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“It just festered into something very ugly.” She continues: “I was aware that something had to give along the way. It just wasn’t going to be me.” Kelle Bryan, Eternal
“Thinking back now, I would have hated myself. But at the time, I thought I was brilliant.” Ben Adams, A1
The Big Reunion 2014 features exclusive and explosive accounts from former pop heroes, with revelations about drugs, fisticuffs, rows, eating disorders, shattered dreams and how the music industry can leave even apparently successful stars penniless.
Each band has just two weeks of intense rehearsals before they step back onto the stage to perform once again in front of thousands of fans.
Episode two features the biggest girl group of the early nineties, Eternal, who reveal why they’ve stayed quiet about the band’s split for 15 years. Plus, Brit Award winners A1 discuss how they struggled to come to terms with a fatal accident involving their fans.
From the early nineties, Eternal smashed the charts with hit after hit, selling 10 million records all over the world. The MOBO Award winning group were the first female band to sell over a million copies of their debut album in the UK.
Now, Easther, Vernie and Kelle are back picking up where they left off. Talking about their early days together, Easther says: “We got on really well at the beginning. Moreso myself and Louise.”
Kelle remembers her first meeting with sisters Easther and Vernie as being tense, saying:
Kelle: “The girls just seemed quite stand offish. I just remember looking at Lou thinking ‘Have I done something here, or is there something I don’t know?’.” She continues: “I talked to Lou about it and I was like ‘Is it me? Or is it a bit hostile? I’m not really sure what’s happening here.’”
Vernie remembers: “We’d been a three-piece for a bit before Kelle came on. So we’d all kind of gotten on, and then we’d got another member brought in.” She continues: “I think when Kelle entered the group, she didn’t feel that this was the group for her. And there’s nothing nobody else can do about that.”
Kelle considers: “I was thinking, maybe the dynamic’s already there and I’m a new person coming in. You’re kind of thinking of all different reasons for it.”
After Eternal’s debut single Stay was a success, Kelle recalls: ““We were just jumping around screaming and going ‘oh my god, our record’s on the radio!” She continues: “It was a very exciting time, we went from no ones to someones in five minutes. It really was a rollercoaster. You’d be flying off on a private jet here, landing in the latest Party in the Park in a helicopter…”
The group’s fans loved them, but Eternal came up against some challenging attitudes from others. Easther explains: “In America when we were recording (as a four piece), they’d be like ‘what’s the white girl doing’?”
Even at home in the UK, the band struggled to escape the race issue. Easther says: “We did have a few challenges here, we had to fight harder to do certain things – certain TVs or certain magazines.”
Kelle recalls being told: “We can’t have you on the front cover. Black people don’t sell newspapers or magazines, so the answer’s no.”
During their formative years, the band started to become divided, with two of the members becoming increasingly isolated. Easther says: “Myself and Louise, everything we did, we did it together. Got up for breakfast together, went shopping together. Vernie and Kelle were more in their rooms, secluded the two of them.”
Kelle recalls: “I did isolate myself. I know I can most definitely identify that.”
Vernie says: “I was a bit homesick on the first album. When I went back to the room, I would always call home.”
As the group became more successful, the strain on their relationships began to show but it was losing band member Louise that shook the band to the core.
Vernie says: “It was devastating to lose a band member.”
Easther remembers: “There was never a thought of bringing another person in, because no one can replace Louise.” She continues: “Emotionally it was quite hard. She decided to move on, which was a really hard time for us - because that then opened up a can of worms. Does the group continue as a three?”
When Louise chose to leave Eternal, Kelle was given a difficult choice of her own, she says: “At the time when Louise was making a decision, it was suggested that I go with her and we form a twosome and it was a difficult decision.”
Easther says: “She (Kelle) made the statement of ‘well, it’s a business thing for me now’.”
Vernie says: “I don’t think Kelle realises how much that statement hit home. We have a band member that doesn’t want to be there and what do you do with that?”
Kelle explains why she ultimately decided to stay, saying: “I did think about it and I did struggle with it. I knew Louise’s reasons for going, they weren’t mine, they were hers. So that’s why I stayed.”
Three months after Louise left, Eternal re-launched as a trio with a more defined R&B sound with Power of a Woman.
Despite their renewed success, tensions between Kelle and sisters Vernie and Easther were rapidly getting out of control. Kelle says: “Communication had broken down altogether. Sometimes not even a ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’.” She continues: “I don’t think their behaviour was kind all the time. That was challenging because I was on my own, and I felt like they had each other.”
Vernie recalls: “Me and Easther were told by the record company and management, Kelle had requested to record on her own and do her own thing. So that speaks loud volumes for me.” She continues “From album two where you say you’re just staying for the money, to album three where you don’t want to record with us, it’s not a band.”
Kelle says: “It just festered into something very ugly.” She continues: “I was aware that something had to give along the way. It just wasn’t going to be me.”
After their success with number one hit I Wanna Be The Only One, the band was at breaking point. Easther recalls: “After releasing such a big hit, I Wanna Be The Only One, that went to number one, we were told Kelle wanted to leave the group. We just felt at that stage, we’re just going to help your (Kelle) transition. It was just a case of asking her to leave at that point.”
News hit the headlines that Kelle had been fired. Kelle says: “I was fired by fax – how glamourous.” She continues: “It was sent to a lot of people, so it wasn’t just me, it was sent to a lot of people in the industry. And so I was getting phonecalls from a lot of people ‘I heard you got the sack’.”
Kelle says: “I was hurt because I didn’t understand, there was no closure. I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong. From the outside it just seemed like ‘Kelle’s got issues’ and ‘let’s get on with it ourselves’. If only I’d had the balls to march into one of their rooms and go ‘Oi, what’s your problem with me?’… we would have gone on and sold god knows how many more records. I wasn’t strong enough, I didn’t have the courage. I was too scared.”
Vernie disagrees with it being a sacking, saying: “I know when I read the headline ‘Kelle sacked’, that threw me.” If you knew the history, what was going on behind the scenes and her wanting to leave, for me it wasn’t a sacking.”
The programme follows sisters Vernie and Easther as they catch up on events from 15 years ago. Easther says to Vernie: “What does mum say? If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Hence, the Bennett silence for the past 15 years.”
The girls now lead very different lives away from the spotlight: Kelle juggles motherhood with running her own talent agency, Easther’s a single mum and beauty therapist in a top London hotel spa and Vernie has found happiness raising a family.
Fresh-faced boy band A1 rocketed up the charts in the late nineties, scoring eight top ten hits and two record-breaking number ones.
As their popularity went into overdrive, the quartet of Mark, Christian, Ben and Paul, overwhelmed Asia and sold a massive ten million records worldwide before their split in 2001.
The band are now reforming as a trio, without original member Paul. Ben says: “Paul is not a part of A1 for me, and he wasn’t at the end. We carried on for a year after he left.” He continues: “What we’ve got at the moment is a lot of unexplained questions, probably from both sides. Don’t know how he’s feeling, don’t know who he is anymore. He doesn’t even want to meet up to discuss it all. It’s bizarre. It’s odd.”
When A1 were formed, dancer Paul back-flipped his way through the audition and was joined by Norwegian performing arts student Christian. Christian says: “I got an email one day from my song-writing teacher saying ‘If you want to be in a boy band, this could be your big break. I turned to the guy next to me and asked ‘What’s a boy band?’ I had no idea.”
The band’s first single hit the top ten and along with their chart successes came the admiration of thousands of girls. Ben says: “After the first single, it was just getting better and better. We’d have girls chasing us wherever we went, people camping outside our house and all that kind of stuff.”
Some of the band began to compete for their fans’ attention as an intense battle of egos began. Ben explains: “Me and Christian always had a… it wasn’t rocky, it was competitive.”
Christian recalls: “Ben always loved being in the centre and the centre of attention. And sometimes I wanted to be there too.”
Ben remembers one particular confrontation: “He (Christian) turned around and he went to punch me, but instead opened his hand and slapped me.”
Although Ben admits: “Thinking back now, I would have hated myself. But at the time, I thought I was brilliant.”
The bands popularity reached new heights with their number one cover of Take On Me. Mark says: “Everything was going our way, to top it off we won a BRIT award for best new band. That year was the year Craig David was nominated, Coldplay was nominated – we were in good company there.”
A1’s success came at an unexpected cost when tragedy struck on the band’s tour of Asia. Ben recalls what happened when an extreme case of overcrowding at a shopping mall signing ended in four fatalities: “We could see girls at the front actually being squashed against the glass. I remember looking up and going to everybody ‘can you see this?’. I just think the sheer enormity of people that were there was just uncontrollable. Unfortunately, four young girls got squashed to death at the signing.”
Christian says: “We know we didn’t cause it. But we also know if we hadn’t been there, those people would still be alive maybe. I guess it’s something we can never fully come to terms with and accept”
Following the tragedy, A1 withdrew from the public eye. Ben says: “It was a time for us to re-evaluate what we were doing and why we were doing it.”
The band returned to the spotlight with a new look and feel, writing their own hit number one single Caught in the Middle.
As their music changed, so did their bond. Mark says: “There was a weird dynamic now in the band, because you had two musicians and two vocalists in the middle, but one (Paul) not really doing much.”
Christian says: “Looking back now, I think Paul stopped caring as much and withdrew a little bit more.” Ben recalls: “I think for an entire month on tour he refused to speak to me.”
Ben says: “Everything is going great and here’s this, whatever you want to call him, ruining it for everybody. Paul leaving was definitely the catalyst in the split up of the group.”
The band received a text from Paul asking them to read his letter of resignation. Shortly after, A1 were ditched from their record label with debts of £2m.
Christian returned home to Norway and carved out a solo career, Mark has written music with various artists and now plays gigs with his parents’ band. Ben came second place in the Norwegian version of Strictly Come Dancing and is a successful music producer, working with artists including Craig David, Robin Thicke and Alexandra Burke.
In just a few weeks time the bands will need to set differences aside as they face a daunting challenge. They have just two weeks in a rehearsal room before they’re reformed and reunited on stage.
The Big Reunion is an ITV Studios production for ITV2. Executive producers are Michael Kelpie and Phil Mount, ITV Studios; Series producer is Kevin Lane, ITV Studios.
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Notes to editors:
• 3T (Taj Jackson, Taryll Jackson, TJ Jackson)
• 5th Story (Adam Rickitt, Dane Bowers, Gareth Gates, Kavana, Kenzie)
• A1 (Ben Adams, Christian Ingebrigtsen, Mark Read)
• Damage (Jade Jones, Andrez Harriott, Rahsaan J Bromfield, Noel Simpson)
• Eternal (Easther Bennett, Vernie Bennett, Kelle Bryan)
• Girl Thing (Jodi Albert, Anika Bostelaar, Michelle Barber, Linzi Nartin, Nikki Harrington)