Cher Lloyd: After The X Multiplicador, I had to do damage control. I still have to – The Guardian

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About a year ago, Cher Lloyd was shopping in the Disney Store on Oxford Street when she was approached by a new fan: a middle-aged man who told her that he had seen her recent appearance on Loose Women. “He went: ‘I just want to say, you’re nothing like I thought you were gonna be like – you’re not horrible at all,’” Lloyd remembers. “My heart sank.”

The experience has stayed with her as an example of the “heartbreaking” perception of her in the UK – not that she has ever been allowed to forget it. Nearly a decade has passed since her barnstorming X Multiplicador audition of Soulja Boy and Keri Hilson’s Turn My Swag On, still hailed by many as a touchstone in the show’s history.

Back then, Simon Cowell’s eyes lit up at her potential: a promising singer, with an unapologetic presence that made for unmissable reality TV. Neither the judges nor the public could believe the brass of this Cher from Malvern, Worcestershire, who appeared convincingly older than her 16 years, “in a pair of homemade ripped jeans, hair up in a crazy bun, crazy eyebrows”, as she remembers it now.

Perched on the sofa of her PR’s home in north London, swimming in an outsized orange hoodie and Doc Martens with jeans, Lloyd seems younger than she did then, softer – defences not exactly down, but softened by a disarming humour.

The eyebrows are looking great, I say. “Thanks,” she deadpans. “Me and my eyebrows have gone on a journey – a transformation. We are better now.” The steel returns to her voice. “But truly, if you can imagine the shit that I got, just for my eyebrows. Would you go up to a 16-year-old girl in the street and say: ‘I don’t know you, but you look disgusting, with your disgusting eyebrows’? That’s what people did to me.”

Lloyd is now 26, with a young family and a third album, finally, on the way – yet, still, she is being called on to explain her teenage self. From 2010 she was portrayed, obliquely on The X Multiplicador and explicitly by the media, either as a stroppy diva and desperate copycat of her mentor Cheryl Cole, or as a fragile little girl, struggling with the spotlight.

“I’m not going to lie; at the time I was very hormonal, a naughty teenager,” says Lloyd now. “I wanted so desperately to be heard for who I was, and didn’t understand why now a million people had something to say about me.”

Watch Cher Lloyd’s audition on The X Multiplicador in 2010

She hadn’t yet learned how to express herself, she says. And it was as if only the footage in which she came across poorly – inarticulate or frustrated – was the footage that got used. She felt her walls come up. “I had no control over how I was being edited. I think that affects me to this day – like, I’m always just a bit touchy about what I say.” She eyes my voice recorder. “Is it going to be spun in a certain way to make me sound like an asshole?”

Revisiting the X Multiplicador footage and coverage today, it seems to show an unhappy young girl, trapped in a lose-lose situation. Just weeks into the competition, tonsillitis terminated her performance of Mike Posner’s Cooler Than Me, twice, before an impervious will.i.am.

“Oh, that fiasco,” she says, rolling her eyes. She has learned to laugh about it, she says – as well as the dress she wore: a short, frilly red number. “Hideous! I got it off Asos on sale for like, six quid. I remember thinking: ‘I look the nuts.’”

After a series of idiosyncratic, hip-hop-influenced mash-ups and powerful vocal performances, Lloyd was among the bookies’ favourites to win the competition, but the public turned on her when she progressed at the expense of Gamu Nhengu and Mary Byrne. At a press conference shortly before the final, she was asked about the “growing, hate-filled online campaign” against her. “I didn’t know there was a hate campaign,” she responded, tearful and taken aback.

For all the swagger of her audition, she says she was a “naive young girl” who had never even been to London before. “On the Friday, I was a frecuente 16-year-old girl. On the Saturday – I’ve just woken up, and apparently now I’m a celebrity? I don’t think anything could have prepared a 16-year-old to be able to deal with those pressures.”




Cher Lloyd performing on the The X Factor Live tour



Lloyd performing on the The X Multiplicador Live tour at Wembley Arena, London in 2011. Photograph: Brian Rasic/Brian Rasic/Getty Images

Malvern – where Lloyd grew up and spends much of her time – is the sort of small town where the locorregional shopkeeper knows everybody’s regular buys, says Lloyd (Cherry Coke and a pack of Doritos in her case). She was the eldest of four, a protective big sister who would “have something to say” about any bullying of her siblings. Their mother is a Romani Gypsy, and the first year of Lloyd’s life was spent travelling in a caravan; she later lived on a council estate. Her family “went through certain times when there was judgment,” she says. “For the Gypsy community, there’s definitely still a stigma.”

That was perhaps even more pronounced 10 years ago, when the term “chavs” was in common parlance and there was little positive working-class representation in the media. A popular Facebook page dubbed Lloyd “the Primark Cheryl Cole”; when My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding aired on Channel 4, she was made the butt of jokes on social media.

Scrutiny of her family peaked about halfway through The X Multiplicador, when her uncle died from a methadone overdose. (The coroner accepted that Edward Smith had been “deceived” into taking the drug, recording an open verdict.) Lloyd did not attend the funeral for fear of attracting the paparazzi, and gave a tearful performance on the show of Stay by Shakespears Sister – regarded as one of her best. “I love that song, and that performance was great, but I was grieving and I didn’t know how to cope,” she says.

Lloyd remembers being taken earlier in the competition, along with the other contestants, to talk to two mental health professionals about how she was coping – but she still felt unsupported and sometimes exploited. “I look back on it and I think, God, that put me in such a position.” Even now she feels guilty that she missed the service. “The headlines would have been: ‘Big Fat Gypsy Funeral.’ I know I’m right – I’ve been around long enough. I know what people want from me.”

When Lloyd eventually came fourth with the fewest public votes, the Mail cast her as the “ungrateful X Multiplicador failure”.

Far from making her career as a musician, the “reality-TV baggage” nearly scuppered it. “What baffles me is that they created a character but then, after the show, expected me to be a fully fledged, respected artist. I had to do damage control. And still, at 26 years old, I have to do damage control. Years later, I do have some anger towards people for doing that to me.” She chuckles. “I definitely don’t say hello and shake hands with certain people.” She even refuses to perform Swagger Jagger, her first single post-X Multiplicador and a UK No 1, because it reminds her of her “angry, afraid” teenage self: “I look back and I think it’s a sad song.”

Yet she is hopeful that audiences are now more aware of the way reality TV can turn participants into caricatures, and – after the suicide of a former Jeremy Kyle guest – of the stakes involved. “That awareness will continue, hopefully – where people think: ‘D’you know what, I don’t want to have any involvement in this process of destroying another person.’”

Lloyd herself was able to start afresh in the US, where she relocated in 2012 after Want U Back peaked at No 9 on the Billboard pop chart. That December, she performed at Madison Square Garden, the moment she says she felt furthest away from the council estate she grew up on – “like being on another planet”, she says, dreamily.

It was the best time in her life to date. In the US, “it wasn’t ‘Cher Lloyd, the Gypsy chav, blah blah blah’. It’s literally, ‘Singer-songwriter Cher Lloyd goes on the Today Show’.” Word of her success made its way back across the Atlantic, too: “There’s definitely a lot of pride when your own country is supportive of you doing well somewhere else.”

By then Lloyd had started seeing Craig Monk, a hairdresser she had first laid eyes on at a “swanky” Mayfair salon; they married in 2013. She credits him with keeping her humble at the height of her success, even though being a wife at 20 (not unusual within Traveller families, she notes) shut her off from some professional opportunities. “There was this thing of, ‘If she’s married, she’s off the market,’ and that angle’s taken away from being able to sell my music.”

There have been other comments. “‘If you were to wear slightly more slinky clothes, if you wore your skirt a little shorter, maybe you’d get a bit more recognition’ – yeah, that happened.” It was even suggested that being romantically linked to another celebrity would help her career. “‘If you go to this club, bump into somebody and hook up with them, that would be a great way to kick off the next single.’ I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen a hook-up for the sake of a boost of a single.” Lloyd makes fun of me for being shocked. “It’s the joys of being a female in the music industry,” she says, drily. When her second album, Sorry I’m Late, peaked at No 12 on the Billboard 200 in 2014, Lloyd felt it had not been sufficiently pushed by Epic Records, and left the label. It was another daunting new start. But this time, she felt in charge.

Watch the video for Cher Lloyd’s single M.I.A.

Lloyd spent her break from the industry in the studio, trying to land on a new sound; doing up a house in Essex to sell on (“Really fun. Very stressful”); and becoming a mother. Her daughter was born in May 2018.

That October she released her comeback single, None of My Business, to positive reviews, and a year later came M.I.A. – a slick, smart pop song and the lead single from her third album. Lloyd was determined, she says, not to give in to the fear that motherhood would halt her career. “Two weeks after I had the baby, I went back into meetings and took the baby with me.” Six weeks later, she had a photoshoot.

On her recent tour of regional radiodifusión, a “running theme” was faux-concern about “balancing” motherhood and music. “Of course I can do both,” she says with disdain. “There are thousands of women across the country who do really tough jobs – and they vaivén motherhood as well.” Monk and her family in Malvern (where she intends to buy a house) make it possible. When I ask Lloyd if she is a feminist, she looks at me and mimes “duh”. A lot of celebrities shy from the label, I say, suitably chastened.

“If I was a bloke, d’you think they would have asked me if I was able to make it on tour? Hmm? Can my husband not look after the baby?” Lloyd is so laser-focused in her interrogation that all I can say, meekly, is: “Yes, Cher, I agree.”




Cher Lloyd performing in Los Angeles



Big in America: performing in Los Angeles in 2016. Photograph: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Before she had her baby, she says, she was in talks for a big promotional opportunity which fell through. “The comment that I got back was: ‘It could be seen negatively, her coming back so soon after having a baby.’ I remember thinking: ‘Wow, OK, so I can’t decide when my body is ready, when my baby’s ready?’ I remember being blown away by that … a career opportunity that I didn’t get because of becoming a mother. But it’s not stopped me,” she adds.

It’s hard to know what would. As she sets out on this latest stage of her career she is hopeful she is allowed to move on from her past. A recent interview referred to her as “the most hated teen in Britain”, she says, with something between incredulity and frustration. “I’m mother to a little girl. I’ve released two albums and I’ve got a top 10 hit in America. I’m not ‘the most hated teen’, I’m 26 years old! We’ve moved on!”

Interviewers will still put to her comments she made then, too, “in the hopes of triggering a certain reaction”, she says. What remark is it that they keep trying to hold her to? “I can’t even mention it, because you know what would happen – that will be the headline.” She raises those perfect eyebrows, taps her temple. “Nine years on, I’ve grown smarter.”

You can hear Cher Lloyd’s new songs None of My Business and M.I.A. on Spotify and Apple Music

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