Ashley Roberts on socially distanced dating and why Covid won't kill off the Pussycat Dolls reunion

AFTER a decade of speculation, rumour and patiently waiting, the Pussycat Dolls finally announced the reunion their fans had been waiting for.

Ten whole years for Nicole, Ashley, Kimberly, Carmit and Jessica to clear their schedules, put their differences aside and get back together… only to be blind-sided at the eleventh hour by a pandemic that threw all their carefully crafted plans out the window.

“Yep, Covid came in and said: ‘Er, no, no!’ to everything,” says Ashley Roberts, still in disbelief that the band’s much-anticipated world tour, due to run from April to September, had to be cancelled.

“We waited 10 years to get this reunion off the ground and so it’s actually comical. But it’s for the best because everyone’s safety is what matters most.”

The tour was initially shifted to October, but with the global situation still so precarious, Ashley, 38, says they had to cut their losses and admit that 2021 was a more realistic prospect.

Most of the UK dates have been moved to May and June, although much of the rest remain uncertain.

“Hopefully, 2021 will be when everything comes good and we can have mass gatherings again. If next year comes off the way we’d all like it to, I think there’s going to be something to do every single day and night! But we’ve just gotta wait and see.”

Of course, we’ve already had a jaw-dropping taster of what the band have up their PVC sleeves with those outfits and that performance on The X Factor last December, a routine so racy that it attracted 419 complaints to TV watchdog Ofcom.

The PCD were never known for being demure, but this seemed next-level raunch and some people questioned whether it was entirely appropriate for a family show.

“It’s unfortunate that [the complaints] made the headlines because our fans who had been waiting for this for so long, they get it and they understand that our intention is to celebrate our fierceness and being confident,” says Ashley.

“This is the world we exist in and everyone has an opinion and they’re entitled to it.

“I actually watched it back recently and thought: ‘Oh my god, we hadn’t been together in 10 years and look at what we did!’ I’m so proud of it. We just threw it all on the dance floor.

“I called my mom afterwards and said: ‘What do you think?’ and she said: ‘Well… I saw your little cheeks up there, honey. But you looked hot.’”

“Thanks, Mom. I got her approval and that’s all that matters.”

The response made Ashley consider whether it was rooted in sexism – would a male dance troupe have received the same backlash? She’s adamant that the message the band gives out to young girls is a positive one.

“Kim has three kids and I see them look at their mom in amazement. We are artists and creatives, dancers and singers, performers, and within that comes costumes and make-up and hair and the intention behind what we do is to own our sassiness and we feel that is respectful.

“We are women, we have curves and we’re embracing that. And you know, I think it’s because we’re females that that’s the dialogue they went with. If Magic Mike had been throwing down up there, everyone would have been cheering him on, so I just find that frustrating. We’ve come a long way as women, but I think there is a lot of work to be done in many areas of the world.”

Is she a feminist?

“I’m absolutely a feminist. With age comes awareness and as a woman you’re thinking about whether or not you want children and what kind of message you want them to have. I believe in equality and that’s what it has to come down to. Whatever sexual preference or colour of skin, let’s all be on the same level.”

She raises the subject of children a few times during our Zoom conversation, although she says she’s unsure if they will be part of her future.

She has considered, though, looking at alternative routes to motherhood should it not happen naturally for her.

“I’m definitely open to the idea of adoption. You just never know what the future is going to bring and the most important thing is to be happy and, whether my body naturally has kids or not, we’ll see what life brings. I’m definitely open to that.”

Eight years ago, Arizona-born Ashley took a punt and signed up for 2012’s I’m A Celebrity! – a chance move that changed her life.

At that point, she was two years out of PCD and had spent some time feeling quite lost, but in the jungle her willingness to get stuck in, coupled with her natural warmth and quirky humour, won her a place in viewers’ hearts and she went all the way to the final, finishing as runner-up to EastEnders star Charlie Brooks.

A job as co-host on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway followed, as well as Dancing On Ice (as both contestant and later judge), The Jump, Strictly Come Dancing in 2018 (where she met her now ex-boyfriend Giovanni Pernice, 29) and a West End stint in Waitress.

She’s currently the showbiz presenter on Heart Breakfast, where she sits alongside main hosts Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden five mornings a week. She’s also been paired with Jamie for the latest run of Celebrity Gogglebox.

“If someone had told me 10 years ago, I’d never have believed this would be my life. I have done so many amazing things over here – I’ve worn a lot of hats, tried a lot of things.

“My whole chapter over here began with the jungle, which I didn’t even want to do when I first got the call. I was like: ‘No, insects, not into it.’ But then I thought, why not just go for it, it’ll be something to tell my kids one day… and this crazy adventure led to offers coming on the table.

“I have had dreams but never a plan. I knew I was going to move to Los Angeles when I was younger and I knew I wanted to get into the arts, and beyond that it’s been: ‘Saddle up partner, here we go.’”

She’s been single since her split from Giovanni back in January (the relationship is not up for discussion today – reports at the time suggested the break-up wasn’t exactly amicable and they have both erased all trace of each other on their social media accounts).

Ashley spent most of lockdown – which she dubbed #Asholation – home alone and says she’s not sure what dating will look like in a world where social distancing is still required.

“Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting place to exist in. But maybe it will be something nice. You can get to know someone a bit more before other ‘things’ can happen… perhaps that’s something that’s positive. We’ll see.
“I’m good on my own, though. I’m pretty independent. It’s nice to have that connection with someone, but at the moment lockdown is still [effectively] here, so ‘me’ is where it is.”

She adds: “I’ve just been here in my little world and there’s so much going on in the news that I’ve really focused on maintaining positive mental health as much as I can.”

Ask her how she normally meets people to date and she laughs.

“Ha! I’m close to 40 and I’m trying to figure it out! It’s normally a social thing, going out with friends, trying to meet someone and hoping for the best!

“Things are starting to open up a bit – pubs and restaurants – so maybe there will be a bit more socialising… but as of now, I’ve been kind of keeping my head down and keeping myself sane.”

Having the daily routine of going into Heart each morning has helped keep Ashley on an even keel during the last few months.

“When they told us we were key workers, I was like: ‘Whoa’. I went from wearing latex to being a key worker – that was cool!

“It has been such a blessing to have that structure and I’ve been so OK with getting up at 5am because I have no FOMO in the evenings. Everyone else is at home.

“I had to catch myself at the start because I was creating some naughty habits. I was having a glass of wine at 2pm and thinking that’s fine. Getting myself some Doritos with nacho cheese and living this best lockdown life – I was TikToking and snacking and that was my life!

“There have been times I felt [lonely] and thought: ‘What is going on?’, where I’ve been like: ‘Screw it, I’m going to sit in the uncomfortableness’.

“But I’ve tried to use my time wisely. My kitchen has gotten more use than it ever has in my entire life and my mom’s like: ‘Who are you? I don’t even know if this is my child!’ I’ve been sending her pictures of food – I’ve never cooked.

“I’ve spoken to her every single day and, although we’re not together physically, it’s been amazing to feel connected and I’ve leaned on that throughout all of this. It’s been a ride. This year has been so… wild. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

She’s now fully on board with the TikTok revolution having overcome her initial scepticism.

“TikTok and I have become BFFs. I was coming home after work and I was like: ‘What am I going to do with my day?!’ I was so anti-TikTok in the beginning. I thought it was for the younger generation, but I started and just had so much fun. And it took up an hour and half of my day, which was great.

“The dance ones are fun because I can move my body, but I also love the characters. I’ve been entertaining myself and, I don’t know, maybe people think I’m losing it but it’s helped me stay sane because I can get into a little creative zone. I have a lot of time to kill so bear with me!”

However, as someone who has spoken about mental health in the past, Ashley is acutely aware of the impending fallout from the crisis and how it’s going to hit some of the most vulnerable.

Her dad, Pat, took his own life two years ago and the concern in her voice as she speaks about the potential impact is palpable.

“I’m an extreme advocate of making sure you’re checking in and reaching out for help if you need it,” she says.

“This whole Covid experience is going to trigger different people in different ways. Some will be ready to move forward and some will feel very afraid and we’re going to see the impact further down the road.”

She also recognises how the crisis has added an extra dimension to her role at Heart.

People tuning in have needed them more than ever and the team have worked hard to strike the right balance between keeping listeners informed and also enabling them to escape.

“We’ve had some people write in saying they’re at home and it’s not so lonely knowing we’re going to be there in the morning. We’re there to give people information but also to bring some happiness. We changed up our playlist and made it even more feel-good and I think that finding a balance between the news and light-heartedness is something Heart has done really well.”

Of all the career curveballs life has thrown at Ashley over the last few years, it’s falling in love with radio that has taken her most by surprise (she also has a weekly podcast, Heart Showbiz Hub With Ashley Roberts) and she regards Amanda and Jamie as family.

“Amanda is like a sister to me, so goofy and fun and charismatic. And Jamie is just so funny, intelligent and witty. You say something and he says something back real quick, right off the back-hand. They are my little fam. I’m so glad we’ve had each other through this.

“Getting my brain functioning at that time in the morning took a lot of effort, like, can I form sentences right now?! But I feel I’ve found my groove.”

The UK has been Ashley’s home for nearly eight years now and the longer she stays, the more she puts down roots and the less likely she is to return to the States.

“In the current moment I don’t see myself going back to America. I feel like the UK is home and where my work and home and community and friends are. And when we can travel properly again, we’ve got so much at our fingertips here – there is so much more of Europe I want to explore. I miss my mom to death, but she’s got her fam over there taking care of her. I’m an adopted Brit and I like it.”

She often comes back to the question of confidence. It’s something she says has come with age and experience, and when she looks back at how helpless she felt 10 years ago after the Dolls split, it’s like seeing a different person.

“I look at old photos and I just didn’t even know what was going on, whereas now I know what I like to wear, what makes me feel good and we can celebrate our sexiness and our womanhood and find the strength in that collectively.

“We’re all adults in our late 30s or early 40s now, some of us have kids, some of us have been through all kinds of stuff, so there’s an awareness.

“I also feel kinder to myself. I feel more connected to myself as a woman and more confident in the skin I’m in.”

She adds: “And I look at all this life we’ve been through and yet we’re still standing here together as sisters.”

  • Hear Ashley on Heart Breakfast, weekdays, 6.30am–10am, and listen to Heart Showbiz Hub on all podcast providers now.

In the make-up chair with Ashley

What’s your lockdown skincare routine?

I’ve really got into hyaluronic acid, so I put on PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum, day and night. I’ve also got one of those jade facial rollers I keep in the fridge. 

I wash my face every night before bed – even if I’ve been out drinking margaritas!

What do you never leave the house without?

Fresh Sugar Tinted Lip Treatment in Rosé.

What’s your best beauty bargain buy?

Glossier Boy Brow. It’s amazing!

How has your relationship with make-up changed over the years?

I’ve always liked to use a bit of bronzer and some mascara, but the eyebrows are the big difference for me. I tweezered the hell out of them when I was in my late teens and early 20s.

Hair: supervised by Dino Pereira

Make-up: supervised by Lisa Laudat at Eighteen Management

Styling: Nana Acheampong

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