Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts looks back: ‘We were little cows’

The singer and her sister Frankie recreate an old family photo and talk friends and fame

Nicola Roberts and her sister Frankie in 1995 and 2022. Later photograph: Simon Webb/The Guardian. Styling: Georgia Nash. Archive photograph: courtesy of Nicola Roberts

Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1985, Nicola Roberts is the eldest of four children and the youngest member of Girls Aloud. Finding fame at 16 as a competitor in TV talent show Popstars: The Rivals, she and the group went on to score some of the biggest hits of the 00s, with 21 Top 10 singles and four No 1s. She later released an acclaimed solo album, 2011’s Cinderella’s Eyes, and has performed in London’s West End and written songs for other artists. Roberts supports the Recycle Your Electricals campaign.

Frankie (on left)

This was taken at our auntie and uncle’s wedding. Nicola and I were quite showy as kids; we liked the attention. But when it came to family events, we wanted to dress up then go home – do it all on our own terms. That’s why we look so done.

Nicola and I were inseparable growing up. When our brothers arrived we were like mother hens – having to change nappies and feed them bottles. We’d be silly, too – at meal times we’d pretend we were in a restaurant and we’d host our own TV shows.

While Nicola and I have never properly fallen out, we fought a lot as kids. Ball-of-rage fistfights. There would be props involved: pans, picture frames, plugs, Hoovers – hot water was a thing at one point. Nicola was vindictive with it. Once we had an argument, probably about something stupid like me moving her Pot Noodle, and instead of getting me right away, she bided her time. She said she’d wash my hair before bed and when it was time to do it she scalded me.

I was 13 when she signed up for Popstars: The Rivals. We were just these little kids who lived in the northwest – and I didn’t really understand what was going on. Our family were at a holiday camp in Devon when Nicola had to go to the auditions. Every day Dad would come off the phone and say, “She got through!” and I’d be like, “Oh great”, not knowing what a big deal it was. We’d take trips to London, 14 of us in a minibus, watch her perform, then I’d be back home the next day, hanging out with my friends on the street.

Although our local community got behind her – there were banners on roundabouts saying “Vote Nicola” – the older girls I’d run into were jealous of her and mean to me. There were pockets of real resentment. I tried to fight them and always knew how to stand up for myself, even though they were six years older. They weren’t going to do anything.

Whenever Nicola and I would spend time together, we’d always do new fun things. She made her world feel normal for me, even though she was on TV. I loved going to photoshoots with her or shopping and thinking, “I’m going to get all these things that I don’t need!” Fame became just another version of our life together.

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That said, it’s hard having a sister in the public domain. I was so young when Nicola faced a lot of criticism in the press, the sort of things you should never say about somebody, especially not a teenage girl. Looking back, it’s really hard to know that someone you love, someone so beautiful, could have been seen in a negative way.

Nicola and I were close then, but we are fiercely close now. She doesn’t even need to speak and I’ll know what she’s thinking or what she might need. It’s us against the world – but then it’s always been that way.


We’re from quite a big family. My mum is one of six, my dad is one of four and they all had four or five kids each, so we were always at weddings, communions and christenings. This was before the time of straightening irons, so the night before we’d have put our hair in cotton rags. We’d wake up with ringlets, get dressed, go to the wedding and sit there bored while Mum took her 500th photograph of the day.

Our family lived on a council estate in Runcorn called Halton Brook until I was about nine. It was a close-knit community and you very much stayed on your estate, with your local chip shop, church, Catholic school. I was a tomboy and used to go out with all the boys on the bikes. Then we moved to a house and I used to spend a lot of time in my room, feeling quite lonely. Frankie loved it, though.

We used to have bunk beds, I’d be on the top and she’d be on the bottom, and we’d be able to speak to each other just using “mmm” sounds. In terms of our physical strength and cheekiness, we were a total match, so that’s why we fought so much. It was a nightmare for our parents. Mum would try to shout at us, and we would just laugh. Dad would come home and tell us off for laughing at Mum and we’d just laugh at him, too. We were little cows.

Initially, I didn’t get into the final 10 of Popstars, so I came home. Then the producers asked me to speak on another ITV show and they told me I would be going into the house [to live with the rest of Girls Aloud] live on air. It was such a whirlwind that I had no time to prepare. I went to London one day and never came back. I was too naive to know what leaving home even meant.

There were certain points in Girls Aloud where I was having a bad time with the media, and as a result I never had the opportunity to get swept away by it all – I was always grounded by everything else that was going on. Some of the other girls had the luxury of being so celebrated they could flourish in a way that was shaping them in the long-term. They seemed to have way more life skills than me, too. I had come from a small town, done my GCSEs and auditioned for the group, so the only conversations I’d ever had were with my school friends, my teachers and my family. I didn’t really know how to speak to people.

One of the girls had to show me how to blow-dry my hair and they’d have to buy tampons and sanitary towels for me because I’d never bought them myself. It didn’t make a difference that I was the oldest of four back at home – that was a small pond and this was a massive ocean. I was very much winging it, so I was glad to have the girls look after me like sisters. It’s horrific to have lost Sarah [Harding]. Every day is still a shock and completely heartbreaking.

These days, Frankie is a great soundboard. I feel as if I’m a bit more of a reach-for-the-moon type – intuitively and spiritually smart – whereas she is more logical and book smart. We fill each other’s gaps very well. Even now I still feel like her older sister.

I don’t have children, I’m single, I love my friends – but Frankie is my responsibility, and that’s great.


Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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