted each other like old friends and I loved him the minute we started chatting.
We didn't stay for long - you never do when you're with him. I asked where we were going and he said: "To meet an old friend
of mine. His name's Fred and he's having a party."
Fred was blind and lived in an old people's home. He used to live
next door to Chris before being moved into care and Chris still looked after him. We had a very eccentric Christmas lunch
with Fred and his cronies and then drove to Chris's cottage in the village of Hascombe, near Godalming in Surrey, for one
night. Nothing happened.
I was trying to impress him but I was nervous of him as well. His enthusiasm for life is
engaging, inspiring, but in the beginning I was too knackered to take it all on.
He said: "Life is happening and you
aren't even aware of it. You have to grow up and stop being so spoilt."
He wanted to know what was going on with Rich.
Was it on or off? I knew Rich and I had to end.
Chris told me he was going to Madeira at Christmas. I said goodbye
and headed home to my family in Swindon with the thought going round and round my head: maybe I could go with him?
broke up with Rich over the phone. It sounds harsh but it was easy this time because we both knew it needed to happen. Then
on Christmas Eve I had an overwhelming urge to see Chris. I rang him. "Can I come on holiday with you?"
Come down tomorrow."
"Yeah, Christmas Day."
I wondered what to say to my family.
I couldn't do that to them, but then some relatives came over in the morning, all bringing CDs for me to sign. Suddenly I
felt so tired of it all. I wanted out.
Just as Mum put the prawn thingytails on the table, I announced I was going
on holiday with Chris. I know she was gutted. But, equally, I think she understood.
I had my driver collect me. At
the time I didn't consider the fact that I was taking him away from his family on Christmas Day, and I didn't consider that
I was leaving mine. I was completely selfish but so close to finding what was going to make me happy that I had to get to
Chris's little cottage. When I climbed out of the Mercedes, I gave my driver a bundle of cash and thanked him for his mercy
Chris opened the door. He was wearing a red polo-neck jumper with little white stars on it, Christmas personified.
He beamed at me and held up a matching one for me. He took my hand, led me into the kitchen and gave me an enormous kiss;
a proper, full-on serious kiss - our first. It was magic.
The following day we flew to Madeira and, just like that,
"Billie" the pop princess disappeared. I'd finally kissed my prince and, in our special version of the old fairytale, he let
me turn back into a frog.
I never went back to my flat or my parents' house. From that moment on we lived in each
other's pockets. Actually, it wasn't so much that I lived in his pocket as that I tried to burrow deep inside, curl up into
a tiny ball and wait for all my responsibilities to go away.
But that sort of behaviour doesn't wash with a man like
Chris, and he started asking questions I couldn't answer. When was my next album due? How much money had I made? How long
was I contractually obligated to my record company? Why couldn't I drive? Why hadn't I taken any exams? Why was I ill? I was
embarrassed by what I had become.
We hardly left the bedroom of our hotel in Madeira. Love's young dream? No, a burnt
out 18-year-old with recurring cystitis. It was agony again. It was evident fairly quickly what sort of mess I was in.
we came back I moved straight into Chris's flat in London and didn't leave his side except for when he went to work. I had
effectively walked out of a singing career but I still had some outstanding commitments and I was due to release another single.
The Press claimed Chris was going to "ruin" things for me but I knew he was only going to make my life better. He
certainly didn't need to date a "pop star" to cement his celebrity status. And I wasn't using him to climb further up the
ladder. If anything, I was using him to climb down.
Chris told me to get control of my career, but I couldn't face
calling my managers, so he did it for me. There was a row and shortly afterwards my managers and I parted company. I think
they knew that, although Chris was a scary adversary, he was ultimately good for me.
Naturally, I wanted my parents
to like him as much as I did. But sadly that didn't pan out as well as I'd hoped and my parents and I didn't see or even speak
to each other for quite a long time.
Offered a large amount of money in return for a sweet story about their daughter
and Chris, they considered it long enough to call me and let me know. I got p***** off. I just wanted them to be my parents,
not part of the publicity machinery. They hadn't impressed Chris, either.
I started to have the time of my life with
Chris. He always held my hand; I loved that particularly. We'd go out drinking, then stop off at a pie shop in Soho. He'd
take me out to the country and we would roll down hills, laughing. Sometimes we'd just sit quietly in his garden, reading.
Or plant herbs. Taste different cheeses. Drink wonderful wine.
What had happened to the laxatives and starvation?
Out the window. I knew Chris wouldn't tolerate that sort of thing. And drugs? No more. I left it all behind. I couldn't be
bothered with forcing myself to be something I wasn't any more. Namely a size 0. There were too many other things to try,
to do, to see, to taste.
I had been infected by Chris's appetite for life.
We might go to the park, a restaurant,
a gallery, a museum: all those things London had to offer that I had never bothered to sample. We'd spend hours on Hampstead
Heath flying kites and sharing childhood stories. It was a romantic, desperate love and it was beautiful.
the Loire Valley and spent ten days tasting wine and scoffing goose fat on bread. I was eating like a horse but I didn't care.
The pounds piled on and I felt sexy; Chris made me feel sexy.
We decided to visit the Colosseum so we hopped on a
plane to Athens. Too much Chablis at lunch, methinks. We knew the minute we arrived we'd made a terrible mistake. We sat in
the hotel bar, the first beer silent as we stared into the glass, willing it to magic us to Rome, where the Colosseum had
been for 2,000 years. "At least we can see the Parthenon," Chris said, finally.
"Sure," I said, not knowing what the
hell that was.
In May we went to Los Angeles but there was a thick fog hanging over the city so we hired a Mustang
and drove to Palm Springs. When we arrived Chris looked at me in the way that only he can, and I knew he had mischief on his
mind. "Hey, Palm Springs! You know it's only moments from Las Vegas?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, shall we
go and get married?"
I said yes immediately.
Source: The Daily Mail