A solo career beckoning for Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle?

SHE’S the girl who sang into her hairbrush at home and then ended up in one of the biggest girl bands of all time off the back of a cheeky lie about her age.
More than five years later, Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle – who was booted out of the Irish Popstars because she was underage – looks like she is employing the same brazen ambition to kick-start a solo career.
Other than band mate Cheryl Tweedy – who is marrying footballer Ashley Cole in July – Nadine has suddenly become the most talked-about member of the phenomenally successful chart-topping band behind such Number One hits as Sound of the Underground and I‘ll Stand By You.
And while she is widely acknowledged as the most talented singer of a reality million Euro-making TV spin-off, it is the hype surrounding her private life that is gaining her all important PR brownie points at a time when she needs them most.
The band’s sales figures are not a patch on what they were when it hit the charts off the back of ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals.
And all the signs about the five-piece indicate a split by the beginning of 2007 – once a greatest hits LP is recorded.
Few industry fans of the plucky Derry-born 20-year-old doubt she is waiting around for the proverbial axe to fall and is instead busy planning her exit from Girls Aloud.
This would explain why she appears to have more of a hand in her own hype than people – who conveniently forget her close association with accomplished pop PR and multi-millionaire svengali Louis Walsh – are prepared to give her credit for.
The most telling insight about what is going on with the petite star who is adored not just by her fans and the record industry personalities – like Walsh – but also by the photographers who watch her every move, is the way she is handling her relationship with ex-Desperate Housewives star Jesse Metcalfe.
While leaking news of their relationship was, Ireland on Sunday has discovered, not her doing and instead that of a band outsider who stumbled across the fact that she was about to go on their first date and then tipped off a newspaper – one could hardly accuse her of being ignorant of the PR potential of their association.
The most blatant aspect of this is the report that she wants Metcalfe to star in the band’s next video.
Quoted in a downmarket London paper’s website earlier this week, she reportedly said: “It would help our launch in the US.”
And she added: “The girls think I’m showing off, but I’m only trying to help.”
As to handling press interest in her affair with the far from bashful 27-year-old US actor – who has made little secret of his appeal to women – she appears to have been left to deal with that on her own.
And she has certainly risen to the challenge.
A few weeks ago, herself and Metcalfe arranged to meet in a London club at a time when rumours of their relationship hit an all time high.
He flew in from LA and while she was photographed cuddling and seen leaving the entrance of trendy London club Movida with a “mystery man”, he slipped out the back entrance.
Talking to the photographers who snapped her with a man who later emerged as a Girls Aloud dancer called “Anthony”, you would expect to hear them tell of how a record industry executive had grandstanded the whole event.
Not so, according to Mayfair Celebrities picture agency boss Glen Gratton.
It was Nadine herself.
Gratton said: “It was brilliant the way she did it. Stars much older and more experienced than her do it all the time.
“They spend the night with the person they don’t want anybody else to now about and then leave the club with either a friend or a willing stranger.
“Meanwhile, the person they are with slips out un-noticed, which is what Metcalfe did.”
He added: “Our agency has followed Girls Aloud for years and they are very difficult to get anything on.
“We knew about Nadine being at the club because it is one of the clubs on a list we have of those well used by celebrities.
“But at the end of the day, if you don’t want to be seen and you really do want to try and get to know somebody away from the limelight – you don’t go out in the West End of London however much you engineer a vanishing act.
“That said, while I‘ve got know her as being easily the most polite and down-to-earth of all of the girls in the band, she‘s no fool.
“I’m not going to say anything more than that but you can draw your own conclusions from that.”
Whatever she thought she had got away with was blown a few nights later when a random member of the public photographed her with Metcalfe in an intimate clinch at another London club.
Recalling the moment, the clubber – who does not want to be named – said: “She looked like the cat that got the cream.
“He was clearly annoyed at being photographed but she didn’t seem to mind.
“If I was a cynic, I’d say she wanted to be photographed. And if she didn’t actually ask for it, she certainly didn’t give me a hard time.”
They added: “I was surprised. I thought she’d be more upset about the intrusion to her privacy, but she wasn’t.”
It’s no surprise that behind Nadine is a crew made up of some of the most accomplished pop industry characters, including the legendary Walsh – who is unabashedly besotted with Nadine and privately regards her as one of Ireland’s greatest singing exports.
He has admitted both publicly and privately that when Girls Aloud split, she will have considerable mileage as a solo artist.
But although he refuses to be drawn on when she will go solo, the best money is on the beginning of next year.
While the band may have notched up as many rave reviews as they have top ten hits – an impressive 12 to date – sales are steadily heading south.
They haven’t cracked either the American or the foreign markets – except for the Netherlands and Greece – and they are starting to look as if they have finally reached their sell-by date.
Sound of the Underground – released in December 2002 – has made more than 560,000 sales.
This was followed up with the Number Two UK hit No Good Advice, which sold around 105,000.
But subsequent hits trail in comparison – last month’s Number Six Whole Lotta History sales are at around 30,000 while Number Nine’s See the Day from December has notched up around 45,000.
As one Dublin-based show business personality pointed out: “Girl bands have a very short shelf life.
“Their fans never stay as loyal as they do for boy bands and once the record sales start slipping – which they are in Girls Aloud’s case – then it’s curtains.”
But no matter how many singles and albums the band have sold – which is around 1.5 and 1.2 million respectively – it is unlikely any of the girls will be particularly rich.
Nadine is one of three band members who rent apartments on an exclusive north London estate yet – unlike many girl bands before them – have arranged a deal with a local cab driver to ferry them to and from venues and events.
Photographer Gratton said: “I suspect Louis Walsh has warned them that they need to watch the cash they spend.
“Instead of having a fleet of posh limousines waiting on them constantly, they appear to have come to an arrangement with a local cab driver that works out cheaper for them in the long run.”
An industry insider added: “No matter how well Girls Aloud will have done in the charts, there is no way the individual band members will have made as much money as people think they have.
“Girls Aloud aren’t the first and they won’t be the last manufactured band to leave the music scene with little change left after all the hard work they’ll have put in over the years.”
Indeed, it was reported in 2003 that the girls were making just 6p each on their single sales – with the bulk of their income going to their management, their songwriters and Grenada TV – who created them and their birthplace, the TV show Popstars: The Rivals.
Although a deal was renegotiated by the end of 2003 which gave the girls a greater share of profits, the income was already slipping at that stage.
A move towards a solo career would be the most financially sound move for Nadine, who has already banked her Girls Aloud earnings in the form of at least one property considerably grander than the modest home she was reared in by her devoted parents Niall and Lillian in her native Derry.
Said a friend who has known her since she was 14: “Nadine is a very astute young woman.
“She knows how lucky she is and while she enjoys what she is doing, she knows it is just a job at the end of the day.
“But it‘s one that happens to mean an awful lot to her.”
In the early days of her Girls Aloud fame, Nadine made little secret of this.
Telling one interviewer, she admitted: “I have never wanted anything so much in all my life.
“All I want to do is make it into this band – it means the world to me.”
She recalled how she felt being booted out of Irish Popstars band Six for being 16 instead of 18 as the rules had stipulated, when she said: “I didn‘t stop crying for a week.”
And she added: “People must think I‘m desperate for fame because I lied about my age but I‘m not.
“I haven’t always dreamed of being a singer. It‘s just what I enjoy.”
Such modesty is at odds with a quote she later gave another journalist when asked in a separate interview about her ambitions.
She said: “Deep down, I always knew I wanted to do this.”

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Coy Coyle’s love for Desperate star

JUST good friends would appear to be “the new going out” for Nadine
Coyle despite her denials she is dating Jesse Metcalfe.
It turns out that at the same time she was being photographed leaving a
London club with a “mystery man” last week, the US actor she has been
linked with was being sneaked out a back entrance.
The mystery man turned out to be a dancer employed by Coyle’s band Girls
Aloud and Jesse Metcalfe managed to slip away.
But a telling photograph of Coyle with Metcalfe later showed her tenderly
resting her hand on his leg in the back of a limousine – fuelling
speculation that the relationship is more on than not.
And it would appear it has been on for some time now, and pretty much
since they first met last month – even though they hardly get time to
see each other.
For now though, the 20-year-old singer is insisting that she is “just
good friends” with the Desperate Housewives star.
He however seems very keen to keep in touch with this particular friend,
as he flew all the way from Los Angeles to meet up with her in London.
While her pals danced in the main floor of trendy nightclub Movida, she spent
much of the night engrossed in conversation in a corner of the VIP room
with Metcalfe.
Her PR agent last night insisted there would be no comments on reports
the two are a couple despite the bizarre lengths Coyle wants to go to
conceal it.
She was seen kissing the dancer she left the club with and even posed
for photographers clutching a red rose.
Coyle – who is rumoured to be working out when to make a break to go
solo from Girls Aloud – met Metcalfe when the band was in Australia last
month.
The singer, who split from footballer Neil McAfferty more than a year
ago, said on a chat show that she had not had much luck with men but
that that Metcalfe was her dream man.
He saw the interview and then sent flowers to her hotel before asking
her out for dinner.
She now says what happened next is “private” and that she would rather
not talk about it.
But she admits: “We’re really good friends and have hung out quite a bit.”
A pal said: “One of the reasons she hasn’t had much luck with guys is
that she worries that they don’t see her for what she is rather than who
she is.
“She is really keen to try and let the relationship takes its course but
without the glare of publicity.”
Have you got a story? Call me on 07929 313 598.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Paul Smith

AFTER four decades in a job that’s already earned you a few million Euros and from which you’re about to make an estimated E50 million fortune, you’d be forgiven for never wanting to see the inside of an office again.

Not so Paul Smith, the Irish-born 59-year-old former Euro 6-an-hour projectionist whose hit show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was put up for sale this week and whose phenomenally successful TV company Celador Productions will also be sold.

Just six years shy of retirement and bristling with understandable urges to swan off to a well-earned stay in the sun-soaked south of France, the man whose string of hit TV programmes have been watched in one form or another by an estimated one billion viewers worldwide now wants to add two more plaudits to his name – successful film producer and theatre impresario.

As well as planning to invest his indefatigable energies into a string of big budget movies to follow on from Celador Films’ Oscar-nominated Dirty Pretty Things and new radio ventures in the UK, his eyes are set on producing one of “the lost treasures of Broadway” – the singularly-doomed Jerry Herman musical Mack and Mabel.

Based around the relationship between silent era film director Mack Sennett and his favourite star Mabel Normand, it has somehow proved – as if jinxed – to be one of the all-time flops in stage history regardless of who attempts to produce it.

But if Smith has his way, it’ll open in a few years time to rave previews at the same venue where he started as a projectionist.

This is, after all, the man who put up with two years of constant rejection from UK TV companies who refused to have anything whatsoever to do with what is now one of the most successful TV shows ever – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

This is also the man who endured the giggles and sniggers from schoolmates when he told them he wanted “a career in TV”.

Speaking from his plush central London offices in a tall, thin Covent Garden town house, he said: “There’s a lot more to what I’ve done over the past forty years in TV than Millionaire.

“But there is still more that I want to do with my life. I would absolutely love to put on a production of Mack and Mabel in Belfast.

“It has never really been produced properly before and as a result, has never done any great things in the box office.

“But I am determined that with the right kind of production behind it, it can achieve the success it should have.”

Smith, who is a trustee of the charity Co-operation Ireland, will no doubt learn from his experience of bidding unsuccessfully for a radio licence in his native Belfast in 2004.

He said: “Sadly, I think I was far too passionate for my own good. It was a two-horse race but I wanted to get it for probably too many personal reasons for my own business good.

“I really, really wanted to bring something back to Belfast.”

Such an admission is as much of a tell-tale mark of his character than anything else. A few years ago, he had the chance to turn into film the whole Coughing Major episode of Millionaire. Major Charles Ingram, wife Diana and college lecturer Tecwen Whittock were convicted in April 2003 for defrauding the show by using a coughing code to prompt Ingram towards the right answers.

Although the incident featured in a 2003 Celador documentary Millionaire: A Major Fraud – which was another ratings success for ITV1 with 15 million viewers – award-winning TV writer Russell T Davies was due to write the script.

But Smith scrapped the project after he found out how upset the children had become about what their father had done.

He said: “It would have made a good film but it just wasn’t worth dragging them through this all over again.”

Although he has a long list of hit TV credits to his name, his best known TV production has been Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? But for all its impact on his own fortunes, getting it onto TV was no mean feat. It took him more than two years to get anybody to agree to back it.

He said: “At first and for a very long time, nobody would touch it. I was prepared to enter into any association whatsoever to get this programme made but everybody – and I mean everybody – just turned me down.

“I offered it to Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV – they all rejected me. Even when I’d managed to finally convince ITV to take it, various people there still got cold feet about it.”

Rejection letters from his time hawking the show around London’s notoriously fickle TV land will soon be added to the great collection of memorabilia he keeps in the attic of the sprawling eight-bedroom E2 million Georgian manor house he has lived in for the past 20 years with wife Sarah.

In among the boxes is his collection of signed photographs from the early stars of UTV who he wrote to as a child. For as long as he can remember, he says he has always been fascinated about light entertainment.

And while his childhood peers were busy building tree forts, he built TV studios in his bedroom using his toy soldiers as cast and crew to all manner of imaginary production scenarios rolling around his little head.

He said: “I built three studios out of balsa wood and used my soldiers, although they had their guns removed.

“There was a small news and current affairs studio, another with a huge orchestra in and then there was a continuity studio.

“I was just fascinated by the whole process of TV, even though I knew very little about it.”

But it was a passion that did little to enhance his prospects – at the time – of winning the Pupil Most Likely To Succeed Award at school. Far from it.

He said: “I remember being in maths class one day near the end of sixth form and the teacher went round the class asking us all what we wanted to do.

“All sorts of careers tripped off people’s tongues like lawyer, politician, fireman, soldier and then he came to me.

“‘What about you Smith?’ he barked. When I said I wanted to work in TV, boys just started laughing and I could hear the sniggering around me.

“The teacher himself just shrugged and said there wasn’t anything he could say to me. He was completely dismissive. I think he thought I was a complete no hoper.”

His passion for television convinced him not to bother going to university once he left school.

Instead he took a E6-a-week – or “three pounds, seven and six” to be precise – job as a projectionist at Belfast’s Grand Opera House. At the time, he was also a drummer with the Belfast band The Corsairs.

A few months into the job, he spotted an advert in the Radio Times for a trainee projectionist with the BBC, applied and got it. He effectively started on the “lowest form of ladder rungs” at the age of 19, leaving Belfast for the famous Elstree Studios in the UK.

His flair and passion soon caught the eye of various directors who let him cut his directorial teeth with overseeing the first ever Saturday morning children’s TV show – the Birmingham-made Zokko. In 1973, he left the BBC and went to work for independent TV companies.

He created It’ll Be Alright on the Night, which has since become ITV’s longest-running entertainment programme and which he brought to America in the form of TV’s Censored Bloopers for NBC.

While at London Weekend Television – where he met his wife Sarah – he was assigned the job of “checking out” a then little-known comedian called Jasper Carrott.

Smith recalls: “I’d heard him one day standing in for Kenny Everett on the radio and decided he was possibly the worst comedian I’d ever heard in my life.

“He was deeply unfunny and I was cursing all the way to Birmingham as I drove up to see him but I ended up practically ill on the floor with laughter for the two hours he spoke.

“I raced back to London and told my boss Michael Grade that he had to sign him up as fast as possible and we have been firm friends ever since.”

The result of their association was the An Audience With Jasper Carrott, which he produced and directed. Other shows include the award-winning Peter Cook and Company.
In the Eighties, he set up Celador Productions under the banner of Complete Communications.

As well as Millionaire, its string of TV hits include ITV1’s Talking Telephone Numbers, Auntie’s Bloomers for BBC1 and The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna for ITV1.

A recent hit for Celador has turned out to be Channel Four’s You Are What You Eat and RTE’s animated classic Roobard & Custard. It’s his singular belief in a whole range of TV projects that has been the hallmark of his career.

And while this has paid off in audience ratings – Millionaire was watched at one time by 19 million people in the UK alone – it is about to pay off in another way too.

According to Sunday Times Rich List compiler Philip Beresford – not a man on Smith’s Christmas Card list, such is his reluctance to talk about money – he stands to earn up to E51 million from the sale of Millionaire and Celador.

Top of his shopping list once the sale goes through – any time in the next three or so months – is a 25 metre cruiser. He won’t be drawn on cost or make, but laughs: “Some of my friends would say it’s just going to be a glorified gin palace.

“But I have always had a love affair with boats. I feel incredibly at home on them and love the sense of intimacy one can feel while on them, especially when you have your friends around you.”

Presumably he will also be able to indulge in his fascination for technology and gadgets.
His home has been described as Jane Austin on the outside and James Bond on in the inside. And with good reason. The settings for lighting, music, security, under-floor heating and television of each room is controlled by a keypad on the wall.

The blinds on the windows can pick up if the sun is too bright and will come down automatically and the state-of-the-art security system round the house can even tell the difference between a human footstep and the paw print of a stray sheep or cow.

And while the lights in the house have a wide range of settings – depending on the time of the year – even the settings have settings. At bedtime for example, there are two settings – ‘Night’, which plunges the entire house into darkness and ‘Night Guest’, which means unfamiliar parts of the house are gently lit up.

Smith said: “I do like my gadgets and I am pretty fascinated by what technology can do.
“The system I’ve had installed in my house is fairly advanced on a lot of levels. But apart from anything else, it does also have the added advantage of helping reduce the cost of running a big house.”

The house and grounds were once home to his parents, Bryce and Gerry – short for Marjory – who he encouraged to come from Belfast and live with him in the Eighties.

Smith – who gave them the run of a cottage on his grounds – said: “It was wonderful for us having them living with us. By having their own place, they had their own independence but it was great that all three generations of the family were effectively able to
live together.”

He added: “I owed them so much and it was great to be able to give them something back in return. I know my father, who was a shop keeper, had had to struggle to make ends meet at times but he made sure we never did without.”

Gerry died in 1988, followed a year later by Bryce. He, Smith recalls with sadness, died of a “broken heart”. Along with Sarah, and his parents were also daughter Lucy, now 26, and sports wear designer son Sam, now 23.

Lucy works in London with Simon Fuller’s company 19 Management and until recently was part of singer Will Young’s management team. Smith says: “It was gas, a short while ago we had Will Young in the grounds of the house posing in some photo shoot.”

Perhaps he will also have more time now to enjoy another of his passions – a 12-seat version of the Odeon Leicester Square which he has had specially built at his house. Kitted out with the latest sound engineering and fitted by professional engineers more used to working on film sets, it is as much of a showcase of the very best in home entertainment as anything else.

He says: “A lot of people say they have a cinema in their home and it generally turns out to be little more than a room with a screen at one end and some form of projector at the other. Mine is the real deal. The lights dim and the curtains open automatically at the beginning of a screening.”

And as he settles into one of the cinema’s plush seats at his next screening, he can surely reflect on how his is not a bad life for a former E6-a-week projectionist.

 

Daniel Day-lewis branded “pathetic”

ACTOR Daniel Day-lewis has re-opened an extraordinary family feud with a vicious attack on one of his own uncles.

Describing retired Conservative Party councillor Jonathan Balcon as a “bully”, “a fraud“ and a hypocrite, the In The Name of the Father star also told an interviewer he’d even like to BEAT him up over comments the 72-year-old made about his private life nearly ten years ago.

The comments – that reclusive Day-Lewis’ grandfather would not have approved of aspects of his private life – were made in a 1997 letter to organisers behind a plaque which was unveiled in Balcon’s father’s honour.

They asked what Balcon – whose sister Jill married Day-Lewis’ father – what British film industry pioneer Sir Michael Balcon would think of his grandson being asked to unveil the plaque.

Balcon duly replied that while he’d be proud of his acting achievements, he wouldn’t have approved of a “bounder” whose morals were “up the spout”.

And in interviews later, he added that he thought Day-Lewis was an unsuitable choice to unveil the plaque. Needless to say, the actor was conspicuous by his absence on the day, with organisers blaming his acting commitments.

It was some years after the actor split from French actress Isabelle Adjani – reportedly in a long distance phone call – while she was seven months pregnant with his child. She would later brand him an inveterate womaniser.

And Day-Lewis – who now lives in Ireland – walked out of his relationship with 26-year-old fitness instructor Deya Pichardo to date his now wife Rebecca Miller.

The first Pichardo knew she wasn’t going out with Day-Lewis and that he had got married to someone else was when she heard about it from a friend, who’d read about it in a newspaper.

Other than writing Balcon a furious letter of protest about the comment, Balcon and Day-Lewis have not spoken or seen each other since.

Last night ex-British Army officer Balcon said he thought Day-Lewis’ outburst was not only pathetic but also “highly libellous”.

He told Ireland on Sunday: “Nearly ten years ago, I was asked what my deceased father Sir Michael would have thought about Daniel being chosen – as he was – to unveil a plaque in his honour.

“I simply said that while my father would have been pleased at Daniel’s progress, certain aspects of his private life would have raised an eyebrow or two.

“I was alluding to the fact that my father, who could be a bit of a mid-Victorian prude, would not have approved of Daniel fathering a child out of wedlock.”

Day-Lewis was quoted yesterday (Saturday) in The Independent as saying: “An uncle of mine felt the need to give an interview a few years ago. He took a moral stance on my actions.

“This was laughable. He is probably one of the most amoral people I have ever encountered. That man has always been a joke in our family.”

He also described him as a “coward, a bully, a hypocrite and a fraud”. And he added: “If he had been younger, I’d have taken him to the market place and smacked him.”

Balcon, whose eldest daughter is a close friend of Day-Lewis’ sister, said: “The man really is pathetic and I’m surprised a newspaper bothered to repeat his remarks.

“I was asked a question a few years back – and it was not an interview – and I just gave an honest answer in the form of a letter. By the reaction it got at the time and ever since, it would seem that the truth always hurts hardest.

“My father wouldn’t have approved of the way Daniel had lived his life and I said as much.

“To harbour this grudge for such a long time is just quite ridiculous and if I could afford to sue him over the word ‘fraud‘ – or be bothered – I would.

“But then to be honest with you, I’m a bit bored with the whole thing. It‘s very sad and again, pathetic.”

And he added: “The only thing Daniel has said to me since the whole episode was in the form of an angry letter, much of which sounds like what he told this interviewer. The contents of the letter will feature in a book I’m writing at the moment.”

Have you got a story? Call me on 07929 313 598.

Louis Walsh’s million-plus factor.

LOUIS Walsh has signed an amazing €1.5 million-deal to get him back on X-Factor.

The contract ends months of speculation about whether or not he would return and follows protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations between the pop mogul and show boss and fellow judge, Simon Cowell.

In January, Ireland on Sunday revealed a deal was on the table but it’s only now finally been signed – adding yet another bulging pay packet to the 52-year-old’s multi-million Euro fortune.

Although bed-ridden with flu, he said last night: “I have signed for £1 million to do X-Factor and I’m very, very happy with the deal.

“It’s a great show, I love doing it and I’m delighted to be back on board. I’m also looking forward to championing yet more great – and hopefully Irish – talent.”

And he brushed off rumours his co-judge Sharon Osbourne has signed for more cash than him, which was reputedly one of the main stumbling blocks behind his reluctance to return to the show.

He said: “I don’t know if Sharon is getting paid more than me. To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if she is but I really couldn’t care less.

“”Even if I eventually find out she is getting more money, I won’t be kicking up a fuss. I am more than looked after in the deal I’ve signed.

“I don’t want to go into the reasons why it has taken so long to sign a deal but it has nothing to do with the size of other people’s pay packets.”

A show insider added: “X-Factor really wouldn’t be the same without Louis. He is brilliant on the show and a real hit with viewers.

“It’s very hard to imagine who could replace him and everyone is relieved the deal has finally been signed and we can all now concentrate on the show.”

The deal means that Walsh will now take his place alongside Osbourne and Cowell on the judging panel for the next run of the show – which starts on May 29.

He quit last year’s show – the second so far – in reaction to a string of on and off-air verbal attacks against him by both Osbourne and Cowell.

There were also reports of behind-the-scenes rows about anything from suggestions that Osbourne was being paid double what Walsh was earning for being on the show to the size of his dressing room – reportedly the smallest of the three allocated to the judges.

Walsh was also publicly criticised for his support for the Conway Sisters after our sister title Ireland on Sunday revealed Walsh had not only known the band “socially” for years but also had them perform support at Westlife concerts.

Walsh was eventually persuaded to return by X-Factor bosses and he saw the show out to the end and in time to see his act – Shayne Ward – win.

Ward – who Walsh says will be “bigger than Robbie Williams” – went on to top the UK charts with his debut single, That’s My Goal.

The fastest-selling downloaded single in the UK ever, it has already sold more than 120,000 copies. It’s a feat Walsh will be hoping Ward can better with his latest single, No Promises.

ENDS

Flora’s basic instinct

A LEAD role in Basic Instinct 2 may well be the biggest platform yet for the prodigious talents of one of Ireland’s most successful acting exports. But gorgeous Flora Montgomery very nearly didn’t live to audition for the part, let alone get it.

Even as her agent was in tentative discussions with the sequel’s director, the 32-year- old actress was lying in the A&E ward of Bratislava General Hospital, in Slovakia, with a bloodied, cracked skull.

flora.jpg

A stunt she performed while filming After – an action-packed thriller set in post Cold War Europe – didn’t go quite as expected and she was lucky not to have ended up severely braindamaged at the very least.

In the stunt, Flora had to hurl herself across the path of a speeding train and duck down a manhole as its thick iron cover closed over her head. It landed on her head instead, knocking her out. The shocked cast and crew ran to her aid.

Flora, who starred in the Roddy Doyle-scripted 2003 film When Brendan Met Trudy, brushed this off as ‘just one of those things’, but admits that it shook her up.

‘I felt this almighty whack and then everything just went dark,’ she says. ‘I fell down unconscious into the tunnel I’d jumped into, but I’ve no idea how long I was out for. The next thing I knew, I was in the back of an ambulance being rushed to hospital.

‘The left side of my head was all numb and I had this terrific headache.’ A few hours and a few X-rays later, Ireland’s own Lara Croft insisted on being let out of hospital, despite suffering a cracked skull.

Flora says: ‘The director sat us all down before filming started and asked if we’d do our own stunts. He warned us it would be tough and he was right. But I jumped at the opportunity because it was something I’d never done before and, despite what happened, I’d do them again.’

Doctors ordered her to rest but, when filming ended two days later, she caught a plane back to London. On her way through customs, she got a voicemail from her agent asking if she’d like to audition for Basic Instinct 2, the sequel to the 1992 blockbuster.

‘I’d hardly stepped off the plane and there was a job offer waiting for me,’ she says.

‘There was no time to faff around with settling my bags at home or getting some sleep. I jumped straight on the Heathrow Express and caught a taxi from Paddington into a casting studio in central London.’

Less than 10 minutes later, she had bagged the second female lead opposite Sharon Stone, playing the girlfriend of Stone’s co-star, David Morrissey.

No sooner had director Michael Caton- Jones given her his thumbs up than she was off to Pinewood Studios for three months of intense filming – including one of the film’s two sex scenes. ‘It’s funny, in a way, but it sometimes seems as if all some people want to know about is the sex – as if it’s ever been a major part of the acting I’ve done,’ she says. ‘OK, so I’ve done a few nude scenes, but they were only in one or two films.

‘And, while I’m certainly not ashamed or embarrassed, I just think I’ve moved on, been there, done that and am a lot more reluctant about doing nude scenes now.

‘I only agreed to do one for this movie because I trusted the director and he talked me through the process. In Basic, the one scene I shot wasn’t in any way gratuitous.

‘It was sensually shot.

‘It was a funny scene to shoot, in some respects, because little things kept on happening to accidentally break the ice and have us all in stitches, like when bits of the ceiling fell onto us.’ Flora says her days of casting her clothes off are numbered, however.

Three years ago, she had a no-nudity clause written into all her contracts.

Her upbringing was virtually tailor-made for a life in acting. The youngest of four children, she was born and grew up in 18th century Rosemount House, the stately home of her military family, at Greyabbey on the Ards Peninsula in Co. Down.

Rosemount House is on the eastern shores of Strangford Lough set in landscaped parkland. ‘When we were young, we had fantastic adventures, often in a little boat, and as the youngest I was always the one thrown overboard or abandoned on an island,’ Flora has said.

‘We’d explore unused rooms in the house and find dusty boxes with mad things like army uniforms and Victorian dresses. It was fantastic for the imagination – we only got TV at home in 2001. My mum used to dress up in cocktail dresses and play jazz piano.’

Flora was educated at the prestigious Rockport School in Craigavad, Holywood and won lead roles in school plays before going on to study drama at Dublin’s Gaiety School of Acting for two years, during which she paid her rent from the wages she earned as a barmaid in Rathmines.

In 1998, she amazed the theatre world by winning Irish Theatre’s best actress award for her role in Strindberg’s Miss Julie at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. She stripped down to the bare essentials for the play, drawing the ire of Free Presbyterian protesters.

The phrase on the lips of many that night was ‘Flora who?’, but with a move to London that year, she began to earn more recognition with a string of TV roles. But it was her role in 2003’s Roddy Doyle- scripted When Brendan Met Trudy that has brought her critical acclaim, an IFTA best actress award and several award nominations.

Her accomplishments on stage are almost as prolific, including Anton Chekhov’s The Bear with Stephen Brennan and Neil La Bute’s The Shape of Things in With Basic Instinct 2 under her belt and talk of a few major castings round the corner, she might be forgiven for wanting to head over to America to lobby for bigger roles. But she’s having none of it.

‘I am reluctant to go over to LA to be in the end of a long queue for roles when I can have a good life between Ireland and England,’ she says.

‘Rachel Weisz hasn’t had to do that and, at the end of the day, Hollywood will come looking if they need an English or an Irish actress.’ Flora is about to start a twomonth run of The Taming Of The Shrew in Bristol’s Old Vic. She’s also just finished a series of plays she was commissioned to write for BBC Radio 4 and some voiceover work for UK-based Channel Five, and she’s waiting to hear back about a five-month stint of filming in Canada.

When it comes to relaxing, this pocket whirlwind thinks nothing of ‘unwinding’ on three-hour cycle trips at weekends or a week ‘canyon-climbing’ in America.

It’s difficult to imagine how she has time for romance.

She is, after all, also planning a climbing expedition to Karakoram, one of the most daunting parts of the Himalayas, with her 39-year- old brother, Hugo, and says she has much more to achieve before thinking about settling down and having children.

‘Yes, there is a man,’ she says shyly, sinking into the leather sofa at private London club Soho House. ‘We’ve been going out for about eight months now, but that’s about all I’m saying.’ It’s hard not to imagine her life without some element of adventure. ‘I have naturally just got masses of energy and, to me, a dead day is an empty day,’ she says.

Legendary casting director John Hubbard of London-based husband and wife partnership Hubbard Casting said: ‘It’s definitely breakthrough time for Flora. She’s great value, very intelligent, very attractive and utterly dependable.

‘She has a unique energy and you can tell she’s driven by a sort of life force, and in a nice way. You know when Flora comes into a room.’ 2002.

“Nobody likes US” – says American director.

VETERAN US director Robert Altman has joined Syriana director Stephen Gaghan by wading in with his own Bush-bashing tuppence worth.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning(Feb 24) and just two days after Gaghan said US President George Bush had ordered the assasination of “lots and lots of people”, Altman said of Americans that “the whole world does not like us”.

He added: “I was always considered very welcome at different places in the world then suddenly it became this ‘American thing’, and it still is, right now, today.

“This will endure certainly until (after) this current mess that Mr Bush has gotten us into . . . it’s painful.”

Altman – whose directorial hits include M*A*S*H, Short Cuts and Gosford Park – is currently in London to direct the London premier of Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues. The play is Canadian ex-Scream star Neve Campbell’s theatrical debut.

In the BBC morning interview, Altman – just turned 81 – revealed he received hand-delivered threats over previous “anti-patriotic” comments despite remaining one of the film industry’s most respected directors.

Altman – who has been named alongside George Clooney, Cameron Diaz and Sharon Stone in a long list of Hollywood “traitors” – said: “I was in England doing Gosford Park when 9/11 happened.

“I got back for the Oscars or one of those things and I was asked how do I feel coming back and seeing the American flag, and I said it makes me sick.

“And boy, that hit the papers, saying I was a traitor. People left hand-delivered notes at my door, threatening, and saying I was un-American and that I was a traitor and blah, blah, blah.”

Altman – who is up for an Honorary Oscar for his massive body of film work – added: “I thought Oh, boy, if we’ve come to this point, this is really where I don’t want to be. The politics are really wrong (in America).”

ENDS.