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Una Healy: I’d be getting into a car and the paparazzi would put a camera up my skirt. You had no control

© Evan DohertyUna Healy.
Una Healy.

Performing on stage to thousands of adoring fans, touring the world and attending glamorous celebrity parties is the kind of success most young singers can only dream of. But for the lucky few who reach those dizzying heights, pop stardom comes with a hefty trade-off.

The recent Framing Britney Spears documentary, which explores the feeding frenzy that has surrounded the singer since her stratospheric rise to fame aged just 16, has highlighted the darker side of female celebrity, while stars such as Taylor Swift have hit out at their treatment by the male-dominated music industry.

For The Saturdays singer Una Healy, having cameras stuck up her skirt by the paparazzi and images of her cellulite splashed across celebrity magazines all came with the territory.

“I remember getting into a car once and a photographer put their camera up my skirt,” explained Una.

“If that happened now you would sue them but it was allowed back then. It was outrageous.

“That would be on page three of a newspaper – a picture of me innocently getting into my car and they had stuck a camera underneath (my skirt).

“When you have pictures taken that you have no control over, that’s really difficult. That was one of the worst parts of being in the group. You would be on stage and photographers would make sure to get a really horrible, unflattering picture.

“One time I was doing a routine and a picture was taken from the back that, with the lighting, showed cellulite. When it was printed, they zoomed in on the cellulite to talk about it. That was really hard, and I don’t think they would do that now.

© Comic Relief/Shutterstock
Una with The Saturdays. 

“People often talk about how, with social media, it’s much harder now but there were lots of tough times back then, too. There’s almost a little more control now over what you put out there and what you don’t.

“Thankfully I think we’ve come a long way. We’re not altogether there yet but it’s coming.”

Like the Spice Girls before them, The Saturdays – Una, Frankie Bridge, Rochelle Humes, Mollie King and Vanessa White – were formed after a record label held open auditions.

Debut single If This Is Love made the UK top 10 in 2008, beginning an impressive run of 18 hits in six years including Forever Is Over, All Fired Up, Gentleman, and No 1 What About Us with Sean Paul.

It was the kind of instant fame many young singers would struggle to deal with, however, Una felt more prepared than most when she landed her role in The Saturdays, having spent years working as a solo artist – and even almost giving up on her dream.

Una, who is now mum to Aoife, nine, and Tadhg, six, from her previous marriage to former England rugby union star Ben Foden, explained: “I had been grafting for years before I got into the group – I had to work really hard, did the pub scene, had my own EP and won a couple of national song contests. But getting into the group really was my big break.

“I auditioned several times to get my place, and we were almost a year in the making so, mentally, I was prepared for whatever might happen – and also prepared for what might not happen.

“There had been so many times where things didn’t work out for me over the years, and so many times that I almost gave up. But I never quite did because I was like, ‘OK give it another go, give it another go’.

© Ben Foden Testimonial/Shuttersto
Una performing solo in London.

“It did start rolling very quickly after our first single went top 10, but all five of us were prepared and supported each other throughout, so it didn’t feel like a shock.”

Bands have a certain reputation for causing trouble on tour. Keith Richards famously once threw a TV set from a hotel window. Nirvana caused thousands of dollars in damage after a memorable late-night bender but life on the road with The Saturdays was an altogether more genteel experience, says Una.

“It sounds so boring but we never really got into too much trouble – we were just so busy,” she laughed. “People don’t realise the hours and work and travel that goes into touring. You see people on stage and think, ‘Oh I bet they get up to all sorts after that’. But really, when we were done, all we did was take all the make-up off, take the hair out, pull on our tracksuits, and head out to the next venue to do it all over again.

“There’s little time to play, really. We had a few good nights, I have to say, but they weren’t very often. We were worked really hard.”

Far from trashing hotel rooms, Una was often more concerned with finding a good place to catch 40 winks. The 39-year-old added with a smile: “With five of us, the rotation of getting hair and make-up done meant there was a lot of waiting around, and that can be draining and boring.

“So, often, I would get the keys for our bus or the tour manager’s car, grab my pillow and go lie down for a bit. You had to get rest whenever you could, so I used to day-nap a lot as well!”

Following the success of their gold-certified greatest hits album Finest Selection, the band decided to take a hiatus in 2014 having sold eight million records. Since then, Una has been busy writing and recording her own music, and her latest single, Swear It All Again, was released earlier this month.

As a solo artist, Una focuses on country-inspired sounds, and also hosts the Saturday breakfast show on Bauer’s Country Hits radio station in her native Ireland, where she is a judge on the Irish version of The Voice. Country music was, and always will be, her first love.

Una explained: “Sheryl Crow was my idol when I was 12. I do love pop – I spent such a long time in a pop group so that influence is always there – but there’s a lot more crossover now, and country is being introduced into the mainstream.

“I wouldn’t pigeonhole my music too much but you can hear my influences in there. This current single is a lot more rocky than previous singles, which were quite funky.”

And how does being on stage alone compare to being up there with her best friends? Does she miss being in a group?

“Well, right now, I miss people more than ever”, she laughed. “Life is quite lonely at the moment, isn’t it? I miss everyone, but at least I’m very lucky to be able to still release music.

“When it comes to touring, I definitely miss being in a group because we had each other all the time, had that company, and lots of laughs. It is different in that way. But I have such fond memories of that time, and we’re all still such good friends.”