Thursday 24 October 2019

Don't call me a Spice Girl -- I'm one of The Saturdays

Pop sensation Una Healy talks to Ed Power about being compared to other girl groups, living with the paparazzi and how she met her rugby-star boyfriend

Una Healy. Photo: Getty Images
Una Healy. Photo: Getty Images
Una from The Saturdays
The Saturdays. Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Ed Power

Una Healy wants to scream. "The worst thing about being in a pop band are the paparazzi," fumes The Saturdays singer. "I was on holidays and they were in the bloody bushes. I had no idea. I was out there having a normal holiday and the next thing I'm all over the papers."

We've caught Healy at an awkward moment. Some unflattering paparazzi shots of the Thurles brunette have just hit the web.

Snapped on her way home from a London club the 28-year-old looks as if she's swallowed a jellied eel: her cheeks are puce and puffy, her eyes appear to be pointing in opposing directions.

Adding to the insult, a gossip website has managed to misspell 'Una'.

"Some of the photographers are good," she says, calming down a bit. "They'll take pictures of you looking good in a nice dress. That's fine. They're in your face. You know they are there. It's the other ones, the nasty ones who hide in bushes."

In other words, it's simply another day in the life of an up-and-coming pop star. With Girls Aloud away trying to work out if they still even want to be in a group together, Healy and her Saturdays band-mates have the music universe at their feet.

To capitalise on the sudden absence of any meaningful competition, they've rushed out a new mini LP, just six months after their last proper album.

'We're a pop band. People can call us manufactured in that we sing other people's songs. Doesn't everybody in the pop industry? It's stating the obvious. I've written songs. I've won song contests. I don't need to prove to the world -- 'look at me, I'm a brilliant writer'."

With a string of top 10 hits under her belt and a Saturdays' reality television show soon to hit screens, it's been a long strange journey for Healy.

The niece of Tipperary's answer to Daniel O'Donnell, Declan Nerney, she started out plying folk music on the midlands country and Irish scene and was a two-times winner of Co Galway's Glinsk Song Contest before moving to the UK to reinvent herself as a girl group warbler.

"I began playing guitar when I was 13," she says, her accent veering between her native Tipp and swinging Land-ahn. A lot of the songs I have written have a country influence. Even my singing voice has a hint of country. That's the background I come from. When I was younger my mother would always have the country and western stations on because that's where you'd hear my uncle. She'd turn it up when he came on."

It was through Nerney that she got her first taste of live performance.

"Growing up, I'd go to all his gigs. He'd call me up to sing a song with him. I'm actually going to be singing with him at The Marquee in Drumlish Festival in August.

"It's going to be a special occasion."

Today she lives on the outskirts of London with rugby-player boyfriend Ben Foden. For the past two months, the couple, together with their dogs Jackson and Bono, have shared their life with a documentary crew, shooting the forthcoming docu-drama, The Saturdays 24/7.

"They literally are around all the time," says Healy. "They are following us from when we wake up in the morning until the last thing at night when we go to bed. They're in our faces all the time. After a while you forget. I'm a sucker for reality TV. It's going to be interesting. There's a bit of gossip in there, a bit of drama. It will be warts and all."

At 25, England scrum-half Foden is nearly four years her junior. Last year, it emerged that, when he decided to first ask her out on a date, he arranged for his agent to pop the question.

"Ben's agent got in touch with my agent who then sent me an email asking if I'd like to meet with him," she said.

"I really thought it was some kind of joke. It certainly wasn't the way I expected to meet a guy. I was the only single girl in the band for ages -- I always hated getting asked about it, so it was a nice surprise to have someone get in touch like that when I was least expecting it."

Though best known as the cradle of the GAA, Healy's home town will always have a special place in the hearts of those who came of age in the '90s, when Semple Stadium hosted the raucous Feile festivals.

While too young to legally gain admittance, Healy has vivid memories of Feile. She even managed to give security the slip and sneak into Semple on the very final year of the 'Trip to Tip'.

"It was huge," she remembers. "I was able to get into the last one. It was quite a loss when it ended. It was amazing for the town."

From The Supremes to The Spice Girls, it hardly needs pointing out that all-female groups can be horribly fractious affairs. Can we look forward to any girl-on-girl bitchiness when The Saturdays' reality show airs?

"Not at all. We tend not to do that. We need to stick together. Obviously all of us will have days when we are upset about something or when we are moody or quiet, or something has happened that we're not happy with.

"However, in that situation, we tend to leave the person to it. We don't ever go against each other.

"It's like any job. You don't row with your work mates. We're all on the same team. I'm not going to turn around and start fighting with them."

As was perhaps to be expected, The Saturdays were initially derided as hastily-cobbled together Girls Aloud clones. It probably didn't help that their first tour was supporting Cheryl, Nadine and company around Britain.

"It comes with the territory," sighs Healy. "Any new band that comes out will be compared to us. Girls Aloud were compared to the Spice Girls. That's why this new TV show we're doing is a good thing. It will give people an insight into what we're like. I'm not a Spice Girl. I'm a member of The Saturdays."

Critics remain only too delighted to dismiss Healy and her glamazon bandmates as purveyors of mindless chart froth. Reminded of this she embarks on another rant.

"You know, if the world didn't have pop music, how miserable would it be? People can be as snobby as they want. There are plenty of rock bands out there doing their 'cool' thing.

"The fact is, if we didn't have pop, we'd all be much worse off. We need pop music."

The mini-album Headlines! is released tomorrow

Irish Independent

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