Eternal's Louise, south London megababe and mate of Jamie Redknapp, goes it alone. Stephen Kingston assesses her chances.
It's now a couple of weeks since it actually took place, but former Eternal cutie Louise is still rattling after a studio session with Kate Moss's ex, Mario Sorrenti. "I was doing this photo shoot with him," she recalls, "and all I could hear were all these [she rolls the expression with genuine shock] swear words going 'Boom! Boom!' at top blast. I mean, the Beastie Boys were the tamest thing he was playing. It was all raw New York rap, all this disgusting. It wasn't just swear words, it was really explicit sexual acts they were on about. He'd say 'I want you to look stunning,' and get a shot of me going [her mouth falls wide open and her sparkling blue eyes freak in shuddering recall] and he'd go 'Great! Great!' He kept saying 'Is this music OK?' and I thought 'Well it inspires him, I'd better just let him leave it on.' I mean, I like the Beastie Boys, but everything else I couldn't understand."
But Eternal were into rap, weren't they? "Yes, but not explicit sex rap," she squirms, then thinks for a few seconds before adding, "well, they weren't in the past anyway."
Louise won't be around to find out whether the girlie group have any plans to do explicit sex raps in the future. She's split from the homegirl swing chicks, and the big wide solo world is beckoning. Eternal and Louise, it seems, were just not destined to last forever.
We're sat in the suitably sophisticated Union cafe; in London's West End, and the carefree street girl is fading fast into the past. Her brown hair is now tied back in a blonde ponytail and she wears a low cut white top and a teensy little lilac mini on her ultra-petite frame. But there's not, as yet, a trace of make-up on her face, nor a drop of paint on her nails. Just the sort of neat blank canvas that stylists and image-makers love to corrupt. The former teen dream seems to be in some sort of transient phase between the high-school cool of the fun loving foursome and the drop-dead sex suss that solo divas are flashing all over the charts. As Kylie went from girl next door to full on pop vamp so, you feel, the process is beginning for Louise. And a session with Sorrenti and his debauched rap soundtrack is just the first rung on the ladder.
So has Louise got what it takes to get there? To have her every move splashed over the tabloids? To crash straight in at Number One the whole planet over? To get the "I've written a song for you" phone-call from Prince? She's going to have to follow the babe makes good guide, a step by step route to global celebrity based on the collective showbiz experience of everyone from Diana Ross to Kylie via Paula Yates. So, just how bad does Louise want it?
"Pretty bad," she admits. "You've got to go for it... But I'm not hung up on it. I won't let it affect my life to the extent where it's a driving obsession. I just know what I'm willing to work hard for it and I do genuinely enjoy it."
To be honest, she won't need any help on the way to being the next big poster-babe on boys' bedroom walls, but say she was following the Six Steps to Babe Heaven. How's she doing so far? Pretty well, actually.
Step 1: Bin your band
With total humility, of course. Firstly, you have to talk about the agony of the decision to quit - the sleepless nights, the doubts, the poor heartbroken fans who'll have their illusion shattered. In time-honoured pop fashion Louise felt trapped. Things weren't working out, and she wanted to explore different areas. It took me months and months to pluck up the courage to even say to myself that I wanted out, she says, but I was getting to the stage where I felt so uncomfortable that if I didn't get out I would have been plodding along for the sake of it. And I don't think that would have been fair on the other girls and our fans out there.
Expertly put. Straight to the top of the Robbie Williams class. Next comes the explanation.
I just don't want to always be singing R&B, she explains. Eternal were known for that and wanted to go even more that way and, as much as I love that music, I did want to try other things.
And the band's reaction?
Er. They were kind of sad. They said, "Don't go - think about it... stay." But by that time I'd made a decision. The girls have been great and I think they understood that we were different. I've remained close to them and I'm going to see if I can get them to do something on the album. They're carrying on and they've got a fantastic album, really great.
Smiles all round, then. And, finally, the plea to the fans which comes, firstly, in tribute form.
When you look down from the stage they know every word and you can stop singing and they sing to you. Your eyes well up and you think "Oh my god." There's nothing like it.
Then a sample of support to show how they're still with you.
I've had some great letters, saying "We're really sad you're leaving; reconsider for us," and others have just said "Congratulations". I'm going to move on to a different kind of image, but at the end of the day it just boils down to a different outfit and, hopefully, the fans we had in Eternal will still like me and will be able to relate.
And, finally, appeal to everyone's self-preserving instincts.
Everyone was a bit shocked at first, Louise recalls. But I explained to them, Would you want to stay in something if you were uncomfy? Would you want to stay if somebody offered you the opportunity to make it somewhere else where you could be yourself? and everyone's going Well, yes.
Score for binning the band with no loss of integrity: 10 out of 10.
Step 2: Change your name and get a good manager
A gold star to Louise for dropping her second name, Nurding, which might dampen the image somewhat. And another one for keeping the same management team who took Eternal to the top.
"I've always said that a group or solo artist has to be manufactured because you've got to be slightly different from everyone else out there," she says. "People are going to turn on the TV and watch you, and they can open their window and look out if they want to watch just anybody. My manager got Eternal together and guided us and now he's guiding me."
So, full marks thus far. But it's at this stage where you've really got to take off. Where the manufacturing has to be precision.
Step 3: Sexy image makeover
Raunch is the name of the game here. They've thrown her to Sorrenti (who shot the naked Kate Moss pictures for the Calvin Klein campaign) for the shoot. They've even got Simon Climie (who's written hits for George Michael - try to forget that he was also half of Climie Fisher) to pen a first single, Light Of My Life, a breathy ballad (released 25 September) complete with 36-piece orchestral backing, which should establish extra credibility before going on to the fast, dancey, sexy stuff. Everything's looking totally on course. And then we talk threads. Strapless, bra-less, crotch-high, cleavage-bursting dresses perhaps.
"I'm not into totally raunchy clothes," Louise confesses. Not a promising start. "I like to keep slightly covered. It's nice to have fun with clothes, but I like my everyday high street outfits." Uh-oh.
"Nah, I'm not trying to become a sex symbol," she says. "I'm going to try and not be pushed that way, you know. I've always said that you don't have to try to be sexy. If you're a sexy person it'll just come out from within." Has she got it within?
"You'll have to ask other people about that," she laughs. "I think at the moment I'm still pretty young and maybe it will happen. But right now I don't know whether I've got that sexiness as yet. hopefully I'll get it though." A girlie giggle fills the air. Louise is 20 going on 16 and she knows it. Protected by the Eternal posse since she left the Italia Conti stage school four years ago, she's slowly growing up. Tellingly, she shuns ice cream sundae on the cafe's menu and orders exotic fruit salad instead.
Step 4: Be seen with a male lust-object
It's vital to be seen and photographed on the arm of some celeb hunk. Firstly, the more sexy the bloke, the more sexy you become. Secondly it suddenly makes every other woman in the country interested in what you've got that they haven't. And thirdly, the tabloids will want you, the chat shows will beg and it will probably see Prince reaching for his phone. Fame by association. Career rocket-fuel.
"I have friends who are male heart-throbs," Louise offers politely. "All the girls fancy them but I just laugh. There's all different people: footballers like Scott Minto who plays for Chelsea, and Jamie Redknapp. but none of them has ever come on to me. They're just friends."
And a perfect chance was wasted when Eternal toured with Take That. "Naah, none of them chatted me up." But then the announcement that Robbie was leaving came in the same week as Louise quit Eternal. Endless gossip openings.
"People said 'Are you going to do a duet?' and stupid things like that, but it was just a case of us both coming out with the statements at once."
Gratuitous babe points falling away all over the place here. Any calls from Prince yet?
"No. He's one of my favourites though," she says hopefully.
Step 5: Become a wild club and girlie idol
Maximise the market and become a diva as well as a male fantasy by living life to the Courtney Love edge.
"I was on stage once with Eternal in England, singing 'Oh Baby I.', and there was this guy in the front row being really disgusting," she says, popping a chunk of mango into her mouth. "Oh God, that was the end of my harmonies. It was one of the worst times I've had. But normally guys come up, ask for an autograph, say they really like the music and then run off."
Hmmm. Not exactly one for life in the fast lane, our Louise.
"I'm not into sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll," explains the girl who lives down the road from her parents, still has the same friends she had at school and says she gets homesick on tour. "But I do love going to clubs and meeting new people. I mean, sometimes I'll be out doing semi-wild things, but I wouldn't say I was a wild child or anything like that." And why not?
"Everyone's got the passion inside of them to want to go out there, and I have too, but I really have been working extremely hard for four years. And when I do something really wild, I'll let you know."
So, after being part of a sort of high school gang, Louise is about to go off to the university of life.
"I'm just really looking forward to being up there going 'This is me and I'm doing what I feel comfy doing,'" she says, untying her hair and letting it fall freely about her shoulders with a gentle shake of the head. She smiles mischievously, reaches into her bag, pulls out a Polaroid from the Sorrenti shoot and pushes it across the table.
"See, not so wholesome after all, eh?"
The girl next door suddenly has a wild glint in her eye.