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One 2 One - Billie's a 1m Idol

ONE 2 ONE - BILLIE'S A #1m IDOL.

By JOHN DINGWALL. (c) 1998 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd

We've seen the boy bands, we've had the girl groups ... now it's the turn of the female schoolgirl singer.

Spice Girls record label Virgin has invested #1 million to turn 15-year-old Billie Piper into the next big thing.

Billie has already appeared on television shows and teen-mags in a carefully-calculated promotional campaign aimed at sending her debut single, Because We Want To, straight into the charts.

She has also been on a city to city tour of primary schools to plug her record - because the new target audience isn't teenyboppers but weenyboppers, the under-12s who spend their pocket money on their pop idols.

So far the campaign seems to be working - the record is out next Monday and advance sales are at 100,000, enough to propel her to No. 3 in the charts.

Billie, from Swindon, has had to leave school and hire a personal tutor - ironically to cope with her tour of schools such as St Joseph's primary in Busby, near Glasgow.

But she is convinced that being a solo singer will help her stand out from the crowd of boy and girl bands.

Billie said: "There are so many girl and boy bands these days, it's hard for them to be original - so being a solo singer is something different.

"There has been so much promotion and travelling that there are no excuses now. People have to buy it."

Billie was discovered by former RCA Records managing director, Hugh Goldsmith, who now runs the Innocent label, a subsidiary of Virgin. Goldsmith, who masterminded the launch of Take That and Robson & Jerome, decided to investigate Billie's star potential after spotting her in a series of adverts for teen-pop magazine Smash Hits.

He said: "My first job as MD of Innocent was to look at the pop market. It quickly became obvious that there is room for a young British solo female artist. We had a spate of boy groups and the Spice Girls worked because an all-girl group was something new at the time.

"I wanted someone with an edge and character and who wasn't just another catwalk model turned pop star.

"But it doesn't come cheap. In today's climate, you are looking at a #1 million investment to launch a new pop act."

Billie's mum, Mandy, encouraged her to go to Sylvia Young's stage school - which launched the careers of Samantha Janus, Baby Spice and the Big Breakfast's Denise Van Outen - when she won a scholarship three years ago.

Mandy said: "Billie always loved dressing up and being the centre of attention. She would mime to Top Of The Pops."

Sylvia added: "It was Billie's acting ability that won her a scholarship, though she was a good dancer with a reasonable singing voice.

"I always expected her to become a star, but of the screen rather than pop.

"But she's going to be huge. We're thrilled because it was our agency that gave her that opportunity for Smash Hits.

"When there was interest from record companies, I recommended that she sign to Innocent. It has worked out beautifully and I'm thrilled."

(c) Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd, 1998.