Cheryl used to love being an A-list celebrity - what happened?
There once was a time when Cheryl was one of the most photographed women in the world and loved the attention lavished on her, so what has caused this retreat from public life?
Earlier this week, Cheryl was pictured on her way into a charity event in London, making her way through the horde of photographers waiting to take her picture outside the venue.
But it wasn't her shimmering red gown or thigh-skimming slit that was the biggest draw, but rather, how she was described in the post-coverage of the event, largely that her turn was referred to as a "rare public appearance" and the fact that it is very true. (Confession: I also used this phrase both in the headline and copy of the story I published around these pictures).
It made me stop for pause and think - on what planet did anyone ever think Cheryl would so consciously and assertively remove herself from public life and become a celebrity recluse? There was a time not so long ago that there was no such thing as too much exposure, too much touring - too many high profile relationships.
Let’s take a step back in time to 2006 when the then-Girls Aloud singer was just another pretty face with a good voice learning the ropes of early pop stardom. She was featuring in the pages of Hello! Magazine as part of coordinated photoshoots, she was married to first husband Ashley Cole. By 2009, she was a bonafide tv star thanks to Simon Cowell’s shrewd appointment of her as a judge on the X Factor - then at the height of its popularity - and she became a L’Oreal spokesperson soon after.
During those three years, Cheryl, aka 'Britain's Sweetheart', was touring Europe with her very successful and very marketable pop band, pictured partying all around London and living her real-life Popstars dream. To millennials, she'll forever remain a noughties 'it' girl and hair icon, but to Gen-Zers, she's that woman who dated Liam Payne.
Cheryl's life has never been easy: she grew up on a council estate in Newcastle and said she was "still very street"; she was convicted of assaulting a bathroom attendant in 2003; and she's been married twice, and both of these marriages ended in dramatic heartbreak. With Ashley, it was two cheating scandals: after the first, she decided to forgive him, but it wasn't long before he was involved in another infidelity - this time a sexting scandal, and the grainy phone picture of him in his tighty whities which will forever remain burned into my memory.
It's of little surprise that in 2010, she said, "I don't trust anybody in my life except my mother and my dogs."
In a separate interview with the Guardian, which she said would be her last discussing her personal life, she explained that the reason behind her withdrawal from publicity seeking was because she had been burned too many times in the past, something which, eight years later, she has stuck to.
"Of course. I'm a human. I'm still a person, you know. I know to a lot of people the headlines and the stories they read are like some sick entertainment or soap opera, but it's my life and I'm really dealing with it, and it's really happening. It's my real life. Of course I was embarrassed," she said.
Soon after, it was a dalliance with Derek Hough, a professional dancer on Dancing With The Stars, that had her back in the headlines.
This would prove to be the turning point for Cheryl, not only emotionally, but physically. While on holiday with Hough in Tanzania a few months later, she contracted malaria and was given 24 hours to live. It's an experience which she says left her wanting to die. "I thought I was going to die, I actually thought I was going to die. I thought if I’m going to die I want to die soon because I was in so much pain," she told Piers Morgan.
After she recovered, her dreams of stateside stardom were dashed when she was fired from X Factor USA after just a few episodes and she moved back to the UK, hat in hand. There were other relationships - Tre Holloway - and other gigs and more number one hits.
And her star power remained even stronger then as she was an underdog. A very beautiful, very wealthy underdog. She had another storyline in her yet.
By 2015, she was back on the X Factor UK judging panel, which by this time had waned in popularity but still remained an influential television stalwart, and she had also found a new man - French restaurateur Jean Bernard Fernandez Versini. After a whirlwind wedding in 2014, having known each other just three months, their marriage wasn't to last.
In October 2016, she was granted a divorce by decree de nisi down to his "unreasonable behaviour", the stress of which she said was behind her drastic weight loss. But by then, having quit the X Factor again and with no new music to promote, she was back in public view for personal reasons - this time, with a new relationship with a much younger man.
She and Liam played coy with press and fans for months before confirming their relationship and within another few months of that, there were reports abound that Cheryl was pregnant with her first child; something she announced in spectacular fashion by clutching her nine-month baby bump in a L'Oreal campaign.
It's clear that motherhood has been the impetus behind her biggest change, not only the desire for privacy but the actions to back it up. There are no more reports about new boyfriends or behind the scenes backbiting, just traditional teasers for her "much awaited musical comeback" and the odd tabloid cover about her mystery man, whom you realise doesn't exist when you read past the misleading cover.
Save for a few contractually obligated appearances at the Cannes Film Festival with L’Oréal, Cheryl has all but disappeared from public view, as per her purposeful design. But it's clear she's biding her time, waiting to figure out her next move, as she has done so masterfully in the past.
Which is why when you see a picture of Cheryl on a night out in London it becomes celebrity news, and when you see the smile on her face greeting the waiting photographers, you know it probably won't be for long.