Esquire, October 1998
We've only just met and already Louise is all kisses and apologetic smiles.
"Sorry I'm late", she says.
It is indeed later than originally arranged - my train from London arrived two hours late, and we had to put back out lunch appointment. Yet, before I can open my mouth to apologies for all the aggravation I've caused, Louise has beaten me to it, and is now thanking me for coming all the way up to Liverpool, where she spends her spare time with her new husband, England footballer Jamie Redknapp.
If it was anyone else, I'd be suspicious. Surely, she's turning on the charm in order to draw my claws? Not so - Louise is like this all the time. As one acquaintance put it, "She's pleasant and gracious, and you can't help liking her." Everybody certainly seems to, from taxi-drivers who "beep me and say 'Hiya'" to Big Issue sellers who can always rely on her custom "Jamie says, 'How many more of them are you going to buy this week?'; we've always got a pile of them".
What you see is what you get - the girl next door. Any girl-next-door that takes your fancy: she can do sexy, regularly voted Britain's sexiest woman; sulky she was once told that she looks 12 when she smiles and did her best to stop. That's the Louise of the magazines and videos. In person, though, it's words like "sunny" and "smiley" that spring to mind.
"I am the firl-next-door type to some people," she agrees happily. "I don't take it as an insult. People gave their opinions, that I can or can't sing, or that I'm thick and just a product of other people. But I'm not stupid, I don't live in a little bubble of hype. I don't try to be anything I'm not my natural image is very casual, very normal, not glam."
Image is clearly a subject to which Louise has given considerable thought. She is determined that whatever the demands of the market, she will remain true to herself.
"I'm not trying to be trendy or really cool, I'm just going to be what I am," she insists. "I'd love to say I write beautiful songs and I sing them gorgeously but that's not really me - it's the whole package, the stage show, the entertainment value of being an artist."
Her musical tastes were formed early
"The only music we had on indoors was Motown, and on Sunday, I'd wake up to Bob Marley and the smell of bacon".
She still likes old favorites like Diana Ross's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", Dinah Washington and Al Green, but believes current British R&B singers and producers are a match for anyone in the states. Mica Paris is her all-time favorite, and she is full of praise for former Eternal partner, Easther
"People don't appreciate her. The day she ignores the pressure of making a record and really sings, people won't believe it. I've heard it in the living-room. The last gig I did with her we did 'Amazing Grace' and I've still got the hairs standing up on my neck."
Talking of British music, what does she think of Tony Blair and Cool Britannia?
"It would be really unfair of me to sit here and say I don't like him, because, to be honest, I don't know a lot about politics. I was away during the election, but for me, I think 'the devil you know' sometimes, so I don't know if I would have voted in Labour."
Would you have voted for John Major?
"Um...maybe. Yeah, most probably. I've been around the world and I don't think our country's that bad, but then I'm living in a nice place, I'm comfortable. It's hard to vote, especially when you're happy and your life's going well and you haven't got a grievance, even though I come from a very normal, very humble family, brought up in Lewisham, and haven't always seen good times. At the end of the day, you've got to go with yout instincts...whose face you like the best..."
"I think they should just get up there and be a politician. We're not worried about whether they're cool, what music they listen to or what their suits look like. We just want to know if our taxes are good and everybody's got their healthcare, and could they just find a few jobs, please?"
Louise saYs her life "is not always roses". But some days, it definitely can be. She has just finished a photographic shoot involving 600 of them - enough to maintain her modesty as she lay naked in a bath with a photographer clicking away. There were also 150 balloons, 200 candles, a fire extinguisher and, to prove that even when it isn't all roses, life can still be a bowl of cherries, there was a bowl of cherries too.
"I particularly liked that," she laughs. "It was, 'Bring me another bowl!'"
The pictures are for a calendar, which will be a curtain-raiser for her new album - and new look - next year. Can we expect a toned-down image now that she's married?
"Well, I would never have done pictures that were disrespectful to myself or my family, so I certainly wouldn't go for it more now. I don't feel I've ever done anything I can't take home. Sometimes the tabloids get hold of things you say, but I'm not into having a swear-up in front of the cameras just for the sake of it. If people think I'm not naughty enough then I'm sorry."
There have been occasional errors of judgement: "I once wore a really nice dress and the back-light made it completely see-through. I couldn't believe it - I'd tried so hard not to show too much. I spent all year trying to be a nice girl, then one day, off my own bat, no one telling me to wear it, it's all ruined."
What about Jamie's team-mates? Aren't footballers notorious piss-takers?
"I don't know if they'd give him stick about me now 'cause I'm his wife. I don't think they'd be allowed to. I'm lucky, he plays with a good crowd and I've known them for a long time so they become your friends also and they are very supportive. Anyway, I can have a laugh about myself as well. I don't take myself so seriously that I can't enjoy it."
Father-in-law Harry, manager of West Ham, recently declared that a footballer's wife's place was in the home. I wonder what she made of that.
"I'm sure he never said it like that," she replies, in a way that brooks no argument. "Obviously, I know Harry very well and he's brilliant with me. If he phones up, he's like, 'What are you doing, Lou, babe you started the new album?' He comes to see me in concert. He's quite 'up' that I'm independent and have got my own life ahead. I think Jamie, though he's proud of what I do, would really like me to be at home, but he always says to me to do that when the time's right for me, because he knows that if I did it just for him, then in a few years' time I'd be a complete nutcase going, 'You made me stop work!'"
Louise didn't know Jamie was a footballer when they first met, and has never pretended to be interested in the game. Did she get caught in the summer's World Cup fever?
"I'm very patriotic when it comes to England, but no, I'm not a big football fan. If I went home now he'd be watching it on teletext." A dark look comes over her face - or at least, the darkest she can manage. "People always ask me what's going on and I always know, 'cause I'm hearing it all the time, but I don't understand any of it."
Her young brothers, who are totally blasé about their famous sister, take a different view.
"They're more interested in Jamie," she smiles. "Even now, they get excited when they see him. I say, 'Calm down, he's only a guy, he just plays football.' Sometimes, one of their friends will sit at the dinner table and just stare at me, but the last time I was there, a load of them were playing football in the garden and when I went out to sunbathe, no one even said 'hello'."
Louise would never forget to say 'hello'. Or 'goodbye'. Polite to the end, she thanks me for coming, then offers me a lift and calls her driver - J Redknapp. She admits to having recently failed her fifth driving test, but points out in her defence that three of them were written papers, and she's "been too busy working to read the book."
The Land-Rover arrives with no fanfares, not even the loud rap music which Louise complains about. She gets in the back, to Jamie's obvious surprise, but he immediately greets me and offers his hand as I get in the front. "All right, babes?" he says tenderly to her, not me, and that one phrase is enough to instantly establish that there's a small part of Liverpool that is forever London.
Conversation moves quickly on to serious matters like Jamie's fitness and Crystal Palace's promotion prospects. One person remains conspicuously silent.
"See what I mean?" she pipes up eventually, "I know what's going on, but I don't say much..."
Esquire, October 1998