Following last week's (slightly haunting) look into the psyches of post-success Five and Liberty X, ITV2's The Big Reunion shifted its attention this week to the careers of 'pint-sized' 'Love Sensation' hitmakers 911 and Kerry Katona-era Atomic Kitten ahead of the already sold-out comeback 'gig' later this month.
Here's what happened:
911 are so retro that two of them got together on a primetime show hosted by Michaela Strachan.
After recruiting singer Lee Brennan in – oh, the glamour! – Burger King Carlisle, they landed a £3m record deal (!) and began their assault on planet pop with unforgettable hits such as 'Don’t Make Me Wait'. After their fifth single 'Bodyshakin’' catapulted them to "heights we could never have imagined" (Number 3), life became a relentless rollercoaster of success, culminating in a Number 1 hit with their cover of Dr Hook’s 'A Little Bit More'.
Atomic Kitten were formed in the late 90s when a 'producer' spotted Kerry Katona dancing in something called The Porn Kings and thrust her together singers with Liz McClarnon and Natasha Hamilton. (Actually there was also a brief period when Heidi Range was in the group, but nobody talks about that). After 'cutting their teeth' in Japan, they burst onto the scene with hits like 'Right Now' and 'I Want Your Love', almost got dropped when their album initially charted at Number 39, then turned it all around with a last minute reprieve and four weeks at Number One with bona fide classic 'Whole Again'.
Behind The Perma-grins!!
In terms of almost terrifying blokiness, 911 were basically 1997’s answer to The Wanted. Jimmy tells of a heart-melting act of chivalry involving waking up next to two unidentified women, presumably having had his wicked way with them the night before. "I don’t know who they are, all I know is I’m ringing them a taxi." That’s the pop dream right there, ladies.
However, a man cannot live on groupies with questionable self-esteem alone, and a punishing promotional schedule was fast pushing the boys to breaking point. "911 was basically a prison," declares Spike, entirely seriously.
Being a member of Atomic Kitten sounds, frankly, terrifying. "Liz wouldn’t hurt a fly," laughs Kerry, recounting a major argument over car space that almost sent the group asunder. "Yeah, I hit her," remembers Liz, a not-entirely-remorseful smile flickering across her lips.
Coincidentally, and in no way due to the many, many ITV2 reality shows she’s starred in over the years, Kerry Katona gets a disproportionate amount of airtime on this show considering she did a runner after just four singles. Pity poor Jenny Frost, whose five years in the band are dismissed with an ominous voiceover declaring that she "will not be appearing" at this reunion.
The fall from grace!!!
Exhausted, and with the hits starting to dry up, 911 could see the writing was on the wall. When the record company announced a Greatest Hits was in the offing, they decided to jump before they were pushed, announcing their split on the Chris Moyles show to the devastation of the leagues of fans who had just sent their last ever single to the heady heights of Number 13 in the charts.
Atomic Kitten’s post-Kerry period continues to be entirely glossed over, despite being the era when they had pretty much all of their major success. (FYI: The best Atomic Kitten song is 'The Last Goodbye'.) We do learn that Natasha suffered severe post-natal depression after giving birth in 2002, which led to her finally calling time on the group in 2004.
911 are a good few years older than everyone else taking part in the Big Reunion, so they’re mainly worried about dodgy hips and gammy ankles getting in the way of their dance routines. A sad-eyed Lee Brennan also talks movingly about childhood health problems and his recent separation from Lindsay out of B*Witched, which appear to have left him a bit broken. This is actually very sad. Poor Lee.
After Atomic Kitten split, Liz "maintained a busy showbiz career" (the camera demonstrates this by cutting to a guest appearance on ITV’s Loose Women), Kerry became a troubled reality TV queen and Natasha invented Starbucks or something.
There are some concerns about Kerry’s ability to hit those infamous Atomic Kitten high notes ("I don’t think we did harmonies when Kerry was in the group – I think they just used to turn her microphone off") and no mention is made of the approximate 17 times that Atomic Kitten have already reformed between 2005 and now. Kerry thinks it’s going to be 'mad'. Liz looks very frightened.
So that was that. Next week we find out if four women staring into the harsh glare of their forties can still sing 'C’est La Vie' without visibly dying inside, and The Honeyz – East Albion’s answer to Destiny’s Child – dish the dirt on bitter rivalries and ever-changing lineups.
It’s going to be amazing.