Kimberley Walsh: from Girls Aloud to showtunes

As her bandmates cornered pop, Kimberley Walsh needed to find her own niche. The answer, she tells James McNair: Strictly, showtunes, and a future on Broadway

“How can you go to Barbados and catch a cold?” says Kimberley Walsh, sniffling absently. Her fleeting glumness segues to Saturday-night-TV smile and suddenly she's in promo mode. That's showbiz.

Now 31, the Girls Aloud singer and joint runner-up of last year's Strictly Come Dancing hoof-off has been putting her best gloss on things since starring in a George at ASDA advert as a child. When we meet in London's West End to discuss her debut solo album Centre Stage, a big freeze is homing-in outside. Walsh's recent, much paparazzied beach holiday with boyfriend Justin Scott – “Look at that Strictly-toned stomach!” ogled one red-top – must seem a distant memory.

The Brucie and Tess Daly-helmed Strictly has been a profile-raiser for Walsh. Her determination and girl-next-door charm were a good fit for the programme, and, though she won't reveal any details, she confirms she's since been inundated with other TV offers.

“Strictly was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, though,” she says. “I got a shock. I went to stage school [at Stage 84, Bradford], but the dancing there was more 'just try and copy this', whereas with the Strictly stuff, everything I thought I knew how to do, I was doing wrong.”

The programme's producers had been courting Walsh for a number of years, but only last year did her schedule allow participation. She also played the ogress Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2012, but the requisite fat-suit, green makeup and fake snoz were small beer, Walsh says, compared to the physical demands of Strictly.

How did her boyfriend feel about she and the Russian-born pro Pasha Kovalev dancing to Beyoncé's “Naughty Girl”? “It is intimate, and it is bizarre”, says the singer in warm West Yorkshire tones, “but Justin's really chilled out and he can see it for what it is: part of my job. It isn't as glamorous as it looks, either. You're standing on each other's feet, knocking each other over, and seeing each other when you're all sweaty. It's hard graft.”

Graft is clearly something Walsh relishes. Before recording Centre Stage, a collection of songs from well-known shows, she returned to singing lessons. In ITV's 2008 documentary series The Passions of Girls Aloud, Walsh gamely auditioned for a West End production of Les Misérables, but it transpired that years of singing low-to-mid range pop in unison had left her ill-equipped to scale the heights of “On My Own.” This time out she's much better prepared, however.

“I learned a huge amount doing Shrek,” says the singer. “It was crazy to get to 30 and suddenly realise that if I changed this movement in my larynx I could belt it out or move up into my third voice. Doing ”Defying Gravity“ [from Wicked] on the new album was a challenge, but I think I nailed it. My producers were like, 'Do you want us to bring it down a notch or two?' I was like, 'Nope.'”

Walsh seems content to pursue a solo musical career that will likely please mums and dads more than it does “the kids”. She says she still loves pop, and she's clearly relishing going on tour with Girls Aloud again. “I didn't want my solo album to be pop or R&B,” she says, stretching out leather-trousered legs that end in Kurt Geiger wedge boots. “Cheryl [Cole] and Nicola [Roberts] have got that covered. This was a way of distinguishing myself from the other girls and I think it's true to who I am at this point.

“I've done a kind of Sixties version of ”Somewhere“ from West Side Story and ”I Still Believe“ from Miss Saigon.”

Walsh was born in Bradford. Her father John, a kitchen salesman, and mother Diane, a music teacher, split up when she was six. Kimberley's three siblings, Sally, Adam and Amy also went to theatre school (“I think they gave us a group discount.”). Sally went on to play Emmerdale's Lyn Hutchinson from 1997-2000.

Little sister Kimberley acted in The Book Tower, the Yorkshire Television children's show that dramatised popular novels, but of course it was talent show Popstars: The Rivals that brought Walsh to the fore. On 30 November, 2002, she and her Girls Aloud bandmates were thrown together by that most curious of agents, telephone voting.

“It gave the public a connection with us,” says the singer. “I think they thought they owned us a little bit, but then they watched us grow as a group and grow up as individuals. After [debut single] ”Sound of the Underground“ went to No 1 we actually had a bit of a shaky spell. It was a difficult time for pop music and our record company nearly dropped us. ”Love Machine“ [a UK No 2 in September 2004] was a turning point, though. That was when I thought, 'OK, we're gonna get a few more years out of this.'”

Two nights before our chat, Walsh and the rest of Girls Aloud had a meeting to finalise the stage-set for Ten: The Hits tour 2013. “Afterwards I couldn't sleep,” she says excitedly. “Everybody's taking it very seriously in terms of making it as good as it can be.”

Girls Aloud go on, then, but what if Broadway beckoned? “It's the ultimate dream for someone in my position,” says Walsh.

'Centre Stage' is out on Decca on 4 February. See Andy Gill's review, page 20

This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of Radar Magazine

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral