Entertainment & Arts

Cheryl Cole's life in the spotlight

Cheryl Cole
Image caption Cole has scored two UK number one albums as a solo artist

Singer Cheryl Cole has been confirmed as a judge on the US version of The X Factor - the latest achievement in a career that has seen its fair share of ups and downs.

When five girls were plucked from obscurity on an ITV talent show, no one would have imagined that one of them would go on to become the "nation's sweetheart".

Cheryl Cole - then known as Tweedy - was just 19 when she was chosen as the first member of pop group Girls Aloud.

"I can hardly believe it," she said shortly after winning the show.

"Four months [ago] I was sitting in a council house drinking tea and watching Oprah Winfrey on television all day."

The five-strong girl band enjoyed chart success straight off the bat when their debut track, Sound of the Underground, topped the UK singles chart.

But the singer's climb to the top of the showbiz ladder had a shaky start.

Tragedy struck Girls Aloud on Christmas Day 2002 when their tour manager, John McMahon, was killed in a car crash in Staffordshire.

Then, in January 2003, Cole was arrested and charged with racially aggravated assault and actual bodily harm after an altercation with a nightclub toilet attendant.

Image caption Girls Aloud shot to fame as the winners of Popstars: The Rivals

Cole always denied the race charge and the jury agreed. But they unanimously rejected her claim to have been acting in self defence.

She was sentenced to 120 hours of community service, ordered to pay her victim £500 in compensation and required to pay £3,000 in prosecution costs.

Despite the controversy, Girls Aloud rallied around their bandmate - who had offered to quit - and went on to score a further 19 Top 20 singles.

One of five children, Cole began modelling at the age of three. She appeared in a British Gas advert aged seven and joined the Royal Ballet's summer school two years later.

But when she was 12 she abandoned dancing and decided to pursue a singing career instead, signing with a management company and going to countless auditions.

In 2004 she met footballer Ashley Cole, then with Arsenal. They had homes in the same London apartment block and ended up dating.

They were engaged in 2005 after he proposed in Dubai, tying the knot in a star-studded ceremony the following year.

In early 2008 tabloid newspapers claimed he had been unfaithful, with two women selling stories about their involvement with the player.

"I can't hurt any more than I've hurt, I can't cry any more than I've cried," Cheryl wrote in Girls Aloud's book Dreams That Glitter.

"When I said my wedding vows I meant them. I said them for life: For better, for worse," she added.

Hinting she had forgiven Ashley, she wrote: "People make mistakes, stuff happens. I believe everyone should be a free spirit."

The singer's quiet strength during this period seemed to cement her popularity with fans - one of whom was Simon Cowell, who hired her to replace Sharon Osbourne on The X Factor.

Image caption Cowell has described Cole as "a complete brat" with an eye for spotting talent

Cole proved to be sympathetic, likeable and immaculately dressed - making her an instant hit with viewers.

The exposure of the show only served to increase Cole's profile. She gave Vogue its highest-selling February issue in 2009 and later won a lucrative advertising contract with L'Oreal.

With Girls Aloud due to take a year off in 2009, it was inevitable that the singer would embark upon a solo career.

This she did, enlisting the help of Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am to put together her debut album, 3 Words.

Helped by a strong round of promotions and a much-talked about appearance on The X Factor, both the album and its lead single, Fight For This Love, entered the chart at number one.

Many reviewers noted the melancholy tone of the record and speculated that lyrics like "we argue a lot no matter what we do" indicated further problems in her marriage.

A rash of gossip magazine cover stories prompted the star to publish a picture of her wearing the ring on Twitter with the comment: "3 words. Diamonds Are Forever."

Little did she know that, months later, her relationship would be plunged into a fresh crisis.

It was alleged that Ashley had texted compromising photographs of himself to several women, while another came forward to say she had slept with him in 2009.

In February 2010, as Cole flew into the UK from a short break in Los Angeles, an official announcement of her separation was made.

Image caption Cole has had four UK Top 10 singles as a solo singer

Three months later she filed for divorce at the High Court in London, citing "unreasonable behaviour".

Cole played support on the UK leg of the Black Eyed Peas' world tour and took a break in Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa, with friend and dancer Derek Hough.

Shortly after returning, she was hospitalised following reports she had fainted during a photoshoot.

Cole was ordered to rest by doctors, who began treating her for malaria.

In an emotional interview with Piers Morgan on his ITV1 show Life Stories in October, Cole said she thought she was going to die.

"I thought if I'm going to die, I want to die soon because I was in so much pain," she added.

Her second solo collection, Messy Little Raindrops, released in November, was a UK number one, as was lead single Promise This.

And in last year's X Factor, won for the first time in her reign by an act she did not mentor - Matt Cardle - she continued to attract headlines.

She attracted criticism at the start of the series for not selecting popular singer Gamu Nhengu for the finals of the show, as well as for refusing to eliminate an act at the end of a live programme.

Yet she and Cowell remained the show's most popular personalities - something they will be keen to maintain now that they, and The X Factor, are crossing the Atlantic.

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