S Club 7’s Jo O’Meara plummeted to “a very dark place” when she was cancelled after her stint on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.
But the 90s favourite found making new solo album With Love “like therapy” following the hardest years of her life when she lost her work and home.
Alongside housemates Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd, Jo was accused of racism and bullying towards Indian actress Shilpa Shetty.
In a candid Zoom chat, reflective Jo says: “There’s no excuse for what happened. All I could do was learn, grow up and accept what I did was wrong. I’ve changed so much as a person and want to start again.
“The whole time for everybody involved was horrendous afterwards – I can never apologise enough.
“Looking back, I can see how it must have come across.
“People may not have seen it first-hand, but behind the scenes I was severely punished.
“I went to a very dark place and was very unwell mentally for a very long time.”
The Essex lass was the front woman of one of the biggest pop bands of the nineties.
Simon Fuller – the man behind the Spice Girls’ success – launched S Club, which featured Jo, Rachel Stevens, Hannah Spearritt, Jon Lee, Bradley McIntosh, Paul Cattermole and Tina Barrett, with their own TV show, Miami 7.
A string of chart-topping hits including Reach and Don’t Stop Movin’ followed.
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Jo says: “I feel very lucky to have been part of S Club 7. Fans who we had 22 years ago are still around, so it’s a really lovely feeling knowing people still enjoy the music. It’s crazy that Reach is sung in school assemblies.
“S Club music was all about being positive and giving positive messages – that’s why it will stand the test of time.
“A little girl, who must have been about seven or eight, came up to me when I was walking the dog recently and said, ‘Are you Jo from S Club 7?’ It’s mad.”
For her latest solo project, Jo has mixed upbeat pop with huge ballads – which suit her powerhouse vocals perfectly – and dabbled in country.
She says: “On The Surface is about opening up if you’re not feeling good mentally and emotionally. I’m still rebuilding, so coming out with this new album is therapy for me.”
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While she’s not chasing sympathy it’s hard not to feel for Jo, who was hit with a barrage of criticism after appearing on morning chat show Lorraine recently to promote her album.
Viewers questioned if she had dabbled in cosmetic surgery, baffled how the 42-year-old’s skin looked so flawless.
It was almost losing her prized vocal cords permanently that forced Jo to sit up, take stock and realise she needed a health and fitness overhaul. The results are there for all to see.
Jo says: “I was smoking and struggling to hit notes that aren’t even hard.
“I knew I either had to give up my career or give up smoking so I thought, ‘The cigarettes have got to go’.
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“I wanted to get fit and healthy. I did get a lot of comments after Lorraine, but didn’t look any different on This Morning.
“Maybe it was the lipstick – I won’t wear that shade again.
“When things come up about my appearance, it is upsetting. Nobody wants to be asked, ‘What have you done to your face?’ I’ve never tried to be a beauty queen.
“I’m trying to make the best of myself that I can.
“All I want to be is a singer, and I’ve changed to a much healthier lifestyle.”
With female singers ruling the charts, Jo is inspired to see more equality in pop.
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She says: “The women of today in the industry are so good and so strong. Dua Lipa is incredible. I like the way Anne-Marie comes across and her music.
“Little Mix are fantastic and I’m excited to see what Jesy Nelson does next – whatever it is, it’s going to be spot on.
“There’s a lot more room for female vocalists today than there was 15 years ago.
“Singers like Adele paved the way for that. All power to the girls.”
Jo is going into the studio to record an album of acoustic S Club tracks and is also planning a tour, admitting: “Glastonbury would be an ultimate dream of mine”. And she isn’t against following former bandmate Rachel on to the Strictly dancefloor.
She says: “I don’t think anybody who does what I do would turn down Strictly Come Dancing.
“I’d love to don a bit of sparkle and give it a go.
“It’s one of my favourite times of the year. I love the winter when it’s dark and cold out, you’ve had a nice bath and put the heating on.
“That’s an ideal night for me.”
Jo’s album With Love is out now.
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