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Piper Calls The Tune

Piper Calls The Tune

The Daily Telegraph 15 June 2000

At just 17, British singer Billie Piper is already a pop-music veteran. She topped the UK charts at 15 with her debut single Because We Want To, several years before Britney Spears hoisted up her school uniform and straddled the globe.

After a string of hits (including Girlfriend, Honey To The Bee and a part in the ABBA tribute, Thank ABBA For The Music) Piper was on top of the pop world.

At 16, she'd already travelled the world and sold enough records to buy a flat in London. "I don't do this for the money but it's nice to have something to show for all the work you do," she says.

But then Piper tasted the sour side of fame when she revealed she had fallen in love with Rich Neville of UK boy band Five. It was a relationship both had been told to keep secret by their managers and record companies.

And there was a reason: Five fans started a backlash against Billie, merely because she was in love with their idol. She was booed at a UK awards ceremony and won a series of "worst person in pop" awards at the Smash Hits awards last year. She even got death threats from some more disturbed Five fans, one threatening to throw an axe at her.

"When I started going out with Rich it upset quite a few people," Piper says now, "which I can totally understand, even though I've never been enough of a fan of anyone to do something like that. But I've gone through that, I've treated it as an experience I can learn from."

The past tense relates to the fact Piper and Neville have split after two years. The fact that the parting was revealed to the British tabloids in the same week as the release of her "comeback" single, Day And Night, led to some critics suggesting she was after sympathy sales (which apparently worked because the single debuted at No1 in the UK, her third single to do so).

Others claimed reports that Neville dumped her over the phone while on tour with Five were false, and she'd actually dumped him a long time earlier.

Piper is uneasy talking about the split ("it's really personal") but is keen to set the record straight.

"It'd be so easy for it to be turned into a slanging match when it really isn't. The fact that we've split up is hard enough without it being splashed across the press," she says. "But the fact of the matter is it was something that was coming for a long time, we were both extremely busy and our lifestyles weren't matching up anymore because of the workload.

"It was putting pressure on both of us, we both agreed it'd be a good thing to split for the moment.

"I haven't really spoken to Rich, it's turning a bit bitter to be honest, but all I have to say is that I never lied to my fans and I never would. I did not split up with him to get my record to the top [of the charts], I worked my arse off, I would never use those tactics to achieve success.

"That's a horrible thing to suggest. I value the fact my fans bought the record. I'd rather people didn't buy my record if they were just buying it because they felt sorry for me. I wouldn't exploit that.

"When you break up with someone it's so sickening anyway, there's so much pain involved, why would I want the whole nation to know about it?"

Piper does want the world to know she's returned to the pop fray, with a surname, and Day And Night giving her another UK (and Australian) hit. She admits taking more than a year off was risky, but necessary.

"I was very nervous, there was so much that had gone on in the pop world in the last year, it was quite daunting but I'm so pleased I took the time off," she says.

"In the long run it helped me chill and become a more relaxed person. I've got a lot more energy this time around.

"It is a lot of work, pop stars have quite an intense lifestyle. The competition is crazy now, pop music moves so fast, there isn't time to slack off."

day and night is out now.