As regular readers of this column will know, I’m not a big Cheryl Cole fan.
I find it depressing that she’s regularly held up as a supreme icon of womanhood by people who are old and wise enough to understand that her greatest achievements — being a glossy maned, impossibly thin, lesser talented member of Girls Aloud with a likeable manner — should only qualify her for heroic status if our culture is as vacuous and anti-intelligence as its most derisive critics claim it is.
However, there was something in Cole’s Brits performance this week which tugged at my heart-strings. All the stops had been pulled out to make her look impressive. Dressed in headline-grabbingly eccentric, provocative attire, dazzled by epileptic spotlights and surrounded by a pack of tightly choreographed dancers — back-up which genuine talents like Florence Welsh and Alicia Keys notably didn’t require — Cole was clearly supposed to steal the show. But caught in the middle of it all, she seemed a little girl lost, trying desperately to look the opposite of how she felt.
The next day’s tabloids applauded Cole’s ‘strong’ performance, but it was anything but. It’s not just that she was miming so badly that the cameras drew back from close-ups. It’s not just that she looked swamped and small in her badly judged stage gear (the swimsuit hoodie in particular was a terrible choice); she looked like a shy, panicky WAG hiding her face from flashing cameras.
There was something about the way she contorted her usually soft, open face into an angry scowl, the way she stomped her feet, shuddering her bony thighs, which reminded me of my six-year- old daughter faking bravado before her quivering lip won out. When the track finished the camera pulled away from the stage and the microphone was slowly faded just as Cole was saying ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ in a tiny voice across the auditorium. There was pathos in the moment, underlined by her much anticipated win for Best Single being thwarted by JLS in the next couple of minutes.
Of course, if it wasn’t for Ashley Cole, this would just have been another unremarkable show. But Cole seems intent on making it his life’s work to prove to impressionable kids that fame and fortune can bring agony and humiliation. He has become ingenious at finding new ways to make that point, with particular reference to being married to him.
I’m not usually quick to judge so harshly, but dear God, other than his skills as a left-back, Ashley Cole seems to have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. His stream of alleged brief drunken encounters with women he picked up in bars are horribly disrespectful to the woman he professes to love, and yet whose success he seems to resent.
The latest allegation — that he slept with a secretary with whom he shared ‘sextexts’ and semi-naked photographs — would, if true, confirm earlier suspicions that this is a man with no genuine regard for his wife’s feelings, whose stomach remains unmoved by the prospect of leaving her overcome with shock, embarrassment and hurt. How can there be any trust, empathy — love — left in a relationship like that?
It may have given her performance a poignancy it’s never had before, but happiness is worth more than that, especially if you’re not that good in the first place. Cheryl will never be a great artist, but she still has a chance of being a happy woman. It’s time to leave the left-back behind.