They said it was all over for 'Atomic Kitten' but eight years after the break-up, the cynics are having to eat their words
They were each making over $2 million a year, selling more singles and albums than the Spice Girls ever did and were apparently enjoying every minute of being the world's most successful girl band.
Then in 2004, Atomic Kitten — Natasha Hamilton, 21, Liz McClarnon,22 and Jenny Frost, 25 — sparked off an international sensation by suddenly calling it a day.
The official reason was that Natasha wanted to spend more time with her 18-month-old son Josh who had been suffering from poor health. And that would give the other two chance to pursue solo careers and take up tempting multi-million-dollar contracts.
But the girls soon admitted that they missed the camaraderie of the group which had made them three of the richest stars in pop. Unbelievably it took them EIGHT YEARS to do something about it...
But now they have.There's a major TV reunion soon, followed by a new album and serious talks about going back on the road. "It's been so much fun so far why shouldn't we continue it?" asks Liz. "Why should we stop when getting together again is so great?"
For the moment the group has brought back original member Kerry Katona as a replacement for pregnant Jenny Frost, but the girls say there's no reason why they shouldn't become a foursome.
"We thought we would probably get together again some time but we didn't think it would take as long as this," Liz says. "We've been through so much it seemed crazy not to get back together again. There's no reason why we shouldn't have solo careers as well."
Natasha now has two young sons, Josh and Harry but she's all for the Kittens getting together again, "There's no reason why I can't be a mum and a singer — it just means some careful organisation."
Natasha's new super-slim frame also sparked rumours that she was suffering from anorexia — which she angrily denies. "All I've done is take off the weight I put on when I was pregnant. I'm perfectly fit and healthy," she says.
Natasha and Liz are second-generation Kittens. Jenny joined after Kerry Katona quit to marry Westlife star Brian McFadden and became pregnant.
The original Kittens were created by songwriter Andy McCluskey and manager Martin O'Shea but the Spices and All Saints were dominating the charts and the Kittens found it hard to break into the big time.
In fact sales of their single Follow Me were so disappointing that their record company was losing interest in what seemed to be just another girl band.
Then Liz and Natasha joined — and the next Kitten single, Whole Again, went to number one and sold two million world-wide. Soon, Kittens sales were over 30 million and still climbing.
Not bad for three working class Liverpool lasses who admitted that when they left school the best they could hope for was a job behind a beauty counter in a department store...
Within a year they were able to buy their families posh houses in fashionable Liverpool suburbs. "But we've never got big-headed," Liz says.
"When you come from families like ours, if you started putting on airs and graces you'd get a good smack!"
It's their down-to-earth attitude which kept the Kittens going when all around them girl groups went out of business. "They are the most professional people I've worked with," Martin O'Shea said. "I simply couldn't believe that their huge fan following would let them go without fight and every week after the break-up was announced we had stacks of mail urging the girls to get together again."
Liz McLarnon admits that she was devastated by the suddenness of the decision to disband the group."In our last tour we dedicated every show to the amazing fans who had made us so happy and who had supported us through the years.
"They're the people we never wanted to let down because they spurred us on every step of the way. They meant so much to us and we wanted to make them proud of us."
"I thought that when we called it a day I'd be able to have some spare time," Liz McClarnon says. "But the day after we finished the farewell tour I went straight back into the studio and started writing songs.
At least I've got a lot of stuff for the new Atomic Kitten album... And I always believed in my heart that we would get together again."
Natasha also couldn't believe that it was all over for good. "We were all still mates and still had so much to give as a group," she said. " It was inevitable that we had another go -but it came later rather than sooner!"- (Judson Bennett/Tony James)