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Piper Dreams

Piper dreams - Interview - Billie Piper.

By Lisa Verrico 28 June 1998 The Sunday Times

(c) 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd Not Available for Re-dissemination.

The latest pop sensation is a pushy 15-year-old who went to the same school as the Spice Girls. Lisa Verrico meets Billie Piper

The residents of a street in Greenwich, south London, have been asked to stay indoors all day. In the road between the two rows of quaint terraced houses are more than 100 people, several small vans, a ton of camera equipment, and a 50ft crane. To make matters worse, a troupe of dancers is practising a choreographed routine to the same few bars of a pop song over and over again. The centre of attention, however, is a teenage girl with wide eyes and an enormous grin.

"That's Billie," says a man with a can of hairspray in his hand. "She has just beamed down from a spaceship and is about to show off her special powers."

Looking unfazed by the fuss, 15-year-old Billie Piper is shooting her first pop video.

After two days of filming and more than a month of post-production work by computer animation experts best known for their contributions to Jurassic Park and, more recently, Lost in Space, the Swindon-born stage-school pupil will be transformed into a comic strip-style teen icon. Piper's debut single, Because We Want To, is released tomorrow - and her record company, Innocent, a subsidiary of Virgin, believes that, by the end of the year, Britain will boast an international child superstar.

"I have wanted to be famous for as long as I can remember," says Piper, during a break from filming. "I've been working towards this ever since I was a kid. I started out doing drama, dance and singing locally in Swindon, and taking modelling courses in the holidays.

I always knew that I would have to go to a bigger town to learn new skills, so my drama teacher got me an audition for the Sylvia Young Theatre School, in London."

At the age of 12, Piper moved to London to live with relatives after winning a half-scholarship to the school for stars that spawned the likes of Louise and members of the Spice Girls and All Saints. Last month, however, she left because of her heavy workload, and now has a private tutor. She has all but completed recording her debut album, a mix of pop, R&B and swing songs due out in the autumn, but her home base is still back in Swindon with her builder father, housewife mother and three younger brothers and sisters.

"My family is really pleased for me, and very supportive," says Piper. "But I don't have pushy parents. They are always anxious about whether I'm doing the right things or if I'm determined enough, but most of all they want to be sure that I'm happy. They don't want me to be devastated if this doesn't turn out too well."

Piper owes her imminent pop stardom to the teen magazine Smash Hits, which last year chose her to front a high-profile advertising campaign. She starred in a series of sassy television commercials and appeared in numerous print ads and posters. Her sparky personality, girl-next-door good looks and obvious attitude caught the attention of Hugh Goldsmith, a record company executive, who had previously worked with Take That.

"Smash Hits saw loads of girls for that campaign," says John Pavely, Innocent's marketing director. "They all arrived at the auditions dressed to the nines. Then Billie turned up in her school uniform. I think she blew them away because she has real spark and she's naturally cool. We tracked her down and put her in a studio to find out if she could sing. She recorded a cover of an R Kelly song, and it was fantastic. I don't think there's anything the girl can't do. I've seen a holiday video of her when she was eight, dancing to Madonna, and even that was brilliant."

As a so-called "special extra" in Evita, Piper has already met Madonna, her all-time idol. "I didn't actually speak to her, but just to be near her was amazing," says the teenager. "I was nearly crying I was so happy. My big ambition is to perform with Madonna."

Prior to her assignment for Smash Hits, she appeared on the children's television show Scratchy and Co as Spice Girl Victoria Adams. "I was in this alternative mini-video for Who Do You Think You Are?" she says. "It was great fun because I adore the Spice Girls. How did I play Victoria? I just sucked my cheeks in and struck a few silly modelling poses."

Piper's only potential pitfall, it seems, is premature burnout. But she sees boredom as by far the greater enemy. "Already there are times that I don't enjoy being able to get everything I want," she insists. "I don't have to save up my money for clothes, for instance, because they are always given to me anyway. That takes the excitement of out it a bit. Right now, there are things I'm trying not to do, like go to clubs, so that I'll have something left to experience when I get older. I don't want to be bored of going out by the time I'm 18. That would be awful."

(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 1998.