SKY, June 1997
"Can you see my nipples?". Eight pairs of eyes fix on her tiny DKNY knitted top.
"Erm... have you got them on?" asks Victor, the photographer.
"Yeah, I've got them on," she laughs.
A few weeks previously....The British music press are troughing nosily at the Capital Radio cafe for the unveiling of Louise's Soft and Gentle 'No Sweat' tour. A pyramid of lilac deodorant canisters adorns the entrance hall, and on stage the MC announces in his throatiest DJ-deluxe voice; "If Dennis Pennis is here, could you leave now...? Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for 'The Sexiest Woman in The World', as voted by Sky Magazine - Louise" and here she is, looking like an Italian Starlet in a see-thru Doice & Gabbana party frock teamed with this season's requisite fashion item - flesh-coloured big knickers (I'm not the only one who checks). A shiver of genuine excitement runs through the assembled hacks as they realise they are witnessing something we at Sky cottoned on to ages ago: the birth of a British superstar.
In a manner of appropriate to homegrown stars, Louise answers all the questions put to her graciously and carefully. A bald Pennis-wannabe type in a squeaky vinyl jacket leaps to his feet. "Louise, what would you say the sweatiest part of a footballer is?" he smirks. Louise takes a deep breath: "I don't tend to touch footballers when they're sweaty. But if I use my brain, I'd say his feet." Atta girl.
Later, we manage to pry the other journos off Louise and take her to an east London studio. She's changed into a pair of spray-on indigo denims and has just added 'The Woman Most Men Would Like To Marry' to her list of accolades.
"But do they dey dow dat I can't cook?" she says nasally, as foundation is dabbed onto her narrow nostrils. Her minder, Wendy, a blonde 'stage mum' type, sends out for Day Nurse and receives strict instructions from Louise to answer he mobile when it rings and explain that she's not available. It becomes more obvious that an elaborate game of lovers' phone tag is going on.
Louise stares furiously at her silent phone, then with a great smile on her face, declares: "This is war!" I could give Louise a chinese burn on both wrists and she still wouldn't reveal the identity of the caller. But if the suspense is really killing you, for the purpose of this article, we will assume that the phone torturer is Liverpool lovely Jamie Redknapp, with whom out Lou has been spotted smooching around town lately....
The first time I ever saw Louise was in 1993. She was crouched on the stage with the rest of Eternal at a Just Seventeen roadshow, wearing a Sporty Spice-style top knot. The 1997 model looks mortified. "Oh God, some of the things we wore...Some of the things we did! I don't know why I didn't get my hair done for the first two years I was in the band. I always looked like I was on the way to school."
According to Louise, the 1996 Sky cover changed the way people looked at her, for good. "It changed my life, it opened me up to a lot of people who would otherwise never have checked out a Louise record."
Not half. It's worth pointing out at this point that while many graduates of British boy bands have been struggling to cross over into adult markets, a more favourable percentage of their female counterparts have evolved into gorgeous, groovy multi-unit-shifting swans. Eternal are now seriously grown-up laydeez and in just one year Louise has notched up a platinum-selling album and four Top 10 hit singles.
In case you already didn't know, Louise's rise to fabulousness began at the Milk Bar, a now defunct London club, where a very young Louise and her friend Kelle were spotted by musical impresario Dennis Inglesby (Wendy's boss).
Seven years on, Louise is still looked after by Inglesby's management company First Avenue. Like good parents, they've raised and nurtured a very polite little pop star - Louise won't even single out her favourite Spice Girl because it wouldn't be fair. Let's try a different approach then. Who would she sleep with from Friends?
"Matt Le..."; she begins. "ooh! I don't know. All of them are handsome, but I wouldn't sleep with any of them. I wouldn't, I wouldn't."
Like Kylie, Louise had the dubious pleasure of growing from a girl into a woman in the public eye. "That period when I first left Eternal was hard. I remember having to do some solo photoshoot with a really famous photographer and I didn't know if I was coming or going. Part of me still felt like a really young girl - I still do now."
Nor can she get her head around her newly-acquired tag of World's Sexiest Woman. "I was in the car coming back from the studio in my trackies and trainers and my manager phoned me and said: 'Is this the sexiest woman in the world?' I said: 'Shut up!' I really am honoured and I'd like to thank any Sky readers out there who voted for me. They made me the happiest girl in the world that day. I only wish I was the world's sexiest woman you know? I really do."
I ask her how she rates herself on a scale of one to ten.
"I'd have to say pretty average. Five? I have good and bad days." she sighs.
And what about in bed?
"Hoo! Hoo!" she hoots. "Whurgh! I hate to think. Do you mean, likesexually? I think all that stuff's really bad. If you're in love, it's the best sex in the world, there's nothing like it. So if I'm in love with somebody the whole feeling would be just like a 10. And if I wasn't? I'd hate to comment. I don't normally do that sort of thing."
I believe you can measure the size of a star's ego by how much eye contact they are prepared to make with the rest of us. (Think the Val Kilmer 'No eye contact on set' business and others who are pathologically attached to their shades). But Louise doesn't have a problem with returning either smiles or glances, frequently shooting 'OhmiGod! Rescue me!' looks to the other girls in the studio every time she threatens to spill out of her corset.
It's very important to Louise that she doesn't alienate women: "The first time I did a sexy photoshoot, I was nervous all the girls in Britain would hate me for it and think I was letting them down. It's really nice when a woman comes up to me and says, 'Oh, I loved your picture in such and such.' But I'm trying hard not to promote myself as someone who gets their boobs out every time you open a magazine." She admires Janet Jackson for managing to be "sexy sometimes and the girl-next-door other times. Men and women like her. That's what I want to be like."
Some facts about Louise: she loves Honey Nut Loops ("cereal is a very important part of my life"), sitting in the sun, Stevie Wonder, the relationships manual Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and Toni Braxton. She hates her legs, hates ignorance and she is considering having her tongue pieced because she thinks it looks cool.
But what about real juice? What about her love life. "It's so hard, because your scared to talk about it," says Louise. She prefers to generalise instead of talking about her specifically.
"Tomorrow you may not have a love life. You are almost frightened of jinxing yourself. I always say the day I get married to someone is the day I'll tell the world about who I love."
OK, but Louise is not a single woman. I'm prepared to bet my entire collection of Hard Candy nail varnish on it. "Let's say that you can tell by the smile on the my face, I'm happy. Things are going well."
I ask her to tell me one thing that no-one else knows about Jamie Redknapp. "He's very sensitive."
I wonder out loud if Louise has ever had an erotic experience with a woman. She double checks the question to make sure she's not suddenly become impaired of hearing, before answering: "No. I haven't. No. It just doesn't do it for me. If other people do it, that's cool. I have friends who prefer different sexes or whatever. To me, beautiful as I think women are, it's purely admiration. I've never looked at a woman and felt sexually towards her, not up to now."
So far, so diplomatic. I'm expecting us to move on, but to my surprise Louise starts to recount an anecdote, which is not only unusual, but reals more about her sexuality than anything else we discuss. "I was in Australia once for MTV and I had my tarot card read. I don't believe in these things, which shows how bizarre all this was... I was asked to choose two love cards and I picked out two women, which shocked me."
"This tarot reader said it could be for many reasons, one being that I like women. I said: 'I'll be perfectly honest, I'm quite into men actually.' So she asked for the cameras to be turned off and made everyone leave the room and we did it again. This time I picked out a man. She said it showed how closed I am about my love life, how I'm frightened to express my feelings."
Louise goes all quiet so I take the opportunity to ask her what kind of men she goes for. "I love a nice smile," she begins. "And tall athletic men with a really nice smile and a sense of humour." Has she found him then? "I have found him, yes. Funny you should say that."
Louise has a clear picture of her life 10 years from now. "I'd love to be on my seventh album, doing loads of concerts and going home to a husband and children." As she doesn't seem quite ready to drift away on a cloud of domestic bliss, I feel it is my duty to interrogate her on her capacity for bad behaviour.
"Well, I am human. I've got high standards, but I've definitely done thinks I shouldn't."
Such as? "I do have a good old swear. When I'm at home my mum says, 'Listen, you're not to big for a slap.' I try not to swear in front of her, because I think it is disrespectful." And drink? "Oh yes, I enjoy a vodka." How about waking up on other people's sofas with her head in a pizza?
"Well, I was never a major wild child. I've been so drunk that I really can't remember anything. I think I've got this cell in my brain which just has a sensible side to it at all times."
She looks serious for a second. "I get days when I feel like completely off the wall and screaming and shouting and completely losing it. But when I get to that stage, I just know that I need a little time to myself and my management gives me some time off."
"Knickers! Knicker alert!" shouts Wendy. Louise is posing for the last shot of the day and Wendy is anxious to avoid any glimpses of undergarment at this late stage. Louise lets her head sink to her shoulders like any angry teen and I fear for a moment that she's going to flip out. She doesn't.
Instead she snitches on me to Wendy, telling her how she's refused to answer any question about when she last had an orgasm.
"I thought there weren't going to be any naughty questions," says Wendy sternly, making me feel ashamed to belong to such a grubby profession.
"Well I didn't answer it," says Louise. Turning to me she adds: "I never fake it. You can put that in our magazine. If you fake it, your kidding yourself."
"Well, people do it for a reason," argues Wendy.
"If I was with a guy and I had to fake it, I'd be with the wrong guy!" says Louise, defiantly wriggling into her spray-on jeans.
"Er, Wendy. Did my phone ring?"