Louise Redknapp: 'If someone wants to say I'm a bad woman for leaving my marriage, that's heartbreaking, as a woman and as a mother'
Louise Redknapp rediscovered her confidence by going back to her stage roots after a tough period of negative press, writes Aine O'Connor
Louise Redknapp laughs about the glamour of it all as she stuffs a pair of tights into her pocket before running out the door to Tesco. She is in Glasgow, on a tour that ends in November in Dublin, starring as no-nonsense Violet Newstead in 9 to 5 The Musical.
There is a little over an hour between performances on matinee days, and she and co-star Amber Davies (of Love Island fame) are starving after their first two-hour show.
I feel guilty about coming between them and their hummus. However, the personal pay-off from the hard work has been worth it for both women, especially Louise, for whom the last few years have been difficult.
It's been almost 40 years since Dolly Parton wrote the theme song for the film 9 to 5, in which she starred with Jane Fonda. It was a huge hit and Parton scored the entire musical for its Broadway debut in 2009, the show currently on tour.
It's a loud, singalong show delivered note and step perfect by an enthusiastic and professional cast. The added Dolly-filmed sections, which open and close each half, really work too.
Long before the Spice Girls, 9 to 5 was a girl power movie, a comedy that dealt with the inequalities faced by women in the workplace, where sexism was endemic, systemic and encouraged.
"It's hard to believe that a lot of the issues are still quite relevant in today's world," says Louise. She feels that inequality has been a factor in the bad press she has been subjected to. Until recently Louise had a gentler relationship with the media.
She has been in the public eye for 25 years, finding fame as a 19-year-old singer with the band Eternal, then as a solo performer, occasional TV presenter, Strictly Come Dancing star and in a couple with footballer Jamie Redknapp.
Then she took a lot of flak for ending their 19-year marriage in 2017, and by extension for being a bad mother to their two sons, Charley (15) and Beau (11).
She tells me that the negative press was devastating.
"When I went through my break-up, I definitely was the one that got the bad press and the stick," she says.
"I was the baddie, even though no one really knew what was going on. Because I didn't choose to massively speak out about it for the sake of my children, I had to listen to a lot of pretty awful things said about me, whereas my ex had no bad press at all."
That was the first time she felt a gender imbalance.
"I knew that if I was a man I wouldn't have had to read that about myself," Louise says. "If someone wants to say that they don't like your dress, you know, I can live with that. If someone wants to say I am a bad woman for no longer being in my marriage, that's heartbreaking, as a woman and as a mother."
She relates it back to the show, how it picks up on people making assumptions and being judgmental if you're a woman, "but we do try to do it in a fun, uplifting way".
Going through it has changed her perspective. "Going back maybe 10 years, I would read the gossipy things with a cup of tea and think it was entertainment," she says. "Now I would never want somebody's hardship to be my entertainment with my coffee and croissant in the morning."
Much has been made of Louise's reinvention, with her ambition subtly linked in many quarters to the end of her marriage. You don't have to look too deep to sense a tedious whiff of working woman equals bad wife and mother.
However, she went to stage school and was in a chart-topping band before having a strong solo career.
"I am doing now what I have always done. There isn't any reinvention - this is all I know how to do," she says.
"I read all the time about how I was a stay-at-home mum and I lost my confidence and then I did Strictly and then it all came back.
"That is not true. What happened is that I worked from a young age and I loved it. Then I met this man that I fell in love with and I had a family."
It took her four years to get pregnant the first time, so when it happened she was happy to stay at home.
"I didn't want for anything else, but then as the kids got older I looked to maybe get back into stuff, but of course the industry moves on and it's not that easy to jump feet first," she says.
"Strictly had asked me a number of times and I thought, 'Maybe now is the right time'. It opened doors for me and reminded me how much this industry is part of me.
"That is where my confidence comes from. My confidence comes from getting up on the stage and singing and dancing.
"Without that, my confidence is low. With it, my confidence is better. But I never stopped wanting to do it."
9 to 5 The Musical runs at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin from November 19-23, tickets from €21. bordgaisenergytheatre.ie