Smash Hits, 13th-26th September 1995
With all the fuss over Robbie and Take That, it's easy to forget what happened the day before Robbie's departure - Louise Nurding left Eternal. In an exclusive interview, Gina Morris meets up with Easther, Vernie and Kéllé in Beverly Hills and talks to Louise.
The director is in control. He knows exactly what he wants for the video. Eyeing the girls scattered around the film studio, he orders a stage-hand to fetch the props. Returning minutes later with one, two, three chairs, he lines them up in a row. Vernie looks confused. "Where's the fourth chair" she snaps. "We need four chairs." Realising her mistake, she smiles awkwardly. "Ah, no" she whimpers apologetically. The crew fall silent. There's only a faint nervous shuffling sound, suddenly the air is pierced by a loud girlie wail. "Arrrrrrrh! Ooooooooh!" Kéllé cries. "WHERE'S LOUISE?"
It's 9am, a blistering summer morning in Hollywood, and Eternal are in make-up, preparing for their first photo session as a three-piece. It's been two months now since the day Louise Nurding crept into a band meeting and announced she was going to quit. It's also been nearly two months since Vernie made her 'fourth chair' slip up during the video shoot for their cover verision of Carole King's When The Earth Moves, but, well, it feels like yesterday.
They still miss her. Kéllé still has to throw loads of bags and "crap" onto the empty plane seat next to her, to make it feel like sombody is there, and Easther just can't get used to now being 'The One In The Middle'. "It's so weird," she frowns. "It's lonely. It really feels as if someone's missing."
So there's sadness, tears, much pining and wishing she was around. The friendships and all that loving each other and going out shopping, staying up late, giggling and talking about boys and having fun. So what happened? Why on earth, after almost four years, did Louise go and leave Eternal?
"It was a very big shock." Easther Bennett (now 22 with new blonde streaks), the sternest member of the group, flops down on a chair in a room of The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, their extrmely swanky home for the next two weeks. So swanky, you shouldn't really be surprised (as I wasn't) to find yourself alone in the lift with Sylvester Stallone (why couldn't it be Brad Pitt?).
"But well," she continues. "She felt like she needed to move on, to go for a solo career. Which is fine. If you feel like you're stagnant, then it's the best thing to do. We're very proud, but also very sad."
Did you beg her to stay?
"I was hoping she'd change her mind. Right down to the last day when we signed the papers, I was calling her saying are you sure? No band wants to break up but, with us, it was more than that. It's like being in a relationship and all of a sudden you're not with a guy and it's like, 'Jeez!' You're down for ages, but eventually you realise why you broke up and you want the best for them."
Yeah, but sometimes you don't, you want to sew prawns into their clothes and watch them trying to work out why they smell so bad. "Well," she laughs. "We just want the best for Louise."
There must have been arguments?
"The only argument we had," she states flatly. "Was trying to convince her to stay."
Easther last spoke to Louise two weeks ago, just before they came to LA, to make a video for their new single Power Of A Woman. She sent her flowers, with the message 'If you need anything, let me know.'
We happen to know you used to call Louise 'Whitey', that doesn't sound very friendly?
She looks shocked. "That was our joke!" she squeals. "She would call me a name - no, I'm not saying what it was - and I called her that. If you're close enough to someone you can call them fatty, skinny or whatever and they know it's a joke. It was our thing. How did you know about that anyway?"
"I have a very weird sense of humour," she grins. "A bit dry, I say what I feel and my jokes are harsh. 'Whitey' to some people may sound harsh, but not to someone who knows me and I would never use it for anyone I didn't know really, really well."
You're all very good looking, but everyone always seemed to fancy Louise - were you ever jealous?
"Yeah, Louise looked good, but if someone fancied her more, so what? She is good looking. I don't think you should ever be jealous of another person, if you're close you should feel good for them."
Apparently, the girls never considered a replacement. They all know each other too well to let an unknown join, and, besides, nobody they decided, could ever take Louise's place. But would they ever let her come back?
"I'd love her to come back, but I don't know if it could happen. We're a threesome now, we're not the same group - we're bringing along the same music but this is phase two."
Later that afternoon, having now spent two weeks in rehearasl, the girls gather at a West Hollywood film studio for the first day's shooting. They all look very happy, excited and comfortable. Phase two is, quite obviously, in full effect. They've all got new hair, long sleek and streaked with highlights and two of them have got new eyes. Easther's wearing blue contact lens and Vernie wears greeny-hazel. Their clothes are hanging on a rail nearby - short hipster skirts, little tops, sexy satin nightwear... hold on, this is Eternal. What happened to the enormous baggy jeans?
"Oh we still wear that stuff," laughs Easther. "But we wanted a more feminine look, not that we'll be showing our breasts or anything, you don't have to do that. We just wanted to bring out an up-to-date Eternal, more sophisticated."
Back in the hotel room it's time to speak to Kéllé. She's now 20, the friendliest member of the group (she'll hug you) and, as Louise's long-standing best mate, she must be having the worst time of it. But right now she's having fits of sentimental laughter remembering a photo in a tabloid newspaper of her and Louise when they were kids. "Arrgh! She had this bob, like someone stuck a bowl on her head and she was... tubby! And I looked so stupid. Haaa! These people don't know what they do to you! We hung out together from the day we met. And now I feel like my right arm's gone." She suddenly stops laughing.
"I love her so very mcuh," she says, half sobbing. "It was so hard. I don't want to really talk about it. I don't want to cry." She dabs away a small tear. "I've just had my make-up done!"
Kéllé knew Louise was unhappy long before the rest of the band. They'd spent hours talking about it, the decision was tough but she knew she'd stand by her whatever. The day she quit didn't shock Kéllé. She knew all about it.
Were you tempted to go with her?
"My heart told me desperately that I wanted to go with her and be a duo," she sighs. "But my head told me I couldn't go through life holding onto somebody's hand. But one of her main reasons for leaving was to start a solo career and go off in another direction. I won't lie and say I didn't think about it, but I'm happy in Eternal."
What's the response from other people been like?
"Well, we get a lot of people bugging us about it, 'Why did you kick the white girl out?' I hate things like that, I don't see her as a white girl, she's Lu. Race and colour was never an issue with Eternal, I find it very rude, ignorant and offensive."
Maybe they miunderstood Easther calling her 'whitey' and assumed it must have been a nasty split?
"Oh my lord! I thought they might pick up on that, we call our manager 'chalky', 'coz he's white. It's just us. But people see you as a product, not real people with real feelings and that wasn't how it was. It's a sore subject and people keep digging away at it, it's like OK! Enough already."
Do you think she needed to be independent?
"No, because she's very reliant on other people. It's not that she always wanted to be the solo singer. She always wanted to be a performer, but she needs the right environment to be happy. I think she'll do this for a while and then go into acting. In fact I know she will, and nothing would make me happier than being in a movie together someday."
When did you first realise she was unhappy?
"A long while back. But everyday you think, 'Why am I doing this?' Then you realise 'I don't have to, I'm not chained to Eternal, I can leave'. She found the strength and did."
What makes her unhappy?
"Just different..." She stops and smiles. "You'd have to ask her, she told me things in confidence, I wouldn't betray her, it's not me."
When did you last speak to her?
"Two days ago. I left a message on her machine 'coz she's in the studio. You know, shen she first left, I couldn't stop crying. I still cry at night sometimes. But I just have to remind myself that she's not gone anywhere, she'll always be my friend and nothing's really changed. We're just very far apart and it's difficult."
Vernie, now 24 years old, the oldest member of the band and perhaps the most sensible, hobbles into the hotel room. All the band are groaning and aching, they've strained their leg muscles. "We haven't done any real active dancing in ages," she says staggering over to a chair. "We're all so stiff."
In her quiet voice, she talks eagerly about the new album and how they've all been much more involved. She says Louise helped choose some of the songs and dismisses rumours that one of the reasons Louise left was because Eternal were turning into a gospel band. It's a lot more funky, and only one of the songs, she says, is a gospel song.
Do you feel the loss yet, musically?
"Not really. In the studio you can make up for a missing voice. Live? We'll have to see."
How did you feel when she told you?
"Shocked. Gutted. No, I didn't feel angry because she's not really doing anything to us. I was gutted, which is a selfish reaction, because it was going to make her happy. But, Louise is gone. It's not a happy time for the group, but we're happy that she's happy... it's all happy!"
The new look's a lot sexier...
"We knew that we would have to move on anyway, whether Louise had left or not. But it's in its developing stages at the moment. We've done hair colours, different clothes and we feel comfortable. It wasn't definitely sexier, but that's the way it's gone so far."
Vernie admits she feels more philosophical about it now. Louise made a tough decision and stuck by it - she wanted a solo career. Now she has what she wants the girls are helping her because, says Vernie, "she's really scared."
As Vernie drags herself up to leave for the photo session, you have to wonder if there've been any bad reactions from fans. Any nasty fan-mail for instance?
"If there has been any," she says opening the door, "we haven't seen them. Mostly the fans have been positive. They know they haven't lost Eternal, they've still got Eternal... and now they've got Louise, too."
SO WHAT IS GOING ON WITH LOUISE?
Louise Nurding is on the blower from her friend's house in Surrey. It's a week since Eternal finished their video shoot in Beverly Hills and Louise is preparing to fly out to make a video in New York City and Hawaii for new single Light Of My Life...
"We're going to be doing down-town shots in New York and some beach ones in Hawaii. But don't worry, I'm not going to be runing along the beach with the wind in my hair..."
So Louise is on her own now - her first solo single is out in two weeks' time, she's making an LP, she's still going out with Dan and still sounds ludicrously cheery. Except she's a bit lonlier...
"There's still times when I'll look over my shoulder in the studio and not see them there and get upset. I have lots of phone calls with Kéllé where we just scream 'I realy miss you!'"
So is Louise worried about a Blur vs Oasis-style chart scrap between her single and the Eternal one that's released two weeks later?
"I would be if they sounded similar, but mine is a ballad and theirs is an up-tempo number, so there's no rivalry. It'll never be like that between me and the girls."
So why did you leave Eternal?
"Basically, I wasn't very happy. Being in a group these days takes up so much of your life that if you're not happy it's not fair to the people you're working with and the fans. I was making a lot of money being in Eternal and it felt unfair, because I wasn't giving 100 percent. A lot of people are saying it's a racial thing and that we didn't like each other but that's not true".
Speaking of which, Easther's been telling us about how she used to call you 'Whitey'...
"Yeah, Easther used to call me that all the time. What did I call her? Whatever I felt like. It wasn't offensive - we called each other everything under the sun."