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Because She Wants To

Because she wants to.

By JOHN DINGWALL.15 April 2000 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd

She's gone from being a child star to vampish pop princess in a few

BILLIE PIPER is knackered. She has been up since 5am in order to catch a flight to Glasgow Airport.

Despite the bleary-eyed start, Billie looks cool and relaxed and has a smile for me when she arrives for our interview and photo-shoot. She is sitting in front of a dressing room mirror, sucking Diet Pepsi from a straw while being made-up for our pictures.

As a stylist puts the finishing touches to Billie's hair, it's clear the teenage pop star has done some serious growing up since I first met her two years ago.

Billie says: "At the beginning I found it hard. I was a 15-year-old who people thought was just a flash in the pan. It took a lot of convincing and now people are really supporting me."

The main support came from Innocent Records managing director, Hugh Goldsmith, who persuaded Innocent's parent label, Virgin Records, to pump #1million into turning the unknown schoolgirl into a household name.

Billie started on her road to fame at London's Sylvia Young theatre school, which launched the likes of Emma Bunton, All Saints, Samantha Janus, Dani Behr and Scott from Five. Hugh had spotted her on TV and print adverts for pop magazine Smash Hits.

Soon after being signed, she went to No1 with her debut single, Because We Want To. By the time she was 16, she was three hit singles further up the road. She also began a romance with Five singer Richie Neville.

At first Billie resisted his advances, fearing he was a womaniser looking for a one-night stand.

"I went to stage school with Scott from Five and that was how it happened. Richie and I kept passing each other at gigs. Finally, we met at a Five gig in Germany.

"We went to the bar for a drink and got to know each other. I did fancy him straight off but I had it in my mind that he was in a boy band, and you know what they're like.

"They have as many girls as they can. I thought he'd just see me once, so I took a lot of convincing. He kept phoning me and telling me: `It's all sincere. I want to go out with you'.

"I didn't see him for a couple of months after we met in Germany, then we hooked up again back in Britain. Because he is in a boy band, he has girls throwing themselves at him and I didn't know that I liked the idea of being with someone who could have any girl he wanted.

"There was no way that I trusted him until I got to know him. Now I don't even think about it. I love it that he gets all the attention. I don't have a problem with that. It's his job and I'm not a jealous person.

"It's great if girls fancy him and idolise him and he makes them happy. I haven't got any hang ups with that. He's just doing his job and it must make him feel good so I don't care."

Though the romance blossomed, there were those who were concerned for Billie's well-being.

"It was more the friendship at first," she continues. "I had a chaperone at the beginning, but after a while everybody realised that I was old enough to take care of myself.

"People realised that I was able to deal with a pop lifestyle which meant I could easily deal with a boyfriend. The first date we had was when I had just finished doing a Live & Kicking appearance and I had arranged to meet him and his mum. We went shopping in Knightsbridge. Then I went back to my parents in Swindon and we called each other from then on."

Billie, who has had a platinum-selling album, Honey To The B, and chart-topping hits Because We Want To and Girlfriend, quickly found herself public property.

At one point, she took ill as a result of the gruelling schedule required to keep her at the top of the pop pile.

"When you become a celebrity you have to keep an eye on what goes on around you because it's not necessarily you that changes - apart from your lifestyle," she says. "The people around you change as well. I needed honest and sincere people to have as friends and that was something I was struggling with because a lot of my friends upset me. I found that really hard at 15.

"One person sold her story to the Press. Others bitched about me. I couldn't see my friends though I tried to catch up with them as much as I could."

When she was admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion, the rumour mill went in to overdrive. First that she was on drugs and more imaginatively that she was carrying Richie's baby and had undergone an abortion.

"Most of what has been said is not true," she says. "I had a bad stomach infection and, apparently, that was down to me having an abortion. I couldn't understand why anyone would think that of a 15-year old pop star.

"There wasn't any dirt to dig so it was easy to make something up and accuse me of things that weren't true."

Billie, concerned that her career was being milked for a quick fix rather than for the long haul, made a brave decision. She took a year out of the music business and the public eye.

She says: "I was so exhausted and had to slow down, get home and be with my family. That's why it was good to get a year out. It enabled me to sit back and look at what I'd achieved. Taking a break enabled me to recognise how good my career has been.

"I didn't realise how dangerous it could be. A year can be a long time, but I always admired Madonna because she could take a year out from pop music and reinvent herself.

"I wasn't really that scared. I knew that in order to take part in the songwriting process, I'd need to take my time. It couldn't just be a day here and there in the studio. It had to be weeks. It was a craft I wanted to learn more about."

Billie also sacked her manager, a move she feared would see her tagged a bitch. "People do take liberties but that's when you have to call the shots and I've learned how to do that," she explains. "It's hard for a woman to be ruthless without being called a bitch. Men can be ruthless and they're just called productive."

Despite being aware of the fickle nature of pop, she carried through the plan in order to find her true self and style. Now 17, Billie has a raunchy new look and a more modern sound.

"I've taken some time out, grown up a bit and reinvented myself which I think is very important for solo artists. So it wasn't a conscious effort to start wearing raunchy clothes. It's just that I've grown up to like those clothes and I like that image."

She has co-written her new single Day And Night with hitmaker Elliot Kennedy, best known for The Spice Girls' hit Say You'll Be There and Five's When The Lights Go Out.

Billie is also putting the finishing touches to a second album which includes collaborations with writers and producers such as Rick Mitra and Pam Sheyne, who have worked with Christina Aguilera. And another batch of hits is on the way.

"It took a while to win people over," Billie admits. "No one had much faith in me because I was so young. They imagined a brat with a flash-in-the-pan single. I would have thought that, too. Thankfully, I proved people wrong."