Why do we love Cheryl Cole? Obviously this is a question we’re asking of Cheryl Cole lovers. People who don’t love Cheryl Cole are the type of people who don’t love sunsets, kittens or Battenberg cake, and who wants to know what they think?

Cheryl holds a unique place amongst pop stars and celebrities by being someone we love to love. So rarely do we hear anyone making catty or unkind remarks or, as is traditional with famous attractive women, casting aspersions on her intelligence or talent.

It’s widely accepted amongst those familiar with her work in Girls Aloud and as a judge on TV’s The X Factor that Cheryl Cole is an intelligent, talented and genuinely lovely woman. She appears to have it all and, by rights, we should resent her for it.

But we don’t.

Cheryl Ann Tweedy grew up in Northern England, in the shadow of the bitter 1980s miner’s strike. Preferring ballet to boxing, she trained in secret – finding dance a much-needed escape from problems at home.

Oh no, hang on, that’s the plot of Billy Elliot. But it’s not far off.

Cheryl was actually raised on a notoriously heroin-blighted council estate in Newcastle, not far from Byker (where PJ & Duncan went to youth club). One of five children, she joined the Royal Ballet’s summer school at the age of nine, as well as taking a variety of child modelling assignments (including a couple of British Gas adverts).

So it’s something of a rags to riches story, though not one we imagine Elton John would write a musical about (though we’d be first in the queue if he did).

The wannabe starlet entered our lives in 2002, when she appeared on reality TV show Popstars: The Rivals. She sang S Club 7’s Have You Ever, one of their less memorable hits, for a fairly forgettable audition where Pete Waterman seemed more impressed with her features than her singing, declaring: “You have the most beautiful skin and eyes I think I’ve ever seen in my life!” (And this from the man who brought us Rick Astley).

Cheryl seemed terrified but determined. Refreshingly, she lacked the conviction-bordering-on-psychosis that so many current X Factor contestants display – as if it’s their destiny to have a Number One single. Even when she made it through to the final ten, Cheryl still spoke of the possibility of being sent home (though, by then, few viewers doubted her chances of being in the final band.)

Despite a tentative start, Tweedy proved to be one of the stronger singers in Girls Aloud. Hers was a classic pop voice with just enough of her Tyneside accent creeping through to give it distinction. Most importantly she had charisma by the bucket-load and a defiantly down-to-earth spirit. Cheryl had ‘working class Geordie’ written through her like a stick of rock.

Her transformation from humble, pretty, talent show winner to superstar sex kitten seemed to happen overnight (or however long it took to shoot the Sound of the Underground video).

As slinky as Shakira, the camera loved her and by the time of her cleavage-baring, car-draping, appearance in No Good Advice, the men’s magazine industry were standing to attention.

But for us there’s one video above all that illustrates why we love her so much. Actually, it’s just one and a half seconds of Love Machine, Girls Aloud’s 2004 hit single. Readers, please take out your DVDs and fast forward them to the two minute mark. As our heroine sings the line, “We’re only turning into tigers when we gotta fight back”, she makes a clawing movement with her hands, as her eyes flash knowingly.

This isn’t just the key to understanding what makes Cheryl special as a performer, it’s a perfect demonstration as to what differentiates a pop star from someone who merely sings songs for a living. It’s all in the details.

What we admire about Cheryl Cole is her ability to carve out a successful music and TV career while remaining independent, opinionated (without being gobby) and in control, whilst exuding an old fashioned showbiz glamour and pizzazz that makes her a compelling and rewarding performer to watch.

And while there’s been controversy and scandal, people have continued to care about Cheryl because she has, at all times, seemed genuine and honest and has worked hard to get to where she is.

As her debut solo single Fight For This Love becomes the biggest-selling single of the year, we don’t think we’re out of line in suggesting it’s not simply the quality of the music that’s made it a success – it’s the Cheryl-factor.

The artist Lee Jones (who painted Ms Cole as if she were Antony Gormley’s famous Angel of the North sculpture) summed it up best when he said: “I see her as a new icon of popular culture for the 21st century, a beacon of light in these bleak times – a fine example of a northern lass making good.”

And we suppose she’s not bad looking either, in a certain light.

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