Former member of Pussycat Doll on mission to stop selfie culture

Kimberly Wyatt, former member of the Pussycat Dolls, is now working to help kids be more active.
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Kimberly Wyatt, former member of the Pussycat Dolls, is now working to help kids be more active.

As teenage ambitions go, former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt's wasn't particularly grandiose.

"I wanted to be a dancer," she says. "I didn't care where it was or what exactly I was doing, I just wanted to dance. That's all."

She certainly realised that dream – and then some. For while her name may not be instantly familiar, it's unlikely you haven't caught a glimpse of her in action.

For seven years, Wyatt was part of the chart-topping girl group the Pussycat Dolls, a high-kicking dance ensemble that also managed to sell 54 million records worldwide and pack out global stadiums. Wyatt's "standing oversplit" – an eye-popping manouevre in which she stands on one leg and arches her other leg over her head – became something of a signature move in their highly-choreographed videos.

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Today, however, the 33-year-old's audience is rather smaller. Within the shivery confines of a west London studio, she is directing a routine for a group of enraptured teenage girls, many of whom would not normally pull on their exercise gear without a big fat bribe.

It's part of her work as a newly signed ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust, which aims to get Britain's slothful youth moving and boost the low levels of PE and sport uptake in many schools. Girls in particular seem reluctant to tear themselves away from their smartphon – which is where American-born Wyatt comes in.

"It's so important to get them to understand that their body is a wonderful thing and they need to look after it, to create healthy habits," says the American-born star.

It turns out there is a bit of guilt involved in her new mission: as the mother of an 11-month-old girl, Willow, Wyatt is keenly aware that the messages she churned out during her pop star past were not always the most positive for young girls. In one of the band's greatest hits, the chorus repeatedly asks "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?", while another, When I Grow Up, contains the repeated line "We all wanna be famous".

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Wyatt admits that these songs probably played their part in moulding a generation of selfie-loving teens.

"The Pussycat Dolls and the songs we sang have spurred me to want to do this work," she says. "The selfie generation is really dangerous, and in some ways I feel a bit like we were part of the problem, with some of our songs.

"So I want to go in there and correct some of those messages; to say music can be fantasy, but the core of who we are is really about finding something you're passionate about. That's what's important. Not how you look and your status, but being true to who you are, being happy."

She accuses the current crop of reality shows – one of which, The X Factor, featured her fellow former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger as a judge – of skewing the minds of many young people.

"Setting sights on being a superstar is a disadvantage to our kids. All of a sudden, fame is the goal, when instead it should be a by-product of doing something you love," she says. "People say 'I want to be a singer' because they see themselves on the X Factor stage with people applauding them, but really it should be about not being able to wait to write that song or to be able to do something new with your voice."

This may sound a tad ironic, coming from someone who hails from a constructed girl group, but in fact Wyatt's narrative arc makes her well-placed to deliver the message. A naturally shy girl growing up in Missouri, she found dancing was the one thing that "took me out of that bubble, allowed me to feel like a superhero".

She joined a school dance troupe and took part in national competitions. After high school, she worked on cruise ships, lasting 18 months before horrendous motion sickness put paid to that and she went to Los Angeles to hit the audition circuit, working shifts in Pizza Hut and as a telemarketer to pay the bills.

"My one hope was to find dance work on land," she smiles.

Joining the Dolls, as she calls them, was a "right place, right time" event that occurred after she attended an audition for a reality series. She didn't get the gig, but the choreographer also happened to have founded the Pussycat Dolls, then a 12-strong burlesque dance group, and offered Wyatt a place with them, instead.

Meanwhile, she was fighting another battle: from her late teens she had been plagued with cystic acne, which resisted all remedies.

"For someone who was already shy, it was devastating," she says. "I tried everything, from every doctor to topical over-the-counter stuff and facials, and nothing would really work. It was horrible acne, to the point that if you even put a make-up brush on it, it would hurt like crazy and I would wince in pain."

Nor was it conducive to being a member of a sexy girl group either – particularly not one that was coming to the attention of record labels. "We were meant to be superheroes and superheroes don't have bad skin," she smiles wryly.

So she swotted up on nutrition and lifestyle. "I just started getting rid of all the toxins, as well as managing stress and anxiety, and it made all the difference," she says.

By 2005, the Dolls had been transformed into a six-strong recording group and had released their first album, PCD. Suddenly, Wyatt was a global star.

"It was surreal," she reflects. "I never was 'Hey, I want to be rich and famous'. Yet all of a sudden I found myself with a recording contract, travelling the whole world, performing in front of millions of people."

The group lasted seven years, despite perennial rumours of infighting over the disproportionate amount of attention given to Scherzinger. It was already beginning to implode, however, when in 2010, Wyatt decided to leave.

"Seven years is a long time, and the business machine behind the Dolls was starting to take my love of dance away," she says. "But it was a big moment. I wasn't sure what was out there for me. I had to come to terms with the fact I might end up just teaching at the local dance studio down the street, and that had to be OK."

She did in fact go on to teach dance workshops throughout the UK, which eventually led her to a role as a judge on Sky's Got to Dance.

"I was always really inspired by the UK whenever we performed here," she says of her decision to settle in Britain. "I love the people, I love the culture, the English countryside, Sunday roasts. But I never in a million years thought the UK would become my home."

That happened as a consequence of meeting her husband, British model Max Rogers, when he escorted her down a catwalk at a fashion event four years ago. They married in 2014 and last December became parents.

"Becoming a mum just flips everything on its head," she says. "Life is no longer about just me."

Still, she didn't rest on her laurels after giving birth: within months, she had won Celebrity Masterchef, having entered on what she insists was a whim.

"I think it's important to challenge yourself again after having a baby," she reasons. "I'd always loved baking and cooking, particularly when I was pregnant, and I thought, "Why not?" Although I also felt like if I got through the first round it would be a huge win."

Now she's contemplating writing her own nutrition-cum-cookery book, as well as working on a children's dance show for CBBC. It's a long way from the packed stadiums of the past, but that's how she likes it.

"People talk about having it all, but I think when you become a mum you have to redefine what 'all' is," she says. "When I had my little girl, my perspective became quite clear. It's about creating a life that's full of passion and happiness."

And what of her fellow Dolls? Five years since their split, have they faded into her past?

"The girls are like family to me," says Wyatt. "We all keep in touch and it's great, because we did spend all that time together and have been through so much that others can't understand – all of our inside jokes, our own weird language and gestures.

"You don't lose that."

 

 - The Telegraph, London

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