MUMMY'S GIRL

Did we dream it? Is someone having us on? Or is it really possible that Edwina Currie's daughter wants to be a pop star and to discuss her sex life with the tabloids? If so, what does this tell us about the nature of fame today?
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The Independent Culture
These are the questions I have been asked about Debbie Currie. 1) Who is Debbie Currie? 2) Is she fanciable? 3) Is she a hoax? 4) What will she add to the sum of human knowledge?

The answers are: Edwina Currie's daughter; yes; no; and probably nothing - unless, that is, you are interested in the increasingly unreal nature of celebrity. Because the case of the 22-year-old Debbie illustrates this better than most.

She crept into my consciousness four weeks ago via Lynda Lee-Potter's column in the Daily Mail. A picture stretching the length of the page showed a tough-looking girl staring moodily at the camera in a nasty mini- skirt and not much else. "Edwina Currie's daughter, Debbie, wants to be a pop singer and yearns to be the centre of attraction. She lost her virginity at 15, recently enjoyed a four-in-a-bed orgy, and says that her mother never lays down the law," announced a grey box beside her thighs.

"If Mrs Currie had spent more time being a mother than an MP who sent her daughter to boarding school at the age of 10, poor, foolish Debbie might not be so desperate for attention. Sadly, she is forever crying: 'Look at me' and making herself sound like a tart."

This was mildly interesting, but I was more intrigued by the picture. It showed Edwina Currie's rather demonic face balanced on the body of a young Portuguese waitress. It looked so surreal I suspected an elaborate hoax.

But although hoaxes figure heavily in Debbie's story, this was not one of them. Debbie Currie, an eerily nubile version of her mother, did exist, she did want to be a pop star, and she had talked to the Mirror about her sex life. ("Debbie Currie sprawls out provocatively on the sofa. Her generous D-cup bosom spills over her bra right on cue. Her micro-mini, as calculated, leaves nothing to the imagination," the interview began.)

Hence Ms Lee-Potter's righteous indignation. Debbie's revelations turned out to have included not only the four-in-a-bed orgy, but the fact that she lost her virginity at 15 and told her mother about it in Tesco; her passion for "inventive sex"; and her preference for older men ("a man has to be pretty special to keep me interested").

It was rather bizarre to learn in this way of the secret life of Mrs Currie, Conservative MP for Derbyshire South and former junior minister for health. How many other mothers, I wondered, had sexual heart-to-hearts with their teenage offspring during the weekly shop? It introduced the fortifying notion of Conservative grandes dames up and down the land blocking the bread aisle with their trolleys and screaming in a furious whisper: "Well, I jolly well hope you aren't pregnant!"

After this bombshell Edwina had promptly put Debbie on the pill, the Mirror interview continued. This elicited another engaging little vignette - Mrs Currie dragging the young Debbie off to the family doctor at the first opportunity. Harder to picture was Debbie's admission that her mother introduced her to condoms "and showed me how to use them". Was this the sort of thing Baroness Thatcher had done with Carol?

Predictably, Edwina's tolerance was not shared by the Daily Mail. The day after the Mirror interview, it published a long article repeating in shocked tones the revelations of the day before. Edwina was quoted as standing by her daughter's quotes, and several other commentators weighed in. The result was that, in the space of three weeks, Debbie Currie went from being an "aspiring pop star" to a "pop star" and even, in some quarters, a household name.

What was interesting was that this celebrity was predicated on precisely nothing. There was a politician mother sort of famous, once, for saying the wrong thing about salmonella, and there was a daughter who, through the alleged act of recording an old song, had become a "pop star", even though the single had not been released and, for all we knew, had never actually been made. She had a band, apparently, but it had not been produced for inspection; she had also, apparently, made a video, but this had not been made available either. Yet a sheaf of press cuttings testified to the fact that Debbie was a "pop star" and the existence of even one song by her appeared to be beside the point.

A week later there was a new development in this tale of modern mores, which now appeared to be bordering on high farce. A prominent story in the Sunday Times alleged that Debbie Currie was not, in fact, the pop star we had been led to believe. Not because she had no single, album, or proven singing ability, but because she had been hired by ITV's The Cook Report to "expose the inner secrets of how the music industry operates".

She had been hired by the investigative programme because she had a CV ideal for tabloid notoriety, the report enlarged. At 13 she had been "reprimanded" for smoking at her boarding school and at 17 she had been sent home for swearing at a teacher.

"As a stunt to expose the willingness of some parts of the media to do the bidding of the record industry, it has already succeeded," the article concluded. "But The Cook Report's primary aim has now failed, costing Central TV a five-figure sum."

So there it was. Debbie Currie, the pop star who had never released a single, was unmasked. She was not a pop star because she had been hired by The Cook Report to demonstrate how easy it was to become a pop star. It was at this point I decided it might be fun to interview her.

THE MANAGER of Debbie Currie's on-off pop career is a man called Barry I Tomes who, in his time, has helped publicise the music of Alvin Stardust, Lulu, Shakin' Stevens, Showaddy-waddy, Chaka Khan, The Three Degrees and Right Said Fred. He has a vivid taste in aftershave, although his stubble suggests he does not shave very often, and a likeable manner. He wears an earring. He had taken Debbie on not because of her parentage or physical assets, but because she didn't think she knew better than he did, after 25 years in the music biz.

And Debbie had, it transpired after several conversations on his crackly mobile phone, recorded a song. It was an old Seventies number called You Can Do Magic by Limmie & The Family Cookin'. She even had a band and a name: The Mojams. The following Thursday she was to record a video and the single itself was to be released in May. I asked about The Cook Report and a parade of groans tumbled dimly down the wire. I came away little the wiser, but with the impression that Mr Tomes did not accept the Sunday Times' revelations and that Debbie Currie, pop star, was not a hoax after all.

Before I could gain permission to speak to this sizzling property, however, I had to negotiate with a publicist called Neil Sean, who was as friendly as Mr Tomes and worked from the same office. He agreed to let me have the interview if I put a word in for another of his artistes, Tatjana. A Croatian "model-turned-actress-turned-singer", Tatjana has a single called The First Time out next month. She also has a starring role in David Hasselhof's Baywatch Nights. You heard it here first.

Anyway, my interview with Debbie was fixed for a Wednesday afternoon in Borough, south London. It was a sultry and unseasonable day, and Borough a succession of grimy caffs and pubs. My destination was Mr Tomes's record label, which had a cavernous ground floor and, up an iron staircase, an open-plan office with a handful of desks. Debbie emerged from a side door and once again I was confronted with the vision of her mother updated for the Nineties: a pair of tight trousers, a V-necked white T-shirt and a pair of cheap black platforms (the price, pounds 34.99, still on the plastic soles).

Her manner was detached and languid; it was hard to determine if this was caution toward the press belatedly kicking in, or the results of a late night the day before. She had enviable self- possession for a 22-year-old. Her left arm had a horrific-looking leprous patch where a large tattoo - of a cat's eye - was being removed.

That morning Debbie had signed her first three autographs and she was still dizzy with it. "I'm so lucky!" she exclaimed a couple of times. She picked her way down the iron stairs in the sort of ridiculous platforms Naomi Campbell fell over on and we settled on a sofa. As we talked (she gradually warming up but still retaining her air of distant dignity) she slowly disembowelled a muffin with her curved, lacquered nails.

How did it feel to be famous? I asked, and she almost purred with pleasure. "People keep recognising me on the street - taxi drivers particularly, for some reason. I signed three autographs this morning. A man came up with this piece of paper and I thought, 'What does he want?' It took me ages to work out. I had to make up an autograph on the spot."

How was she coping with the press coverage? "Oh, I've had a couple of snotty-nosed pieces in the press. You can talk about all sorts of things and they'll pick out what they want. You can be sitting there wearing beige trousers with a black T-shirt and they'll say you're wearing a mini."

Really? "Oh yeah. For the Mirror interview I was wearing trousers and a T-shirt which didn't show anything. And they said that stuff about sprawling provocatively on the sofa."

But she didn't seem to mind, and perhaps you can't if you want to be a pop star. Debbie had already been whizzed into a studio for a photo session. The results were sent to an IoS colleague, who looked at the contact sheets of Debbie crouching on all fours and pouting in her underwear with a mixture of pity and distaste. ("Poor girl. Look at her. In her knickers..." she said.)

"But you can't be silly about it," Debbie was explaining. "If you start getting narky with the press, first of all it just gives them another story and I have to remember they're just doing their job. Somebody in the press attacked my eyebrows the other day. If I started getting paranoid about that sort of thing I'd go mental."

I had wondered about her eyebrows, which shared the same Vulcanesque style as her mother's. Were they...? "Yeah, we both pluck them, although I make mine higher... It's the physical things. It can get to you if once a week somebody puts in little digs about the way you look."

But what about the claims she didn't even exist? This reference to the Sunday Times hoax theory woke her up and she got quite cross. "It's ludicrous! The Cook Report! I don't know where they get it from! To be honest, it's quite offensive!" Debbie exclaimed. I watched her closely as she said this, and she seemed to be telling the truth. Then where did they get the idea from? "Well, Barry has done a little bit of work for them, something about the music business, I don't know all the details. That's the only way it could have come." So it wasn't true? "No!"

Well, perhaps it isn't. She certainly sounded convincing. We looked at the Mirror interview together. So was it true that she told Edwina she had lost her virginity when they were in Tesco? Why Tesco, of all places? "Other people have said that." She laughed good-humouredly and relapsed into passivity. "Yes. We just happened to be in the middle of Tesco's. I just happened to have been in London. It wasn't as if I thought: 'I'm going to wait and tell her in Tesco's.' "

But how had it come up? Had she said, "Here's the Fairy Liquid and, by the way, I've just lost my virginity?" "No, we were just chatting and it came up. She was probably asking me if I had a good time in London and I probably said: 'Well - yes!' And she asked if I enjoyed it."

Debbie paused to pick at her muffin at this moment - she may have been toying with me, but I don't think so. And did you? I eventually enquired. "Yes. Well, looking back on it, no, but it was another step into the world of adulthood, which is all exciting at that age."

And what about the other stuff? The four-in-a-bed orgy? Or was that more fantasy from the Mirror? Debbie blushed. It was true, she conceded. "There are going to be people cropping up all over the place with stories about me and what I've done! But I don't think I've done anything to be ashamed of. I don't drink and drive. If I have in the past enjoyed myself having sex with people, I've always been careful. That was one of the things Mum was good about. She knew she couldn't say we mustn't have sex, if we wanted to we were going to whether she liked it or not. She reckoned it was better to tell us about protection."

This raised the spectre of Currie Pere, the accountant Ray. Having endured the publicity attendant on the publication of his wife's racy bestseller, A Parliamentary Affair, one would imagine him to be innured to the frolics of his ladies. But he was reportedly less than happy about his daughter being paraded half-naked through the tabloids. There were even rumours that he threw Debbie out of their home in Derbyshire after the Mirror interview, though I don't think this is true - she is currently staying at the family flat in London. How did he react to Debbie's new stardom?

"He goes very quiet. He's a bit dominated by the women in the family. I think we overpower him." (Debbie has a 19-year-old sister, Susie, a "genius" who is reading economics at Cambridge.) But what had he said about her photos in the papers? "I remember him saying to me, when I started to do interviews before I had a single, 'Hasn't anybody heard you sing yet?' He was very worried they were just exploiting my body. He doesn't like the idea of his little girl growing up. But," she added with unexpected maturity, "no dads do, do they? As long as I don't tell him the gory details, he doesn't mind too much."

The question remains whether he would be chuffed if Debbie went topless, and I think we can assume not. It doesn't stop people trying, though. Penthouse has offered pounds 15,000 for shots of her naked, and the Sunday Sport has also shown interest. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that Debbie doesn't dismiss this out of hand. "At this stage I wouldn't," she says thoughtfully, "but I don't rule it out. If I did it now it would seem like I was just attention-seeking" - shades of Lynda Lee-Potter - "but you never know what the future's going to be. I might be very successful and popular, or I might not. If I don't, I might become a successful personality in another field."

Did she mean as a Page Three model? I wasn't sure. But I was sure about Debbie's interest in fame for fame's sake. And why not? It may be the easiest road to riches for a girl with a C and two Ds at A level, even if her mum is well-known.

"Fame has its drawbacks, the main one is you don't get so much privacy," Debbie observed, "but the benefits far outweigh that. The money, of course; the sort of lifestyle you can lead. I'm already being invited to things that I wouldn't have been otherwise." What sort of things? "Oh, something to do with cars, or something. One photo shoot we did, we borrowed a Ferrari, and I've been invited to some sort of car show."

How would Debbie spend her money, if she made millions? "I'd get myself a place down here first of all, somewhere I can bring my cats, because I miss them like mad. I'd get a car. If any of my family or friends needed help with paying their mortgage off, I'd help them - this is thinking a long way off here."

She really was a nice girl. There was no side to her at all. She didn't think her friends would desert her if she got famous, and she was quite happy to talk about her stint as a lollipop lady in Huddersfield, where she did a degree in English and Communication Arts. (Don't ask.) Her mother also sounded astonishingly sensible, refracted through her daughter. Mum would be happy "whatever I do as long as I start earning money, because I'm still not totally independent of them". Dad would advise her on investments and neither would mind if she didn't - though this is not on the horizon - marry a good Jewish boy.

Debbie Currie was so self-possessed I forgot how young she was, until we got onto the vexed subject of her old school, Denstone in Staffordshire. "Me and a friend were accused of cheating in our German A level and we quite blatantly weren't," she cried. "It was 30 seconds before the end of the exam and this friend glanced at me and I smiled back. The teacher complained and it almost got to the point where we had to retake all our A levels! We were so obviously not cheating!"

She was quite indignant about this incident, which still rankled in her memory. But she is only 22, and not yet quite a pop star. I wonder if she will be as nice at 23. !

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