Paul Cattermole found stardom with 90s pop kids S Club 7, but says being in the band brought him only pain and poverty

Paul Cattermole is explaining what its like to be famous. Ive been on stage and seen a bra swirling in the air, coming to land on my head, he says. I tended to duck out of the way. He chuckles at the memory surreal now, 20 years later, as he sits, untroubled by undergarments. Im not saying it happens all the time, because it doesnt. But it has happened.

At the turn of the millennium, Cattermole, 42, was one-seventh of a famous whole. S Club 7 were presented to the world by impresario Simon Fuller looking to repeat his success with the Spice Girls as a fully formed pop package: four girls, three boys, singing, dancing, acting. (The S is rumoured to stand for Simon.)

The public got to know Jo OMeara, Bradley McIntosh, Hannah Spearritt, Jon Lee, Tina Barrett, Rachel Stevens and Cattermole playing versions of themselves on their CBBC series, Miami 7, about a British pop group trying to break America. The Monkees for the next generation was one comparison.

When the shows bouncy theme song, Bring It All Back, was released at the end of the season, it shot to No 1 in the UK. Between 1998 and 2002, the group scored three more No 1s as well as hits in Europe, Australasia and the US and recorded four albums. There were four more TV series and, in 2001, a spin-off group: S Club Juniors.

Promotional press introduced the seven members, aged from 16 to 21: their roles, traits, favourite colours and foods. Bradley was cheeky; Hannah, hyper. Jon was the joker. Jo: raucous. Rachel: fiery. Tina: chatty. Cattermole? Enthusiastic. (And liked guacamole.) They were central to what was being bought and sold often quite literally, as Hasbro dolls or in lyrics namechecking various brands. You might remember the G-funk jam S Club Party, my personal favourite, in which as Tina did her dance and Jon looked for romance Paul was getting down on the floor while Hannah screamed out for more.

Though OMeara and McIntosh shouldered most of the singing, and Stevens seemed to have the most commercial potential, no one member was a standout star their success was symbiotic, dependent on being a gang anyone could join.

I was seven in 1998, and there really was no party like an S Club Party. The style and energy that was portrayed was coming from us, entirely, Cattermole says. There was no management in that. The actual thing that people were buying into came from us. And to see people get hundreds of millions of pounds, and all the credit no. We created that sort of fun energy on our own, despite the pressure they put on us.

Cattermole had very nearly not joined S Club 7. I honestly was very unsure, he says. Ive been asked so many times, Were you sitting by the phone, just waiting? But when they did phone me up and offer it to me Hi, were so pleased to I remember putting the phone down and going: I dont know if I want to do that. I turned to my friends and said: If I do this, my life is never going to be the same again.

As a teenager in St Albans, Hertfordshire, he had dreams of making it with his rock covers band or as a character actor. Performing came naturally, he says.

Other members of S Club 7 had been chosen from thousands of applicants at cattle calls, what we think of today as X Factor-style; Cattermole never even auditioned. Once in the group, he never had to sing. That got me down.

He was told it would be at odds with the alchemy, he says sarcastically, imitating a showbiz suit: We have picked certain people to do certain roles. I can only assume that mine was to answer questions in interviews. I was never asked to show, in the audition process, my singing, my ability to dance my ability for anything, other than talking.

Jo
Jo OMeara, Paul Cattermole, Bradley McIntosh, Hannah Spearritt, Tina Barrett, Rachel Stevens, Jon Lee in 2001. Photograph: Alamy

And not much talking, at that. Top of the Pops magazine, Smash Hits, all this sort of stuff was massive: So Paul, whats your favourite colour? He puts his face in his hands in mock desperation. Please! Ask me about the theory of relativity! (Those bios from 1998 did say that his favourite subject at school was physics.)

Cattermole paints pop stardom as a boring, thankless existence: a lot of schmoozing at parties and being driven around in the back of Chryslers, looking at magazines. Im as down for flicking through Heat magazine as the next one: Ooh, yeah, look at those shoes. But not day after day, hour after hour.

The perks of plush restaurants and hotels wore off immediately not that there was much of that. We did everything ourselves, as far as I can remember, from laundry to food preparation.

And mostly to make other people money. Cattermole says that Fuller was signed to Polydor as S Club 7, while he and the other six were just affiliates: the worst situation to be in. He remembers being unable to afford a 100 bottle of wine even as he was in one of the worlds biggest pop groups, and seizes on my mention of the Hasbro dolls: We got a pittance for that.

But they had each other. Cattermole says he got on with McIntosh (his closest friend) and Lee and Spearritt (the nucleus of the group) in particular. We were closer than many pop groups people that used to work with us said: Wow, you guys actually speak, you actually stay in the same room. Most of them dont.

In March 2002, Cattermole announced that he was leaving S Club 7, ostensibly to pursue his old band, now named Skua and doing nu-metal. It had got to the point where things were being handled so badly, I had to go.

S Club 7 were riding high with their second Brit award for Dont Stop Movin, named Best British Single and the seventh-bestselling single of 2001. It was a new, more sophisticated sound for the group, more Billie Jean than bubblegum (in fact Michael Jackson was given a co-writing credit). S Club 7 had never not been successful, but this was the first time they had come close to having street cred. Then they were told the follow-up single would be You, which was saccharine by even their own standards, drawing more from golden oldies than the then-current trend for two-step and garage.

Cattermole
Cattermole on Loose Women in 2018. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/Rex

The group argued for a song to cement their new contemporary sound, one that would be just a little bit of a move away from stuff for eight-year-old kids, as Cattermole puts it but were shot down. We had absolutely busted our butts off to get the band where it was. The band never disliked You, but it was just like: Wait a minute, were just making this crossover we have wanted this for years. We have wanted to be perceived as cool since the very beginning, and youve given it to us, but then youve taken it away.

No one in the group resented him for leaving but no one asked him to stay. He would have stayed, he says. I dont mind admitting, I was upset. The years that followed were difficult. Skua was stop-start and never signed to a record label. In hindsight, Cattermole says, he wasnt up to being in the public eye but taking a break didnt seem possible. S Club, as the group was known post-Cattermole, hung on for one more year, announcing their split on stage in April 2003.

For all the No 1s, the world tours, the multi-million-pound merchandising and endorsement deals including one with Pepsi S Club 7 saw very little of their success in monetary terms. Cattermole, OMeara and McIntosh formed S Club 3 in 2008; a rotating lineup from the group continues to perform, including Spearritt for the first time last month.

The extent of Cattermoles money troubles came to light last year after he was found to be selling his Brit award on eBay for a reported 60,000. In an appearance on Loose Women that some criticised as exploitative, Cattermole said that he owed some 30,000 in taxes and more in legal fees. His share from the 2015 S Club 7 reunion tour went towards clearing his debts.

Explosively, Cattermole tells me that his five-year relationship with Spearritt was written into their Hollywood 7 TV show and because of that, it sort of happened. Reports at the time said they had been secretly dating for six months, necessitating their on-screen kiss, but Cattermole says that was not the case it did not happen organically.

He was forced into the relationship? Yeah, but like I say. It didnt feel like that because I had totally grown into the idea, quite quickly. I thought she was great. In 2017, Spearritt lashed out at Cattermole online for speaking publicly about their relationship.

For the past year and a half Cattermole has lived in Swanage, in Dorset, where his family are based; he has been working odd jobs, most recently as manager of a community radio station. This Thursday he makes a heartwarming appearance on Channel 4s First Dates Hotel, where he grapples with how to disclose to his date his background as an entertainer.

It was five years of my life, he says. I definitely thought, when I was 20, that by the time I was 40 it would be a done thing. And its not Ive been answering S Club questions for 20 years. It will be great it will be bliss to one day not have to, but its part of it, and I totally accept that.

In July, Stevens teased a reunion on the Lorraine Kelly show to mark the 20th anniversary of their debut album but Cattermole seems to think it unlikely. The other guys know Im up for doing it, but I dont know whats happening.

A manager had approached him about it but was rude and offensive typical, he says, of his experience of the industry. Its such a shame that the whole thing has been crushed and crushed and crushed Ive been in meetings and theyve said, No but Paul, legacy, legacy, legacy, youve got to do the gig because its the legacy.

The musics there, the TV shows are there thats the legacy. He still gets approached by fans wanting a selfie, who say that S Club 7 helped them through a difficult period in their lives or their GCSEs. That is nine times out of 10 the way it goes.

It is hard to think of any contemporary music, or even culture, that is as wholeheartedly upbeat. As were wrapping up, I tell Cattermole that I still associate their music with the optimism of the millennium. He leaps on the word.

It is so important to remember how great so many things about the band were and, like you said, that time in peoples lives. That optimistic time.

Paul Cattermole is on First Dates Hotel on Thursday 12 September on Channel 4.

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