Jo O’Meara told David Hennessy about her new album, that her time in S Club 7 was ‘exhausting’ and how she struggled with her self-esteem during her time in the band.
Jo O’Meara conquered the pop world with S Club 7 in the late 90s/ early 2000s.
S Club 7 are remembered for songs like Reach, Don’t Stop Movin’ and Bring it All Back.
In their years together from 1998 to 2003, the group had four UK number ones, seven more that made it to the top five, one UK number one album.
They also had international success with a string of hits throughout Europe and as far away as Australia and New Zealand and a top ten hit on the US Top 100 with Never Had a Dream Come True.
They recorded four albums and would sell more than ten million worldwide.
When the band came to an end, Jo would release her 2005 debut album, Relentless.
Born and raised in Romford in Essex, Jo has Irish blood on her father’s side with grandparents from Cork and Tipperary.
Jo has just returned with her second solo album With Love which comes a full sixteen years after her debut.
Jo told The Irish World: “It’s really exciting for me at the moment.
“I’m just so happy that it’s finally out
“I’m very, very proud of this album.
“The name With Love literally comes from that being how I made it. I made the album with love.
“And then whenever I signed my autograph, it’s a natural thing, I always signed it, ‘With love, Jo’.
“I thought, That’s the name of the album.
“The reaction has been so satisfying. All the messages and interaction that I’ve had has been nothing but positive.
“People are really, really liking it. So I can’t really ask for more than that, can I?”
There is one track on the album that is very personal to Jo as it was written in memory of a friend who passed away last year.
“The song Lay Your Hurt on Me was written as a dedication to a very, very dear friend of mine who we lost to cancer in October last year.
“It was so tragic because he was 39 and married with two children, and they had the most perfect family.
“You know when you see a family that’s just perfect? That was them: The boy, the girl, Dan and his wife were so in love with one another.
“They were just a really happy family and to see what happened to them has been horrendous.
“It’s been awful.
“It’s a very, very cruel world sometimes.
“And I didn’t really know what I could do really to do my own tribute.
“And then I thought, ‘The only way is to put the pen to paper and write a song, dedicate it’.
“And obviously put it on my album so that his memory can live on forever through With Love.”
The song was played for the first time at Dan’s funeral.
The album also contains Jo’s own take on an S Club 7 classic.
Don’t Stop Movin’ went to number one back in 2001. But while it was originally an uptempo electronic number, Jo’s version is slower and acoustic, sounding almost like a country ballad now.
“It did take me back. Then it didn’t at the same time.
“I wanted to do it for the anniversary. It is twenty years now.
“So I thought, ‘What a fantastic idea to do this at this time’.
“I do a completely different spin on it, just to say a big thank you to all the fans out there that have been so supportive.
“And also I think by putting it on the new album, it kind of gives a nice nod to where I came from.”
Jo was still a teenager when S Club 7 formed.
Now 42, how does it feel to be talking about it being two decades since S Club 7’s heyday?
“It definitely makes me feel quite old but in my mind, I’m still 21 and I’m going to stay like that. I’m going to stay 21 in my mind.
“It’s a long time but the songs are just still so, so loved.
“Don’t Stop Movin’, Bring it All Back, Reach. They are all songs that are still played to this day.”
S Club 7 achieved a lot in the world of pop music.
In addition to their chart hits, they were also always busy filming their hit shows such as Miami 7.
Jo says they were almost too tired to enjoy any of it.
“It was exhausting. It was literally an exhausting four years.
“We literally did not stop. We were always on a plane, a train, a car, a bus, a tour bus. It was a lot of airports, TV studios.
“We did not stop. We didn’t come up for air, I think, for the whole time and that could sometimes be very tough.
“And then you’d be away from home for so long that you’d be quite homesick.
“So there were a lot of highs and a lot of lows all wrapped up into one.
“But in some strange way, I wouldn’t change any of it because I feel like it’s made me into the person I am today.
“I don’t know how it came about, how I ended up there.
“But I’m really happy that I did.
“And I’m very, very proud of the fact that the songs are still played to this day.”
She may have looked all smiles and energy to anyone watching back then but Jo has spoken about how she struggled during her time in the group.
“Jo S Club was supposed to be the ‘ballsy blonde’ of the band. She was bossy, mouthy, and the leader of the pack. It was easier to hide behind that character because beneath it all I was incredibly shy and lacking in confidence.”
She has spoken about feeling like the ‘ugly duckling’ in the group that also included Rachel Stevens, Tina Barrett and Hannah Spearritt, or that she didn’t look good enough and she was there to ‘sing the songs’.
The Irish World asks where she thinks this came from? “I think it’s because I’ve never, ever felt pretty.
“I’ve never looked at myself and thought, ‘Oh, I’m really nice’.
“I don’t know if anyone does.
“But I’ve never felt very pretty. I was very insecure because my front teeth were really wonky. And I had very thin hair. And I just I didn’t match up to what the other girls were looking like.
“So I was always thinking, ‘I need to look better’, which I never felt good about.
“And it caused me to have a lot of insecurities in the band because I was standing next to three absolutely stunning girls.
“So I did feel very insecure.
“And then I went and started to put weight on. And then I think when the weight went on, the insecurities got worse and then I ate more to feel better.
“And then it just became a vicious cycle.
“And then I spent the rest of the time so paranoid about being on TV sitting down because I would be worried about people picking up on my stomach. So then I started trying to hide it with cushions.
“And also, the media weren’t very nice back then.
“You’re reading headlines about yourself saying, ‘Flab Club 7’ and ‘the fat one that sings’.
“Obviously social media wasn’t around back then so it’d be on the front of the papers instead.
“And then that just fuelled the insecurity even more for me really, so I struggled.
“There was a lot of struggle for me emotionally in the band, which is why I said there was highs and lows.
“Obviously, the highs were really high but then the lows could be really quite low.”
Jo could undoubtedly have done with some support but kept how she was feeling inside.
However, she knows better than that now and one track on her new album, On the Surface, is about the importance reaching out.
“I never, ever let anyone really know how I was feeling.
“I used to hold things in quite a lot and that is one of the reasons for the song, On the Surface.
“If you’ve got something on your mind, don’t bottle it up. Find that one person that you can talk to’.
“There’s always someone whether it’s a close friend, or even a stranger.
“Just talk about it because you feel so much better when you do.
“And if I had maybe spoken about how I was feeling more back then maybe I would have felt a little bit more confident in myself.
“Because I used to have a lot of self-doubt.
“But I think coming into my 40s- Coming into my 40s? I’m in them. I keep forgetting yourself. In my 40s, I think I’ve learned to accept who I am and make the best of what I’ve got.”
S Club burst onto the scene before reality talent shows were even a thing.
Asked if she would have thought about auditioning for one of these shows, Jo says: “No, probably not.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it if I was just starting out because it’s always just about music for me.
“I think I might have been a bit too shy, believe it or not, to do it.
“I think I would bottled it.”
Jo would go through a difficult time in 2007 when she was vilified after appearing on Celebrity Big Brother.
Along with Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd, she was accused of racist and bullying behaviour towards Shilpa Shetty.
She has expressed her remorse over the notorious incident and has said she lost everything and had a breakdown after it but credits the birth of her son Lenny, now 13, with saving her.
S Club 7 reunited for BBC Children in Need in 2015. They would then tour arenas in the UK.
Since then, Jo has joined with former members Tina Barrett and Bradley McIntosh to perform as S Club 3.
She announced in August last year that she would no longer be part of the act as she focused on her album.
Is she still in touch with all the S Club guys? “We’re in touch through social media and texts here and there.
“We’re not in touch every single day because obviously everyone’s very busy with their own families and careers and projects and stuff.
“But the messages come, ‘How are you? How’s the family? How’s the kids?’”
There’s always rumours of a reunion but Jo can tell us there is nothing happening on that front at the moment.
“I think as far as a reunion goes- I’m asked this a hell of a lot- There’s been no talks, there’s no plans. There’s no secret meetings going on behind the scenes.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future. I say never say never. But for now, I think we’re all just happy doing our own thing.”
On stepping away from the S Club 3 act, she says: “I did that for a long, long, long time but for me it was getting to be a lot of very late nights and a lot of traveling.
“I’m not saying that I was really unhappy doing it, I think I was just in a little bit of a rut and I was quite frustrated because I wanted to sort of branch off and see what was out there in the big world.
“The same time I’m thinking this, an opportunity’s come along for me to make music again.
“I had to grab it with both hands because I don’t want to ever regret not giving something a go because I didn’t have the guts to give it a try.
“It could be my last shot and if I don’t give it absolutely everything I’ve got in years to come I might look back and think, ‘I should have tried’.
“And I don’t want to be that girl that should have tried.
“I’d rather just give it everything I’ve got while I’m given the opportunity and hopefully people will enjoy the music that I’m making.
“And I’m so happy that the opportunity did come and I’ve made this album because it’s given me a whole new love for what I do.
“I’m appreciating everything so much more this time around that I’m just having a great time.
“Music is all I know. And music is the love of my life.
“I just love everything about it.
“I love the way it can make you want to dance.
“I love how it can make you want to cry.
“I think it’s a very special thing.
“And I think it’s something that unites the whole world together.
“Music is amazing. So I hope to be making it forever.”
Many have commented on Jo’s changed appearance after she gave up cigarettes and alcohol in favour of a healthier lifestyle.
She also gave her time to sing for NHS heroes when contacted by frontline workers seeking a lift in bleak times.
“I just used the lockdown to get fit, eat healthy, and get myself prepared for this album.
“And also, I used the time to sing for the NHS.
“It was the least I could do.
“It was actually a nurse that inboxed me. She worked at Rotherham A and E department and she said, ‘The numbers are really high and things are really bad’.
And she said, ‘Is there any way or any chance you could possibly sing a song and tag Rotherham A and E department?’
“And I said, ‘Of course I will’.
“And once I’d done that and I’d uploaded it, suddenly I started getting requests from all different people: Frontline workers, key workers, doctors, nurses. You name it, I got inboxed by them: ‘Could you sing this song? Could you sing that song?’
“So I made that my job for a little while, giving back to the people that deserved it the most.
“It’s not really that much to ask and we had a lot of fun doing it as well.”
It was in her teens that Jo started singing in pubs, bars and open mic nights.
“Sometimes I was seen as being weird because I was this teenager turning up at a working men’s club singing old Patsy Cline, Connie Francis and Brenda Lee songs. I was heckled and booed, but that was my apprenticeship.”
Jo was spotted for S Club while she was singing in a country and western bar and recording in Nashville is on her bucket list.
So what of Jo’s Irish roots? “There is definitely a lot of Irish blood in me.
“It’s on my dad’s side and it’s Frenche’s Quay, Cork City and Clonmel, Tipperary.
“My grandad was from Tipperary and my nan was in Cork so that’s where the Irish blood comes from.
“I think Ireland is one of my favourite places in the whole world. I just love it.
“I think everything about Ireland is just fantastic. And every time we’ve been over there, it’s just always so much fun because everyone’s just out for a good time.
“The crowds have always been spot on and you can’t beat a good old Irish pub and singsong, can ya?”
Does Ireland feel like home? “It really actually does and especially when they say my name correctly which is amazing.
“Everyone in England says it O’Meara.
“It’s no one’s fault. It is the way that it is spelt. It’s spelled O’Meara but it’s pronounced O’Mara.”
The album With Love is out now.
For more information, click here.