Back in 2002, reality television was still something of a novelty, its subjects largely ordinary people who craved fame. But the Osbournes were already famous – or at least Ozzy was, as the wild, drug-consuming frontman of Black Sabbath, one of the world's biggest heavy metal acts.
Ozzy and his second wife Sharon, a much-respected (and feared) manager of rock acts, were keen to take MTV up on its offer; likewise, two of their three children, Kelly, then 17, and Jack, 16. The eldest, Aimee, was not.
"Back then, I still felt I was trying to figure out who I was in the chaos of family life, so why on earth would I want that portrayed on television?" Aimee says now. "I wanted to protect myself, my parents, my siblings, too. They were very young, very impressionable."
Family discussions ensued ("more shouting matches, really"), but the vote went four against one. "It didn't matter what I thought, ultimately. This was their path, their decision, and they were of course at liberty to take the opportunity. Which they did."
And so MTV moved in, and Aimee moved out. "Obviously, I would have liked to stay at home a little longer," she says, "but it wasn't to be."
The Osbournes was a huge hit around the world, a real-life Simpsons with an 18 certificate. Its documentation of the family dynamic was unsparing: Ozzy a drug-addled wreck, albeit a rather lovely one; Sharon funny and filthy; Kelly and Jack chips off the old block, and as precocious as only children of the very rich can be.
It ran for four seasons, and afforded them a peculiar kind of notoriety that endures to this day. They remain a perpetual soap opera: Ozzy with his lingering demons and Sharon her TV career and battles with cancer; Kelly briefly becoming a pop star and, for considerably longer, a hate figure on social media; and Jack making adrenalin-fuelled programmes for TV before settling down and having children. In 2012, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
And all the while, Aimee remained steadfastly off-camera. On the few occasions she has been mentioned in the media at all, she has been cast as the "enigmatic" one, the "hermit", the "recluse". For a while, she dabbled in acting, appearing in a 2003 MTV production of Wuthering Heights alongside a young Katherine Heigl, but she has spent most of her adulthood trying to get her music career up and running.
"It's been a frustrating journey," she admits, "a lot of trial and error. For years it felt like I was swimming in the ocean, all by myself."
Aimee is 32 now, and at last ready to present her music. Not under her own name, but as ARO. It's her initials; the R stands for Rachel.
It is for this reason – the music – that I am here to talk to her on a bright Sunday morning, at a posh hotel in Mayfair. I spy her in the far corner of the opulent breakfast room, looking somewhat nervous. She is not used to interviews yet, and these are still early days for ARO. She self-released a single earlier this summer, the Lana del Rey-tinged "Raining Gold"; the accompanying video has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube – no mean feat for someone without a Twitter account and precious little online presence.
She doesn't yet have a recording contract, and is in London to meet prospective labels. But she impresses upon me that she will sign to one only if she can retain full creative control. "I never had to battle for my identity," she says flatly. "I have always been me."
She is an intriguing proposition. I had arrived expecting a typical Osbourne – garish, opinionated, larger than life – but the woman before me is more Audrey Hepburn, all cheekbones and pout, poised as she leans forward to sip on her blackcurrant tea. Though she tells me she has never taken elocution lessons, the Queen would admire her cut-glass accent, the way in which she rounds her vowels and brackets them within the crispiest of consonants.
Her music is similarly, deliberately, un-Osbourne-like. I've heard early mixes of six songs, and each of them, like the aforementioned single, is moody and meditative, imbued with the spirit of dolorous trip-hop. It is not happy music. "Raining Gold" concerns itself with disillusion and self-doubt, while "Cocaine Style" is about growing up around children of extreme privilege. "I've seen a lot of people deteriorate under such circumstances," she tells me. Even when interpreting other people's songs – specifically LCD Soundsystem's droll "I Can Change" – she reimagines it as a funereal lament.
"I've lived through a lot of dark environments one way or another while growing up," she says, "and that has influenced my songwriting. And, yes, I suppose melancholy is a running theme."
This is not apologetic. And, indeed, it not only suits her, it also helps buck any expectations people might have of her. She's been bucking expectation her whole life…
Born in London in 1983, Aimee Osbourne grew up between the English countryside and America's West Coast. Home life, she says, was always a little crazy. "We travelled a lot, went on tour with my dad a lot. But there was never a moment when any of us didn't feel loved, or taken care of."
By her own admission, she was an introverted child, the black sheep in a family of voluble extroverts. If the Osbournes really were the Simpsons made flesh, Aimee was perhaps its Lisa.
"I suppose I was the one that had to be in control a lot of the time," she says. "But then it came naturally. And, for me, watching people get out of control, and be indulgent and dramatic was… well, very silly."
She resisted following a similar script for herself, perhaps because everyone around her so readily succumbed.
"When you are already surrounded by that kind of thing, you either surrender fully and accept it as your destiny, or you think to yourself, 'You know what? I'm not going to try that, actually.' OK, it may have been their thing," she adds, presumably referring to her siblings, both of whom have dealt publicly with drink and drug issues, "but I didn't want to do that. I kept it together, mostly."
Her introversion was compounded by the difficulties of negotiating the social circles she inhabited. In England, she felt guilty for coming from wealth, and she found it hard to tempt schoolfriends home for playdates given that her father was once reputed to have bitten the head off a bat.
"But over in America, wealth is not something to be embarrassed about. Over there, it's like: 'Your dad is only a rock star? Mine owns a movie studio…'"
She sank into a depression, made all the k more acute when her parents signed up to have their daily lives paraded on television. She quit school, left home and underwent a variety of therapy treatments while reading as many pop psychology books as she could. "Oh, I'm a psychology nerd; I love to learn about why people behave the way they do, how experiences influence us. It helped me get through all this, to make sense of it," she says.
Via psychotherapy, and with time, she says she learnt forgiveness and acceptance. Osbourne still lives alone in Los Angeles, and although she declines to tell me whether she is in a relationship, she does say that relations with her family have greatly improved.
In fact, she says, she is very close to her parents today – though perhaps less so with her siblings, about whom she is prepared to say very little. "I wouldn't say there is an ease between us," she offers, "but there is an acceptance. Do we socialise? No."
It is hard not to wonder how this most private of Osbournes might take to fame now, should she find it through her music. She tells me that whatever happens, she will be ready, because she has already learnt how to live life on her terms. Besides, she says, those who complain most about the vagaries of fame are the ones who sought it out in the first place. "I'll be having lunch with my mum and she'll complain about the paparazzi outside. I tell her that she could have worn a beanie, but of course she never does. She loves it – it's how she chooses to connect with people. That's fine, I can respect that. But I'm the opposite. I always have been." 1
ARO's single 'Raining Gold' is out now; an album and tour will follow later this yearReuse content