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Nicole Scherzinger on lighting up the West End and her new life in London

The incomparable Nicole Scherzinger tells us about perfectionism, the power of reinvention and the pitfalls of fame

Nicole Scherzinger encapsulated a certain era of the Noughties, selling millions of hit records as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls and later becoming one of the most recognisable faces on British television. Now she’s entering a new chapter, moving to London full-time and taking the West End by storm with her dazzling performance in Sunset Boulevard. Here, the international superstar talks to us about settling into London life and lighting up the stage. 

I’m sitting in the upstairs bar at the Savoy Theatre with Nicole Scherzinger, and I have to admit I’m surprised. I’d arrived at the interview with a set of preconceptions about what it would be like to meet the wildly successful pop superstar and television personality. We’re here to talk about her role as Norma Desmond, the faded Hollywood star Nicole is currently portraying on stage in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jamie Lloyd’s hit West End production of Sunset Boulevard. But when we start our chat, Nicole is nothing like I’d imagined. Dressed down in a blue boiler suit, chunky winter boots and a woollen beanie, the 45-year-old is softly spoken and surprisingly serious. Other than those sculpted feline features and the deep plum lipstick outlining her generous pout, there’s little hint of the larger-than-life character we’re so used to seeing on our screens, either as the lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls or as a judge on talent shows like The X Factor and The Masked Singer.

Nicole Scherzinger Inteview: On Theatre, Fame And LondonPin
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Photography: Zoe McConnell

If that’s the Nicole we’re more familiar with, the one that’s sold hit record after hit record and racked up six million followers on Instagram, then her latest role as Norma Desmond is a conscious step away from that. Nicole’s performance as the forgotten silent-movie star – for which she’s garnered rave reviews – is a tour de force, startlingly visceral and raw. “People who come to see the show will see many sides of me,” she says. “Sides they didn’t even know existed. I’ve always felt like I was scratching at the surface of my potential. I’ve prayed for a long time for the right show – and then this came along. It’s been a gift. A truly iconic role of a lifetime.” 

Sunset Boulevard marks Nicole’s return to the stage after almost a decade, when she starred as Grizabella in the 2014 West End revival of Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. The role earnt her an Olivier nomination, but things turned sour after she pulled out of the show’s Broadway run at the last minute to return to the UK as an X Factor judge. Lloyd Webber was not pleased. “I’m furious because I really believe she’s the most fantastically talented girl and I went out on a limb to get her for the London Palladium here, and it makes me look like an absolute twot with them all,” he was quoted as saying at the time. 

Nicole Scherzinger Inteview: On Theatre, Fame And LondonPin
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Photography: Zoe McConnell

Clearly the pair have buried the hatchet, as here she is appearing in another of his musicals. When I ask how their relationship is now, she tells me, “Andrew’s such a massive support – when he believes in you, he makes you want to be your best for him.” So, if Sunset Boulevard ends up transferring to Broadway – as it’s rumoured to do – will she be going this time? “Yes. I’ve always dreamed of going to Broadway and I still can’t believe I’ve never done it. And what a beautiful way this would be to make my debut.” 

Those bright lights of Broadway are looking evermore likely since the show landed two coveted prizes at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, which took place a few days after our interview and cover shoot. Jamie Lloyd took home the Milton Shulman Award for Best Director, while Nicole scooped the Best Musical Performance gong. On a follow-up call a few days later, I ask what the win meant to her. “When I first got into the room, I was a bit taken aback,” she tells me. “I was sitting next to Sir Ian McKellen, Elton John, Tom Hiddleston – all these brilliant stars and actors. It was a lot. But it felt amazing to know that all of my hard work was being recognised. I’m so honoured to be part of the London theatre community, and it feels like they’ve really embraced and accepted me. So, to win that award just felt really special.” 

“I’m so honoured to be part of the London theatre community, and it feels like they’ve really embraced and accepted me”
Nicole Scherzinger

To prepare for the role, Nicole says she drew as many parallels as possible between herself and Norma. “I really wanted to understand the character from a very personal and intimate point of view, so I spent a lot of time breaking the sections down by experiences in my own life, to relate to her more emotionally,” she says. When I ask which life events in particular, she looks thoughtful. “I related to her dreams, her creativity, her passion,” she says quietly. “But then on the other side, I can relate to being part of an industry where you feel like you have been discarded or discredited or dismissed.” 

At their peak in the Noughties, The Pussycat Dolls were one of the most famous bands in the world, selling over 54 million records. But after their split in 2010, Nicole struggled to reach the same pinnacles with her solo career. “Ive also definitely been through my own hardship with relationships, where Ive had feelings of loneliness and emptiness,” she continues. Nicole had a much-publicised on-and-off relationship with the British F1 driver Lewis Hamilton and then went on to date tennis pro Grigor Dimitrov before meeting her fiancé, the former Scottish rugby player Thom Evans, in 2019. “A lot of that is Norma, and I can relate to all of that.” 

Nicole Scherzinger Inteview: On Theatre, Fame And LondonPin
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Photography: Zoe McConnell

Naturally, when the casting for Sunset Boulevard was announced, there were many who thought Nicole was too young and beautiful to play the infamously haggard Norma. I’ll admit I was sceptical myself as I sat down to watch the show. But I needn’t have been – Nicole embodies the part fully. In Lloyd’s starkly stripped-back production, she spends the entire time on stage barefoot, wearing nothing but a black silk slip dress, her long hair trailing around her shoulders. One of the highlights of Lloyd’s staging is his clever use of cameras, deployed to create close-ups of the characters’ faces, which are then blown up and projected onto a huge screen. Through this technique, Nicole’s usually picture-perfect features appear crazed and distorted. Her take on Norma is histrionic, melodramatic and utterly compelling. It seems like a part Nicole was born to play. She clearly agrees: “I feel like I’ve been preparing my whole life for this role.” 

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a Hawaiian-Ukrainian mother and father of Filipino descent, Nicole grew up in a poor inner-city neighbourhood. Her parents separated when she was a baby, and her maternal family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, when she was six years old, with her half-sister Keala and her German-American stepfather Gary Scherzinger. Despite only having one sibling, Nicole grew up as part of a large and very close family – her mother was one of 10 brothers and sisters, and her grandmother was one of 18. 

She is well known for her strong work ethic – she’s been dubbed the hardest working woman in showbusiness. “I truly strive for greatness. I just want everything that I do – no matter how big or small – to be great, to make it count,” she says. “A lot of it comes from my family. We’re built like warriors; we just persist, and we never give up. It’s that need to always be better, to be the best. My mother said that even as a child, I was a perfectionist. It’s my biggest blessing and my biggest curse, but that’s what got me where I am today.” 

Nicole Scherzinger Inteview: On Theatre, Fame And LondonPin
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Photography: Zoe McConnell

She cites the time she first heard Whitney Houston sing Greatest Love of All as being the moment she realised she wanted to be in music and, as a young girl, she went to performing arts school in Louisville to train in musical theatre. Nicole’s studies were put on hold in 1999 to sing backing vocals for the rock band Days of the New, before she became part of the reality TV girl group Eden’s Crush. After they disbanded, she heard that top record producers Jimmy Iovine and Ron Fair were launching an open audition for a new recording group. 

Nicole successfully auditioned and became the lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, who exploded onto the music scene in 2005 with their first single, Don’t Cha. She quickly became the band’s most famous member, and the group sold millions of records worldwide. They also became notorious for their raunchy dance routines and provocative costumes, which were often at odds with Nicole’s relatively conservative upbringing as the granddaughter of a Catholic bishop. When I ask her how she thinks being a woman in the industry has changed since then, she refers to the rise of social media as a huge point of difference. 

“We’re in an influencer era, where things are no longer based on talent, but aesthetics,” she says. “I’m having to compete with TikTokers now, which I find crazy. People that have meaningful things to say, they’re not always the ones getting the likes, and I can’t say I’m not sad about that. But when I was planning on reuniting with the Dolls [in 2020], I wanted it to be a reinvention of us. And I said, ‘Okay, what were The Pussycat Dolls about back in that era?’ It was about women wanting to be attractive and sexy to please other people, to please men. The biggest difference is today, what’s really sexy is women who want to please themselves. Women who want to be sexy for themselves. So, I think we’ve come a long way.”

Nicole Scherzinger Inteview: On Theatre, Fame And LondonPin
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Photography: Zoe McConnell

Nicole is the ultimate multi-hyphenate, as adept at commanding the stage and belting out a tune as she is at captivating audiences on prime-time television or acting in a blockbuster film (she has starred in Disney’s Moana and Men in Black 3). But when I ask her how she would define herself, she seems momentarily stumped. “Well, Prince always said: ‘What paid for your house?’ And that was definitely my singing,” she laughs. “So, I guess I’d have to say international singer.” 

She tells me she’s been working on new music for the past year, and though she doesn’t want to reveal too much, she says, “It’s the most honest and courageous and authentic I’ve ever been in music. The songs are very anthemic. My name, Nicole, means victory, so it’s very important to me that all of my music has an empowering, uplifting, encouraging element. I need that. I battle with a lot of my own demons and insecurities, so it’s vital to me that all of my music has an upside to it.” 

After years of living in Los Angeles, home for Nicole is now London, with her fiancé, Thom. The couple moved here permanently in September and live in Covent Garden. “This town keeps me working, so I love it here,” says Nicole. “Being in London, it feels like stepping back in time. I permanently feel like I’m in an English version of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, because everything is so old and historic.” If she loves the UK, it would seem the feeling is mutual. 

In May, Nicole was chosen to perform at the King’s Coronation concert at Windsor Castle, where she took to the stage alongside the world-renowned pianist Lang Lang. She lists the experience as one of her proudest moments. “If you put things in perspective, I’m a little girl that was born on the ghetto side of the island of Oahu in Hawaii. I didn’t come from money. My mom had me when she was 18 and raised me on her own. To go from that to performing in front of the King, in a country that I truly love – that was a pinnacle moment for me.” 

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Photography: Zoe McConnell

Though she admits she doesn’t go out as much as she’d like to right now due to her punishing schedule – she performs six days a week, with two matinees – when she can, her favourite spots include The Maine Mayfair, where she goes for oysters; the restaurant at the NoMad hotel for their Sunday roasts – “I’m obsessed with roasts, I have one literally every Sunday”; and the Rosewood for romantic date nights. “That’s a very special hotel for me, as that’s where everything started for me and Thom,” she says with a smile. “We just went there for our anniversary, actually. I love going around Christmas time, it’s so festive.” As for what’s left on her to-do list in the capital, she says a trip to Oswald’s, Robin Birley’s ultra-exclusive members’ club, is high on her agenda. “Put that in the piece – I want them to invite me,” she deadpans. 

The conversation turns to fashion and she tells me how much she enjoyed experimenting with the new styling direction on our cover shoot; so much so, she wore the white corset suit by Sabina Bilenko to the GQ Men of the Year Awards a few days later. When I ask her what she likes about British style, she says it’s the fact that it’s so different from the way women dress in LA. “There, everyone’s just in jeans and a T-shirt all the time. Here, people actually dress up, and I love that. I can go out in London in an Alexander McQueen gown and no one thinks it’s dressy. That’s just normal. Things are a little bit more tailored, a little bit more refined here.” She likes to use fashion to reflect her moods and describes her personal style as “chic but edgy. I like more structured looks these days, something elevated and elegant. But it always has to have an edge to it, so it has a strength and a power.”

“I’ve always felt like I was scratching at the surface of my potential. I’ve prayed for a long time for the right show - and then this came along. It’s been a gift
Nicole Scherzinger

When it comes to shopping, she never fails to find something to buy at Dover Street Market – “one of the best places in London, they’ve got so many great designers there” – and lists The Library in South Kensington and Selfridge’s as favourites, as well as Portobello Market for vintage. She’s a fan of Burberry and Vivienne Westwood, and describes her wardrobe as “eclectic” but says it also has plenty of staple pieces that are her go-to classics, including two trench coats – a camel one from Burberry and a black one from Dior – that are a “must-have in England”, vintage Levi’s jeans and deconstructed Ann Demeulemeester sweaters. When it comes to style inspiration, Nicole cites a surprising source: Norma Desmond. 

“I just love how she keeps it really simple with her black slip,” she says. “I worked with the show’s costume designer Soutra [Gilmour] for a long time, because I wanted it to be super classic, but using a rich fabric because material is everything. I come from a really poor background but I have the most expensive taste, and I picked the most expensive material ever for Norma Desmond’s slip. It’s like silk, but it has a certain sheen on stage, so that when it hits the light sometimes it looks wet, but it also has this almost animalistic, fur-like texture. It’s such a simple outfit, but it makes a powerful statement. That’s how I feel about clothes: less is more.”

As for staying in shape, that comes courtesy of multiple sessions with her personal trainer, Eddie Scott-Bennin, who Nicole credits for keeping her in tip-top condition. To unwind, she relies on weekly sports massages at home, where they “literally have to chisel away at me, because I’m built like a horse.” She also says getting into a hot bath is one of her favourite ways to relax. “I love aromatherapy, I love flowers, I love candles. Those little things make a huge difference.” When it comes to achieving her glowing skin, she credits regular visits to facialist Nilam Holmes, who counts Kate Moss and David Beckham among her other clients. “Nilam’s just amazing,” says Nicole. “And for skincare and makeup I always go to Space NK, because they have the best selection.” 

She travels a lot, both for work and play, heading to Hawaii as often as she can, where her family are still based. While she’s tight-lipped about the plans for her upcoming nuptials, her wedding ceremony will be held there, conducted by her grandfather, and she recently bought some land on the island. “My dream was always to go back home, because my grandparents are getting older now and I want to spend more time with them,” she says. Despite relishing her new-found role as an adopted Brit, her Hawaiian roots are important. “Hawaii is a very special land and I’ve been consciously learning a lot more about our history and our culture. I’ve been speaking to elders on the island to get educated and reconnect. It’s helped me to understand a lot more about myself.” 

“For me, reinvention means always evolving, never staying in one place, never being too afraid to try new things”
Nicole Scherzinger

When the wildfires ripped through Hawaii in August, Nicole was devastated. “I wish I could have done more for Lahaina,” she says. “I couldn’t fly back home, because I was here, but I donated money.” She posted repeatedly to her millions of followers on Instagram, urging them to donate and help raise money for the families affected. She also joined the Red Cross effort to raise relief funds for the victims, recording a heartfelt video in which she urged people to donate. 

For Nicole, it’s important to make sure she uses her platform as a force for good. “We’re all here for a purpose,” she says. “We’re all here to be of service and to help others.” She’s a global ambassador for the Special Olympics and performed at the 2015 Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles. Nicole has a special connection to the games, having grown up closely with her aunt, who has Down’s syndrome. She’s also a strong campaigner against human and sex trafficking. “It’s such a horrific and disgusting topic, especially when children are involved, that people often shy away from it. That’s why I think it’s so important to bring it to light. It would be so much easier to just pretend it doesn’t exist.”  

I’m aware that our time together is coming to an end – Nicole needs to go and get ready for that night’s performance. I ask her, does she still have things she wants to achieve? “A million things,” she says. “I want to write my own musical and make a movie musical from that. I want to have my own world tour.” Does she see herself returning to the stage again? “Yes, I think so.” She hesitates. “I’m not going to lie; the theatre is brutal. Eight shows a week? I’m exhausted. But I love the stage. And, as exhausting as it is, this is the most fulfilled I’ve ever been. And I know I have so much more to give – so much more.” 

I tell her I don’t doubt it for a second. This role feels like another in a long line of reinventions for Nicole, who’s gone from young musical theatre performer to world-famous pop star, global television icon and acclaimed theatre actress over her career. Before she leaves, I have to ask, what does the word reinvention mean to her? “For me, it means always evolving, never staying in one place, never being too afraid to try new things. To be brave and be bold. That’s what I’m doing in this show. All of my fears, all of my insecurities, all of my emotions, every part of me is being exposed,” she pauses. “That’s what reinventing yourself takes – the courage to show people who you really are.” 

Sunset Boulevard is playing at the Savoy Theatre until 6 January 2024
sunsetboulevardwestend.com

Nicole Scherzinger shot exclusively for The Glossary Winter issue;

Photography @zoemcconnell
Styling @karenclarkson @thewallgroup
Makeup @chykapuka @opusbeauty
Hair @carlbembridgehair
Nails @secretspauk
Styling Assistants @mollellison @varvarabarto
Digital Operator @nickgraham
Lighting @crispycornflake19
Retouching @frisianpost
Shot at @thesavoylondon

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