Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock

PoliceI have not got time to do anything about it. If that sounds like hyperbole, it is not. To give you some idea of how busy this British quartet is right now, when we meet at a north London studio in the middle of February, it is the day after a crazy 24 hours involving them getting up at 3am to do back-to-back interviews for the international press. Jesy Nelson, 24, arrives first an hour late. She is bleary-eyed and unusually wan with her hood pulled low over her face. Gradually the rest trickle in: Jade Thirlwall, then Leigh-Anne Pinnock and finally Perrie 20 minutes later looking, in her own words, fucking exhausted. This is life now for these four young women: a cavalcade of interviews, performances, award ceremonies and magazine shoots. Like One Direction before them, they live their lives under the constant glare of cameras always working, always performing.

Of course, it is paying off. Last May, their comeback single after a year off'(we’ll come to that pop stars do not really have time off’), Black Magic went straight in at number one while their doo-wop-inspired Love Me Like You was possibly the most infectious song of 2015. What’s more, their new album Get Weird beat One Direction’s Made In The AM in the UK’s album charts. On top of this, they are one of the few British outfits to have cracked the US market: their first album DNA went in at number four on the US Billboard chart, earning them the highest debut US chart position by a British girl group ever, even beating the Spice Girls. Not bad for four girls pulled together on The X Factor back in 2011 which, incidentally, they went on to win. The thing is, they do not look like they are having the time of their lives. Not right now anyway. I’m baffled as to how we do it, says LeighAnne.

We feel awful, Perrie chips in. Bags down, thoughts turn to food. Perrie, who is teeny in the flesh, opts for a bacon buttie in a croissant washed down with a mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows, while Essex-born Jesy asks for scrambled eggs well done, no toast, but later changes her mind and upgrades to a full English. Jade, the quietest and most demure of the group, goes for a sausage sarnie, saying it would be champion if she could get some brown sauce. Leigh-Anne, 24, meanwhile, just nibbles on some food she’s brought from home because she’s on a special diet. Jesy is undoubtedly the group’s spokesperson, jumping in first to answer most questions. She’s bold, funny and very candid (she tells me she’s forgotten to put on any underwear today) but once the camera is in place she becomes fractious, flitting to and from the dressing room throughout the shoot to fix her hair and make-up. It is Perrie (nicknamed Pez) who is in fact the most open; surprising, given the media scrutiny she’s endured over her relationship with Zayn Malik, formerly of One Direction, over the past 13 months.

In March 2015, Zayn was pictured holding hands with 22-year-old fan Lauren Richardson outside a nightclub in Thailand. He subsequently released a statement denying claims he’d cheated on Perrie, then quit the One Direction tour (because of stress’) and flew home to be with her. Just weeks later, a Swedish club promoter, Martina Olsson, claimed she’d spent the night at Zayn’s Thai villa. Then, in August, he ended the engagement. At the time of going to press, Zayn is dating supermodel Gigi Hadid. Then there’s Jade, the pretty, delicate flower of the group the antithesis of LeighAnne’s upbeat, party-girl persona. Throughout the day, Jade takes herself off to check her emails, and at points throughout our interview she looks shy and pensive. But first let’s start with Perrie

Perrie Edwards The first thing you notice when you meet Perrie is her laugh. Well it is more of a cackle, actually sexy and raspy, as though someone’s just told her a filthy joke. I ask her for the best relationship advice she’s ever been given Don’t have one! she booms in that brilliant Geordie accent. Who gave her that advice? Everyone! Cackle, cackle, cackle. If you didn’t know that Perrie was previously engaged to Zayn, whom ishe met on The X Factor, you can’t have read a newspaper since 2011. When he called off their engagement after four years together, Perrie was said to be heartbroken just weeks after the split, she was seen to break down in tears during a performance in New York. But today she certainly does not look like the injured party, despite the fact that Zayn’s steamy new video for Pillowtalk was released a few days ago.

Since moving out of the £5 million home she shared with Zayn, she’s bought her own place, she tells me, a bungalow in Surrey.Does that sound like it should belong to a nana? she asks, looking concerned. Because it is not nana-y. It’s really pretty. It’s not decorated yet, because I have not had any time and it is doing my head in. The builders are in while we are on tour and my mum is overseeing everything. London is too much for me. I like to be in Surrey with the trees, rabbits and deer. It’s surrounded by fields, I love it. Does she get scared now that she lives on her own? I love my own company, she says.And I’m never really alone. I always have my mum, brother or best friend there.

She also confides that she plans on being naughty during their current six-month tour, which kicked off on 13 March in Cardiff and covers everywhere from Denmark to the Philippines to Australia.I’m going to go out and have a drink, she says, excitedly (previously, Perrie rarely touched booze).I’ll be awake late with Leigh-Anne this time round. Times have changed. Rewind to four or five years ago and I’d have been like,No, we do not really party. Now I’m like,Yeah!Although, as all pop stars are prone to do, she quickly caveats with We’re still really professional though, so we wouldn’t do anything silly.

Perrie grew up in South Shields, Tyne and Wear. Her parents, Debbie and Alexander, were both singers and encouraged her to apply for The X Factor. She was studying for a BTEC in performing arts at Newcastle College, and had plans to become a drama teacher.l love my mum more than anything in the world, she says.I’d cling to her leg when I was younger I still do. I sit on her knee. I was really shy at school and getting whisked away at such a young age was scary [Perrie was 18 when Little Mix won The X Factor]. It was really hard for me and Jade to say goodbye to our families. Because we are from up north, we rarely saw them. I was so lucky to have the girls they were like my big sisters. Perrie is the first to admit that she’s struggled with fame.At the beginning, I used to search Little Mixand Perrieonline, she says.

You can read a thousand lovely comments about yourself and then one bad one sticks in your head for ever. It’s like being at school with a group of really nasty people. Someone once wrote that I had cankles, and now I have issues with my ankles. I think they are the biggest, chunkiest things in the world. If you do not have anything nice to say, then do not talk! The hardest thing she’s had to come to terms with, though, is the intrusion into her private life.When it is your personal life, something you are going through, I think people should fuck off and have respect, she says.At the end of the day, we are real people going through real things. But thankfully for Perrie, what she’s going through right now is one of the best times of her life. Jade Thirlwall Jade is in a panic surprising given she’s the undisputed Dalai Lama of the group, all serene smiles undercut by a surprisingly deep calm for someone so young. She’s recently started dating Jed Elliott from The Struts but they have both just embarked on tours. I’m scared, she says. She speaks in a soft Geordie lilt like Cheryl FernandezVersini’s.He’s going to America and we are headed all over the place, too. It’s going to be really hard but we will FaceTime and hopefully he will come and watch us. We’ll see.

They’ve only been seeing each other for a couple of months, but Jade is clearly smitten. The others keep ribbing her about it.It’s good dating someone who’s in the same industry, she says.He gets it which is handy, but it is also really hard because he’s just as busy as we are, if not busier. We have a day here and there. Like Perrie, Jade grew up in South Shields they had mutual friends but, weirdly, didn’t know each other. The only thing Jade ever wanted to do was sing; she was gigging in bars and pubs when she auditioned for The X Factor. I was sending off demos [to record labels] but nobody got back to me, she says. As a plan B, she had applied for (and was later offered) a place on an arts course. It’s hard when you know what you want to do in life but can’t get it, she sighs. If I hadn’t ended up in the band I’d probably still be roaming around trying to find a job. Jade admits that she went a little wild after the band won the The X Factor: It was my first time out of my mum’s house and I was living the dream, she laughs. When we went on The X Factor tour it was mayhem. I went out every night and was hungover most days. I do not know what came over me! It was like going to Magaluf when you are 18 that’s how I treated the tour. Then it ended and I thought, Oh no.

Fame hasn’t come at an easy price for Jade, who admits she has become self-conscious about her looks. When she sees pictures of herself on our shoot she is concerned the make-up does not hide the bags under her eyes and a vein on her forehead, which she says appears when she’s laughing or angry. It’s like Harry Potter’s scar, she jokes. Normally I cake the make-up on. Jade is also paranoid about her nose. One of the first photo shoots we did, they changed the shape of my nose [with Photoshop]. I got so upset because I thought they had done it because it was big. I hate my nose now. This industry can be so cruel. Jesy Nelson You’re 20 years old, desperate to be a pop star and have landed a coveted spot on the UK’s biggest TV talent competition it should be the most exciting time of your life, right? Not for Jesy. Despite winning the final of The X Factor, much of her time on the show was plagued by self-doubt thanks to online trolls making cruel jibes about her weight. It used to make me cry, she says. She has a strong Essex accent and scrolls through her phone while we talk.

I was shocked at the time. I was a young girl and I thought, What have I done to you? Why do you have to be mean to me?I’m not a nasty person and I took it to heart. Some of the things people said were disgusting. It really affected me. She reportedly lost two stone after the show and this early negative experience seems to explain a lot about Jesy’s insecurities on our shoot today. Nevertheless, she’s a strong character. She acts like a bit of a mother figure to the other three girls, fussing over them and telling them off when they take too long filling in our quiz [see panels]. Last year, when the girls were struggling to write their third album, it was Jesy who helped keep them going even when they missed their third deadline and rumours that they were splitting up began to circulate. We got stuck in a rut,she says.The album wasn’t good enough. It took us a year, locked in a tiny studio, to write it. It was horrid. We cried so much. There was one song we wrote seven different choruses for and it still wasn’t right.

Leigh-Anne is the most positive person in the group and even she was getting down. We hit rock bottom. Thankfully, Black Magic came along and the group have been on the up ever since.It all fell into place, she says. Jesy, who is engaged to Jake Roche, the lead singer of pop-rock band Rixton, applied for The X Factor at a very low point in her life. She had hoped to become a dancer bu was working at four bars while with her mum (she does not have any contact with her dad), and didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life.I was lying in bed one day, really down, and as much as I loved my bar job, I thought,I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I had jack shit to back me up. Mum told me I should audition for the show. That audition was the first time I’d ever sung in front of anyone and I hated every single second of it. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Leigh-Anne Pinnock She may be a quarter of one of the most successful music acts of the moment but Leigh-Anne Pinnock, 24, still lives with her mum. And she’s a bit embarrassed to admit it.It’s time for me to stand on my own two feet, she says.I do not want to live with my mum any more! Unlike many women her age, Leigh-Anne’s decision to live at home in Buckinghamshire, where she grew up, has nothing to do with money. The Little Mix members insist they aren’t millionaires (although reports in 2014 collectively worth £33 million), but they are most definitely wealthy. And one of the highlights for LeighAnne has been helping her family financially. My family struggled and worked hard, and knowing one day I will be able to buy both my mum and my dad a house is good, she says.At Christmas, I put a surprise lump sum into my close family membersbank accounts, she says.It was an amazing feeling. Leigh-Anne was on a gap year when she applied for The X Factor and credits her dad, John, for pushing her.He took me to stage schools and said, You’re going to do it, whereas my mum wanted me to go to uni. So I have a connection with him because he encouraged me to go on the show. Leigh-Anne plans to use some of the money she has earned to buy a house with her boyfriend of three years, Ashford Town FC’s Jordan Kiffin. Jordan is a regular fixture on Little Mix’s tours.He comes to watch us a lot, she says.We can’t get rid of him! So that’s pretty good.

Leigh-Anne clearly enjoys a good time on tour and says she was quite badly behaved before she met Jordan. I used to have the crown for partying in the group. Jade and I probably got off with every boy on The X Factor tour. I mean a kiss of course I’m joking, we weren’t that bad. She grimaces, playfully.But we had fun. XGet Weird is out now She had t instead e living.

Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock Photos



 

Jade Thirlwall and Leigh Anne Pinnock

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