Time can fly when you’re a pop fan. It seems like only yesterday that Atomic Kitten, Liberty X and Five were Popjustice front-page regulars.
Now they’re heritage acts, gathered together with Honeyz, 911 and B*Witched in The Big Reunion, a six-for-the-price-of-one reality comeback doc on ITV2, culminating in the inevitable ‘make or break’ reunion gig at the Hammersmith Apollo on February 26.
Clearly there was too much RAW STAR POWER to be contained within just one show, so for last night's series opener we got the stories of Five (minus one) and Liberty X. Here’s how it went down:
Five – now minus J, technically making them Four – were discovered by Simon Cowell sometime in between Sinitta and Leona Lewis.
Like the Spice Girls, theirs was a tale of instant chemistry (Sean: "I hated Abs from the start… Ritchie too") leading to pop star magic. They scored three Number Ones, a top ten in America and they opened the 2000 BRIT Awards with Queen. Success!
The artists formerly known as Liberty-without-the-X (which was added later for legal reasons) emerged from the wreckage of the original series of Popstars, and consisted of five individuals deemed to have less star quality than Danny Foster and Suzanne Shaw.
After a shaky start they shot to Number One with third single Just a Little and scored a further six top ten singles – including some sterling work with Richard X on their cover of Chaka Khan’s 'Ain’t Nobody'.
The Secret Heartache!!
The familiar demons of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (ie pop with light R&B influences) tainted the glory days of both groups. Five's hard-partying ways (“Sometimes we’d be drinking from… 10am!”) were apparently encouraged by Cowell, until Sean had a breakdown and left the group, signalling the beginning of the end.
Michelle Heaton emerges as the potential Lisa Scott-Lee figure of The Big Reunion, melodramatically dabbing her eyes with a tissue as she recounts how a dependence on slimming tablets ended up putting her in hospital. The Liberty X boys also reveal that they liked a drink or two back in the wild carousing days, sometimes turning up on SM:TV pissed. Presumably the story of Jessica’s crippling addiction to Brie didn’t make the final cut.
The fall from grace!!!
Five were sitting at Number One with their (amazing) single 'Let’s Dance' when their four remaining members decided that enough was enough. Actually, while Scott and Ritchie grimly recounted the hell of it all, it seems poor old Abs/Abz/Absz was having the time of his life, and begged the band for one more roll of the dice.
It was not to be – although he did release three better-than-you-remember-them-being solo singles the following year.
Liberty X didn’t so much burn out as fade away. They speak sadly about the lack of confidence surrounding their (not amazing) ballad single 'Everybody Cries', which peaked at Number 13, and the swift decline from Wembley Arena to the Wiltshire Crimestoppers Annual Family Fun Day that became their farewell performance.
“Half the audience weren’t even watching,” remembers Kelli. Strangely, their faintly surreal 2005 hit 'Song 4 Lovers' is not referenced at all in this documentary. MYSTERY!
Five have actually reunited a few times before over the years – with J on board and everything – but that was left out for the sake of dramatic tension.
In the meantime “rapper and party boy” Absz has been living on a farm, Sean has undergone a lot of therapy, Scott had a few kids and Richie has been in Australia picking up a bizarre hybrid accent.
The show closes with them considering a brand new unknown singer to make them Five once more. How could it fail?
Liberty X have mostly been living the quiet life since the hits dried up. They’ve all got children now and Kevin is happily married to ‘fellow dog-walking fan’ Laura.
There is lots of very seriousfaced discussion of ‘re-writing the final chapter’.
The first episode of The Big Reunion ends on an open-ended note, as we still need to go through the thrilling sagas of The Honeyz and 911, plus what looks like a worrying amount of Kerry Katona, before they all actually get on stage and start singing the hits.
But tickets for the reunion show went on sale last night, so if you do feel the urge to go back to the days when tunes were tunes and 40,000 CD singles and no Westlife releases that week could get you a #1 hit, you know what to do.
(Actually you're too late because the show has already sold out. You snooze, you lose.)