Nicole Scherzinger is quite the enigma to interview. On the one hand, you have gorgeous goofball Nicole – all smiles, shiny hair and adorably quirky ways. It’s this girl who welcomes us into her room with a hug and then invites us to hang around afterwards and share her French fries. But you don’t have to scratch far below the surface to find quite a different Nicole, one who’s surprisingly serious and quite the deep thinker.
We’re meeting in the spring sunshine of Cape Town, where Nicole’s filming her latest Müller advert and musing on her topsy-turvy life.
“I’m living out of a suitcase right now,” she says. “Literally, I am homeless. My LA home got ruined in a flood when I was in London doing X Factor , and it’s not like I’m renting some glorious mansion while my LA house is being renovated. I’m staying at Airbnbs. I’m staying at friends’. I’m crashing on sofas! It’s hard for me to feel aligned and settled right now.”
This sensation of a shift in her universe might also be related to her latest career move. She’s landed her first major acting role, in the TV movie remake of Dirty Dancing , and it’s made her ponder the unthinkable: a world where she might not have existed at all.
She plays Penny, the dance instructor who has an abortion, and it’s been hugely poignant because of Nicole’s own start in life.
“My mother had me at a very young age,” she reflects. “Even though she was alone, my grandparents convinced her to keep me. So she didn’t abort me. My grandfather is a bishop, my family is very pro-life. They do the marches. They weren’t very happy about me taking the role. But I thought, ‘Maybe I can be a voice and throw some light on this.'”
So would she like to encourage women to keep their babies? She pauses, mindful of how controversial the subject is.
“Look, I can never judge anyone and I’ve never walked in anybody else’s shoes in that situation but I’d love, if it’s possible, to encourage people to. Because you never know what magical child with great purpose you could have.”
She tells us she’s excited by taking on the challenge of acting, but at the same time apprehensive about branching out from her first love.
“Nothing could ever take the place of singing. I was born to sing,” she says. “On the first day on set, I only had one thing to say, but I was so nervous I forgot how to speak. But then I caught the acting bug and thought, ‘This can be my world. I like it.'”
Just as it does for many women of her generation, the original Dirty Dancing movie brings back coming-of-age memories for Nicole.
“I play Penny, but I definitely identify more with Baby,” she laughs. “I was geeky growing up, I’d say the wrong thing to boys. I still do! I didn’t have any holiday romances, though, I wish I was that interesting. I was always in long-term relationships, since I was in high school. I’ve never dated a dancer, but if a guy can move, that’s sexy for sure.”
It’s hard to imagine anybody ever putting Nicole in a corner, but she reckons it’s taken a long time to learn how to stand up for herself.
“When I was young I was too embarrassed to even ask for more ketchup at McDonald’s. Now I will just go in to bat, I will just rip you apart if I have to! I’m like, ‘I want ALL the sauces!’ I used to feel like I didn’t have the voice or the strength to speak out and now I’ve found this lion in me.”
There’s only one area where Nicole still struggles to unleash her claws.
“I’m a lion in most aspects of my life, except for in love. I’m just like a little pussycat,” she sighs. “I’m a hopeless romantic. A fool for love. I’m not gonna be like, ‘Yeah, LOVE ME!’ I’m not that girl.”
Anybody who’s followed Nicole’s life will know she’s had her fill of heartbreak, most notably from a seven-year on-off relationship with racing driver Lewis Hamilton that ended for good in 2015.
For the past year she’s been dating tennis player Grigor Dimitrov, 25, and while she’s happy to confirm it’s going well, she’s tight-lipped on specifics.
“Am I in love right now? I’m afraid I don’t like to talk about my personal life. But I’m happy.”
Nicole and Grigor’s work schedules regularly take them to the opposite ends of the earth, and keeping in touch with loved ones isn’t one of her strengths.
“When I’m with a person they get everything of me, I’m like, ‘Let’s make the most of every second in life,’ but when I’m gone, I’m gone. Just ask my mom. When I do call she’s like, ‘Oh, is that my daughter?'”
By her own admission Nicole is ‘always in my own head, over-thinking things’, and she’s working hard to reset her view on life and love.
“When I was younger I spent a lot of time thinking I wasn’t lovable. I’m always loving others, but one of the biggest secrets to life is learning to love yourself. I’m learning more to do that. When you think you don’t deserve love you lower your standards and self-worth. Now that I’m older I’m trying to be kinder to myself.”
There’s certainly not a lot to criticise in the mirror. Aged 38, she genuinely looks a good decade younger, something she insists hasn’t been aided by a needle. She puts her perpetually youthful appearance down to good genes and diet and ‘sweating out toxins’ through exercise.
She’s currently working with British Athletics on Müller’s new campaign to get people into sport too.
“Look at this from filming yesterday,” she laughs, proudly displaying a nasty bash on her ankle. ‘I was like, ‘Come on boys! I’m tough, I can handle you!’ Then some guy ran into me with his running spikes and sliced me open.”
Nicole’s poured her curves into some seriously sexy lycra to tie in with the London 2017 Athletics Championships which Muller is supporting.
“Anything to encourage people to get active!” she says. “I’m competitive in every way. I ran track when I was in middle school and I’m a jogger now. So if I had to do an event myself it would be long distance. Definitely not the javelin. I’d kill somebody!”
She might be away from LA a lot, but her tastebuds are still firmly in California.
“I luuurve a green juice,” she says. “I love the idea of clean eating because you can have delicious food and just feel better afterwards. But I’m a girl who will always eat carbs. Everything in moderation. French fries are clean carbs, right?”
If she’s been tucking into chip butties, there’s no evidence of it in her bikini photos on Instagram – she looks smoking hot.
“Honey, it’s all about the angles,” she says, batting away the compliment. “If you have a good filter, anyone can look like Halle Berry as a Bond girl.”
She even insists social media plays havoc with her self-esteem and she can’t even bear to read people’s comments.
“I’ve got 10,500 photos on my phone, 1,500 selfies, and I overthink it so much that I only post one picture a fortnight!”
One person who’s clearly been paying attention to her photos is fellow X Factor judge Louis Walsh, who cheekily claimed she’d had a boob job.
“Oh, Louis always says stupid things like that to ruffle my feathers,” she says. “It’s just banter. He sees me naked all the time. No, I’m joking! But he was always in my dressing room when I was getting ready. We’re really close, he’s always there for me. We don’t see each other between series, but if I was in a room with him, Simon and Mrs O we’d pick up right away.”
Whether she’ll be back in her judge’s chair for 2017 remains to be seen.
“I HAVE been asked. And I don’t know yet,” she says. “We’ll see. I might. But I want to get back to creating. Last year I did a lot of TV and I loved it, but I didn’t spend time with the artist in me. The idea of doing that excites me more than anything.”
Nicole took the term ‘flash photography’ to a whole new level recently when she posed in anentirely see-through dress on the red carpet.
“That was an accident,” she laughs. “I found out I was going literally an houe beforehand and my good friend Michael Costello sent over that dress. I had NO idea it was see-through at the top with the camera flashes. I had to laugh about it, there was nothing else I could do.”
Lazy lie-in or up with the lark?
In a perfect world I’d love to get up really early, because then I feel the most productive. But the artist in me means I’m a night owl. I live at night. So I’d have a lie-in.
Pub lunch or cooking at home?
Nothing beats a Sunday roast at the pub, but cooking at home puts a smile in my heart.
Gym or lazy day?
Last year it would have been a lazy day. This year I’ve been up early, hitting classes, going to meetings. I’m on it.
Big breakfast or fruit?
The biggest breakfast in the world. It could never be too big. Hawaiian French toast, Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict, bacon, more bacon, and ketchup.
Fresh as a daisy or tired and hungover?
Honey, I’m at church – tired from being out all night, but letting the Holy Spirit make me fresh as a daisy!