“I just said, ‘If you’re here, just tap the fucking table! Let’s cut the bullshit.’ And it did!” Cheryl laughs as she reminisces on Ghost Hunting with Girls Aloud, a seminal work of horror that has since been praised as one of the most iconic hours in British television (by Gay Twitter). We’re discussing the paranormal series as Cheryl makes her debut as a leading actor in 2:22 A Ghost Story, Danny Robin’s acclaimed West End play about a woman who is convinced her home has been infiltrated by a supernatural presence.
As a result of the community’s strong connection to the theatre, pop artists and the horror genre, Cheryl’s involvement with the play elicited a passionate response from the LGBT’s. She tells GAY TIMES: “When I’ve been out and about, the amount of the gay community that have come up and went, ‘We’re coming to the show. We’re coming in February.’ It’s unreal, I don’t think I’ve actually heard that from any straight people.”
Read ahead for our incredibly camp interview with Cheryl, where she discusses her new role in 2:22 A Ghost Story (for which she has received overwhelming praise from critics), her own personal experiences with paranormal phenomena and why, “Without the LGBTQ+ community, we wouldn’t have been Girls Aloud. I wouldn’t have gone on to be me, either.”
Cheryl, I’m so excited to watch you in 2:22 A Ghost Story.
I’m glad! Are you gonna come, then?
Absolutely. I love horror, pop stars and the theatre, so…
Match made in heaven. You’re gonna love it. I won’t give anything away, obviously, but it all came around in an unusual way. I was in a meeting with the writer of the play for a completely separate issue. I went from the meeting to watch 2:22 and that morning, me manager texts us and says, ‘You won’t believe this. The guy we’re meeting today wrote the play we’re seeing tonight.’ When we were in the meeting I say to him, ‘We’re going to see 2:22 tonight, I had no idea you’d written that,’ and he said, ‘While you’re there, why don’t you check it out and see if you feel like it’s something you’d like to be a part of.’ I did exactly that and as I was watching it I thought, ‘I’d love to do this, and I would enjoy doing it. It’s something new and different and exciting for me to get me teeth into.’
How eerie! Spooky instances occurred before you even signed up to the play.
Isn’t it? Exactly. That’s how I felt. I felt like it was meant to be.
You play Jenny. Do you identify with the character at all?
I weirdly do. Another strange thing, the writer is from Newcastle. Because it’s written by a Geordie, it has a weirdly familiar tone throughout it. I could relate to her a lot because she’s a new mother. She’s quite a fixer. Whenever someone has an issue in the play, she’s the one that’s making sure everyone is okay and has what they need. There’s little personality traits that I relate with that I didn’t know until I got into it. I’ve never been through what she’s going through in the play, but there are personality traits I can relate with, which is helpful. I wouldn’t have said yes to it, had I not felt that way.
How have rehearsals gone so far?
I’ve really enjoyed it, weirdly so. It’s like being back at school for me, the feeling I get from learning monologues and acting them out. I barely leave the stage! I’m there for most of it. I’ll leave for 30, 40 seconds maximum. Then, I’ve got a lot of shouting to do and a lot of swearing. If you’re into horror, you’re going to love it. I think it’s genius.
I recently read an article about all the freaky incidents that have happened on film sets from Annabelle to The Exorcist…
I know! I saw a clip on TikTok of the woman that was in The Exorcist saying all these crazy stories that were really happening. But you’re summoning that energy really, aren’t you? Also, if you believe in manifestation and all that stuff the new-agers talk about, then you’re literally manifesting this mental energy that you’re summoning everyday on set. That’s creepy.
Have you summoned any of that energy on set?
When I get home and I hear the floorboards creep I’m a bit like, ‘Ooh! What was that?’ I am a bit more paranoid, I guess.
I have a kitchen knife under my bed in case of any danger.
I don’t blame you, but what are you gonna do with a ghost? Where are you gonna put that? It would go straight through it. A knife won’t help against a ghost.
You’re absolutely right. If a ghost haunted me, however, I’d just give up Cheryl. What am I gonna do against a ghost?
Exactly. Beam me up, Scotty! Also, someone once said they were groped by a ghost. Have you ever heard that? Isn’t that a scene in… what movie is that? You can see it touching her breast.
It happened in Scary Movie 2, right?
But this was real… Honestly, I’m telling you. A bit of grope-age going on.
As long as it’s consensual.
Exactly. We’re in 2023, we want consent.
If a ghost of a deceased sexy man is coming to grope me, by all means babe, go for it.
But if it’s an 1800’s ghost, they don’t know what consent is. You’ll need to educate them first.
True. Have you ever had any supernatural encounters? Besides Ghost Hunting with Girls Aloud…
I’ve had loads. I’ve had ones that I don’t feel like I can explain. More recently, a song started playing in me car without me car being switched onto bluetooth or plugged in, and it was a Girls Aloud song.
It was Hear Me Out by Girls Aloud, which is even more random because that song… I would have to search back God knows where, I wouldn’t know where to look for it at this point. But, it started playing as I got into the car to go on a long journey.
I’m done. That is so specific?!
Very specific, and Sarah [Harding] called her book Hear Me Out after that song, so I just knew it was from her. I’ve had a lot of occurrences similar to that over the years since I was a kid. The more you believe in that stuff, the more of it you will be sent. If you don’t believe it, you’re blissfully unaware of messages or signs. I get a lot of signs, a lot. I’ve had very deep spiritual experiences that, again, they’re not something you can say with words that will make you sound coherent. It’s like when you’re trying to tell your friend about your dream and they’re looking at you like, ‘Fuck sake, shut up.’
I am a believer, but I haven’t had a specific experience. I feel like I once felt the energy of my dad at home, but it was just an… energy. I feel like that’s the only word I can use?
A thousand percent. Totally. You just feel their presence. If you’re open-minded to it and you are asking for a sign, say if a family member passes and you want to hear from them, you will get signs. We’re not just these bodies. We are far more than this. I’m not talking about God or The Bible, I’m just saying there is more. There’s energies. I believe in the universe sending you on the right path, if you’re in alignment.
I need to talk to you about Ghost Hunting with Girls Aloud because, Cheryl, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but it has become so iconic within the LGBTQ+ community.
It makes the rounds on Gay Twitter all the time.
Because it’s camp as hell, and you are hilarious because you give zero fucks about this ghost. Zero!
I’m just sick of it! I’m like, ‘Can you just cut the shit and tell it to tap the table?’ Do you know what’s funny, I did that the other day in rehearsal as a joke. I said it out loud and everyone was laughing. ‘Will you just tap the fucking table?’ I was so annoyed at the time. I was genuinely like, ‘Why are they drooling on? Squire this, squire that. Just tell it what you want it to do, quickly.’ So I just said, ‘If you’re here, just tap the fucking table! Let’s cut the bullshit.’ And it did! Well, it either did or they were having me on. I still don’t know to this day.
What about the part where the ghost taps your hand?
It felt like it flicked me finger and Sarah yells, ‘You fucker!’ It flicked me finger. It felt like an elastic band. It was dark, so I don’t know if somebody threw something at us, like a crew member, or if that genuinely happened and I was flicked, touched and groped by a ghost. There we are, that’s an experience for you.
I don’t think there’s anything else that can quite encapsulate the early 00’s like the UK’s biggest girlband going ghost hunting.
That’s crazy. No wonder Nadine [Coyle] was like, ‘Nah, I’m good.’
There’s always been such a strong connection between queer people and horror, as well as queer people and the theatre, so are you aware that the audience…
Will be a match made in heaven? Yeah. The reason I’m aware is because, when I’ve been out and about, the amount of the gay community that have come up and went, ‘We’re coming to the show. We’re coming in February.’ It’s unreal, I don’t think I’ve actually heard that from any straight people. But, I had no idea. Why is that? Why do queer people love horror?
As outsiders, queer people have always felt a strong connection due to horror’s exploration with social otherness…
It’s so interesting. I didn’t make the correlation, I just thought they were coming to watch me screaming and shouting, ‘Tap the fucking table!’
Also, a lot of horror films are so camp and homoerotic like A Nightmare On Elm Street 2, which is gay as fuck.
Really? Oh my god, I don’t think I’ve watched that since I was a kid. I’m going to watch it now with that perspective and see how I feel.
You’ve been a passionate ally of LGBTQ+ people throughout your career, from vocalising your support of gay marriage to playing at Mighty Hoopla/Pride events and appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Can you talk to me a little bit about your relationship with the community?
It’s funny, someone asked me the other day if I was planning on doing more music and I said, ‘If I could have the Mighty Hoopla crowd every night and just go on tour with that vibe, I would do it in a heartbeat.’ It’s a different energy and atmosphere when it’s a Mighty Hoopla or a Pride than to a normal hetero crowd. I can’t put my finger on it, specifically, but you feel like everyone’s in it together. It’s not you entertaining them, it’s as entertaining to me. There is no hidden agenda. Also, they just enjoy and appreciate the shit you do. If I do a death-drop, they’re gonna go off the chart. If I do that at a normal event they’d be like, ‘Pick yourself up. What are you doing, throwing yourself on the floor?’ There’s an overall acceptance and genuine appreciation for your craft.
The L’s, B’s, G’s and T’s will always worship our favourite pop women, always.
You feel it when you’re performing. You breathe a certain way and they’re like, ‘Ahh!’ It’s great. The loyalty! And a lot of us have grown together over 20 years. We’ve got a strong relationship at this point.
Do you remember a specific moment or event when you realised you had a big LGBTQ+ following?
It was from day dot really, we were performing at G.A.Y. when we were babies. It was from the start and we all went on this journey together. Over the years, you begin to realise they show up for everything and they are die-hard, hardcore fans. They tell you the truth, as well. If a song’s not hitting it they’re like, ‘Hmm, this is the not the one,’ and I like that. Without the LGBTQ+ community, we wouldn’t have been Girls Aloud. I wouldn’t have gone on to be me, either.
When Sound of the Underground came out, I remember campaigning for Girls Aloud to beat the boyband from Pop Stars: The Rivals for the top spot. What was their name? I can’t remember.
[Laughs] You don’t have to, either. You don’t need to remember that. Yeah, exactly. See? From day zero, we went on this journey together. It’s pretty epic when you look at it. There’s a guy I’m working with on this show from the LGBTQ+ community and he said, ‘Why don’t you do something with Kylie?’ and I thought, ‘Now that would be a moment for the queer community.’ That’s something I want to do.
I don’t even want to discuss that Cheryl because a lot of gays would just drop dead.
I think so. I love it. If that is what I could do with my music career going forward, just go on tour and have that crowd every night, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
You mentioned new music. Are you able to talk about that yet?
There’s nothing to talk about! I was in the studio writing stuff and then lockdown happened. I actually enjoyed lockdown a little too much. I had me son and it was a really precious time. It was wonderful for me, not having to do anything. And then I kind of fell off. I do have music that was never released from the last album, when I did Let You, that era, but I don’t know if I’ve outgrown it. I’d have to revisit. It’s something I’d need to take time out to look at, so I don’t have any news for you right now.
Promise me that when you have new music out, we’ll do this again.
Oh absolutely. Definitely. You’re my people.
2:22 A Ghost Story runs from 21 January to 23 April. Tickets are on sale now from www.222aghoststory.com.