One of the most talked-about moments of this year’s Strictly was when new head judge Shirley Ballas muddled up her blonde bombshells and called breakfast telly presenter Charlotte Hawkins ‘Mollie’ by mistake. The real Mollie – The Saturdays singer Mollie King – was backstage at the time and admits she missed the kerfuffle.
‘But when we came back up to talk to Claudia – to the Clauditorium as we call it – everyone was laughing about it,’ she says. ‘They started calling me ‘Charlotte’, saying things like, ‘How are you, Charlotte?’.’
Mind you, of all the people to get confused with, Charlotte Hawkins isn’t necessarily the worst, she says. ‘I mean, she’s an absolute goddess, isn’t she? When she came out in that silver dress for her cha-cha-cha, I said to her ‘Oh my God, Charlotte, you look like a Victoria’s Secret model’.’
Mollie King reveals her thoughts on Strictly Come Dancing, music and dating
Mollie herself was always billed as the sex bomb of this year’s line-up so it’s interesting that she doesn’t seem to put herself in this category. ‘Put it this way, when I read that I did laugh and think, ‘You should see me sitting on the sofa with my hair in a topknot, eating a takeaway’.’
If she also seems envious of Charlotte’s curves, perhaps it’s because she doesn’t feel that well endowed herself. ‘Oh I have body issues. I’m always wondering if they should add a belt or something to the dresses to nip my waist in. I’m not exactly curvaceous.’
Of course, Shirley won’t be getting confused any more because Charlotte is out of the contest – while Mollie, at the time of going to press, is still in the running. Should Charlotte have gone when she did, I ask her? ‘No, but someone has to and that’s the fear of Strictly because you don’t want it to be you. That week I was terrified. I didn’t know that I was through and they announced that Davood [Ghadami; the EastEnders actor] was in the dance-off, but he had scored higher than we had, so you know there are no guarantees.’
Mollie King was the first celebrity announced for this year’s contest but what little most people knew about her didn’t exactly mark her out as a favourite with the masses. This was a pop star known mostly for being posh, wasn’t it? She was a privately educated former champion youth skier, used to hanging out in Val d’Isere and at polo matches.
Mollie (pictured centre left) is a pop star mostly known for being posh as part of girl group The Saturdays, which formed in 2007
She had dated – at least that’s the rumour – Prince Harry, model David Gandy was an old flame too and she somehow fitted into that beautiful-people jigsaw of pop stars and royalty and the socially-connected.
So far so off-putting? Actually, in the flesh she is rather charming and anything but grand. At our photoshoot she gamely pitches in with every suggestion the photographer has – even the ones that involve her clambering on a trapeze. And it could be that her impeccable connections are exaggerated.
She tells me her family was once offered an upgrade when on holiday because a receptionist saw the name Stephen King on her dad’s documents and practically genuflected. ‘She said ‘Oh I love your books’ and they were going to upgrade us.’ Alas, her dad is not Stephen King the horror author, but Stephen King the retired accountant from Surbiton in Surrey – a fact her dad saw fit to point out. ‘So they downgraded us again. We were furious with him for being so honest.’
The band sold five million records in the UK and Ireland, and sold out arenas before taking a break in 2014. Mollie (pictured right) says the dance routines were less difficult than Strictly
So how posh is she on a scale of one to ten? ‘I couldn’t possibly answer that,’ she laughs, but clarifies that no her family did not have their own ski chalet. Given that her mum works as a doctor’s receptionist, we can safely assume that she’s further down the ‘posh’ scale than many assume.
The skiing pedigree is unquestionable, though. Mollie was at school in Surbiton with Chemmy Alcott, Britain’s greatest-ever female skier, and herself represented Britain at junior level before bowing out of the sport to pursue a career in pop.
Is being able to hurtle down an Alpine slope helpful in ballroom dancing? Actually, no. As Craig Revel Horwood might say, it’s a disaaaaster, darling. ‘In skiing your feet have to either be parallel or in the snowplough position, with your toes together and heels out. With dancing it’s the opposite,’ she explains. ‘I’m still getting my head around it. When Shirley told me I needed to have them in the ten-past-two position I didn’t know what she meant. And my dance partner AJ even had to explain what a pointed toe was.’
Mollie (pictured with dance partner AJ) says she is most comfortable with the waltz
What’s surprising (and endearing) is that she’s completely candid about how the thing everyone assumed she would be good at – oozing sex – hasn’t come naturally either. In truth she thought her forte would be with the sassy, raunchy dances too, given that you can’t be in a girl band these days without excelling at that sort of thing. And The Saturdays were masters at it.
Formed in 2007 the five members – Mollie, Frankie Bridge, Una Healy, Rochelle Humes and Vanessa White – had numerous hit singles and albums, sold five million records in the UK and Ireland, and sold out arenas before taking a break in 2014. But Mollie says that the reality of Strictly has proved rather different to the band’s routines.
Luckily, she’s had moral support from her bandmates, who have been spotted in the audience. And Frankie, who was a runner-up on Strictly 2014, also visited Mollie in rehearsals to give her encouragement and even blasted the judges when she thought they’d been too harsh on Mollie. But it’s still been a challenge.
‘On the week we did the salsa, I was surprised at how difficult I found it. I thought, ‘Oh the salsa. That’s just how I dance with my girlfriends’, but no way,’ Mollie tells me.
‘I remember thinking, ‘I’ve never done this before’. It was terrifying. I thought I’d be suited to the Latin dances with those loose movements, but actually I’m more comfortable in ones like the waltz where I’m in AJ’s arms, where he’s got me rather than me shaking it on my own. It’s like a security blanket, I guess.’
Nor was she exactly comfortable with pressing herself up close to AJ in a manner that can only be described as provocative. ‘Now that is really awkward. I mean, you’re so close your bodies are touching and oh my goodness it’s a strange feeling.’ A nice strange feeling? ‘No, it was a bit ‘you are invading my body space’ at first, but the thing is it’s all so normal for AJ. He was saying things like, ‘Pull your face into me and look passionate’ and I was saying ‘AJ, your mum’s going to be in the audience’. I found it all so embarrassing.’
She says she hasn’t noticed the age gap between herself and dance partner AJ who is 22 years old (pictured with Joe McFadden at this year’s Strictly launch)
Obviously since she is single (she started seeing model David Gandy in 2011 but they split after a year together, with a source citing the pressures of his jetsetting lifestyle), there have inevitably been rumours about a brewing romance between the two. Any truth in this? Well, for those desperate for a Strictly love affair, the encouraging thing is that she says she hasn’t hugely noticed the age gap between them (he is a mere 22 years old, to her 30 years).
‘He doesn’t seem younger than me. He’s quite mature,’ she reveals. She says she loves being around him, that he makes her laugh. And, a little bizarrely, that he has ‘wonderful skin. It makes me want to ask him what products he uses’.But a romance? Alas no. ‘It’s not like that!’
If ever there was a woman ripe for being swept off her feet, though, it is Mollie. There is something quaintly old-fashioned about her and we aren’t just talking about her new found love of the Viennese waltz (‘I’m obsessed with it. I find myself using all the technical terms, which my friends laugh at. They say, ‘Waltz over to the toilet, Mollie, will you?’).
The pop star says AJ continuously advises her to not worry about the scores as she reveals that she can be hard on herself
But obviously it won’t be Prince Harry doing the sweeping. It was reported that Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips (a friend of her fellow Saturday Una Healy) had played Cupid, setting Mollie and Harry up with several dates. They’d met at a polo event in 2010 when Harry was with Chelsy Davy but by 2012 were said to have danced the night away at a karaoke bar in Battersea, south London, called Bunga Bunga, although the relationship cooled soon after.
Mollie said at the time, ‘Yes, I have met Harry, and we did go out for a drink. We’re friends. The attention has been a bit overwhelming. But yes, we’re friends and that’s all there is to it really. We have a good time and we make each other laugh… well, he makes me laugh anyway.’ She also tweeted, ‘Guys, I’m getting a lot of tweets about Prince Harry but… I’m not dating him and we’re not in a relationship. We’re just friends.’
Now, she won’t confirm those Harry rumours (nor does she rush to deny them, interestingly, just saying, ‘I’d rather not talk about that’) but she does have the air of a woman waiting for her prince, although she insists he doesn’t have to be famous, or titled. ‘The people I’ve been involved with in the past I’ve met organically. It doesn’t matter what their background is.’
She says her dream is to replicate her grandparents marriage of 70 years
I ask if she’s happily single. She suggests not. ‘I am a bit of a romantic. I think I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be in a relationship. I love being in love, and I would love to find that person. But I’m quite old fashioned in that way. I don’t actually date a lot. If I’m with someone it’s because I see myself being with them for a really long time.
‘My friends tease me about it. They say, ‘Mollie, you romanticise everything’, and I do. I try to make everything into a movie. I try to see the best outcome.’
Her dream, she says, is to replicate the marriage her grandparents have. ‘They are in their 90s and have been married for 70 years and I still see the way my grandad looks at my grandma and I think, ‘I’d love to have that’.’
Kids, of course, would be part of the package. ‘I definitely 100 per cent would love a family and children running around the kitchen. I have four nephews now and my sister gave birth to twins just a few weeks ago.
I was in rehearsal and I had to say to AJ, ‘Stop everything, I have to go’. I was at the hospital holding them just a few hours after they were born and it was the best thing ever. Family really does trump everything.’
None of this really squares with the image she has in certain quarters as a ruthlessly ambitious operator, desperate for fame by any means.
The rumour is that she is so competitive her fellow band members in the Saturdays refused to play cards with her. She doesn’t deny this at all, but laughs. ‘I am competitive, but then I was competing since I was eight. I’m not sure I’m in competition with other people in this case, though.
It’s more that I’m in competition with myself.’ That sounds tougher, in some ways. ‘It is. I’m quite hard on myself. Craig only gave us a four in week one, and the dream is to get a run of eights, but sometimes that does seem like a distant dream. AJ keeps telling me not to worry about the scores, but I do. I can’t not.’
Mollie confessed she had an obsession with being a pop star growing up and looked to Kylie Minogue and Christina Aguilera for inspiration
Which judge terrifies her most? ‘Definitely Craig, but also Shirley. They don’t let you mix with the judges so you stay very much in awe of them.’
The young Mollie must have baffled her parents Stephen and Susan. Her older sisters Ellen and Laura are a banker and a lawyer respectively, and were always studious and traditional in their approach to school and study. Mollie’s childhood ambition was to be Kylie Minogue. ‘I wanted to be Kylie doing the Locomotion. That was it. I’d just play music constantly, and study it, I’d know who’d written the artists’ songs. I’d do charts saying Christina Aguilera was with this record label and Britney was with that one. I planned out how my life would be.’
Even her skiing teammates used to laugh at her odd pop obsession. ‘In the ski lift everyone would be trying to get focused, and I’d be singing.’ Mollie had taken up the sport when she was on a family skiing holiday aged six and impressed her instructors, which led to her later joining the British Children’s Ski Team.
Her father was less than thrilled when she decided at 17 to give up her skiing, just at the point where a professional career was looking like a possibility. ‘He thought that if I gave it up, I should at least go to university. He’s still saying that,’ she laughs. ‘He never understood the pop world. When The Saturdays did our first big tour he said, ‘What, you actually have fans?’. He’s better with the Strictly thing, though, because it’s something his friends watch.’
Mollie famously appeared on The X factor twice in a bid to launch her music career
At school she struggled – not because of a lack of intellect (she’s clearly bright) but because she had dyslexia. It was formally recognised when she was nine. Before, she just thought she was ‘one of those slow kids’.
The scars are still there. ‘I was the slowest kid in the class, and oh yes I remember that.’ Her most vivid memory is of the teacher going round the class, asking each pupil to read a paragraph. ‘I hated that. I used to get so anxious.
I remember counting ahead trying to work out which paragraph I was going to get. I’d do things like try to time it so that I went to the toilet and missed my bit. It was hideous.’ She went on to get three A grades at A-level, which sounds like a miracle given that start, but she says it was down to ‘sheer hard work’. She says, ‘I work hard, always have. I do think it comes from my school days when I had to work harder than anyone else.’
It was that tenacity that helped her get a foothold in the music business – eventually. Quite simply, she just kept going until someone said ‘Yes’. As a teenager she wrote to one major record label so many times, begging for work experience, that they eventually gave in. ‘They called my mum and said they didn’t normally offer it, but I’d written in so many times they were going to make an exception.’
She famously appeared on The X Factor twice, once as a solo act when she was 18 (when Sharon Osbourne despaired at her skimpy attire), and again two years later, as part of the band Fallen Angelz. This time she got through to the end of the boot camp stage before being eliminated. Most would have given up on the dream of a showbiz career by then. She hung on. ‘And it was from someone seeing me on that that I was offered a place in The Saturdays. I’m a great believer in just slogging on.’
And she’s certainly slogged for Strictly. ‘I’m not a natural dancer,’ she admits. ‘But I’m prepared to put in the hours, and I’m hoping that’ll keep me up there with the others who are better dancers.’
She says the contestants have all formed a WhatsApp group and she’s made unlikely new friends. The comedian Susan Calman helped her quell her nerves, she says. Debbie McGee is ‘the mother hen of the group’.
She is fizzing about the Strictly experience, the dresses, the glitz, the old-school glamour. ‘I’m obsessed. I’ve always been afraid of pink because, with the blonde hair, I’ve always thought I’d look a bit Barbie, but actually the Strictly experience is that you just say yes to anything. Pink, sequins, tassels, sparkles, whatever. The joy is that it brings out a different side to everyone.’
How good a dancer can she be, though? Given that she’s put in eight to ten hours training a day, anything is possible – providing she gets those skier’s feet sorted out, that is.
Mollie’s solo songs Hair Down and Back To You are available to stream now. Strictly Come Dancing, tonight, 6.35pm, BBC1.