Claire Richards, formerly of Steps and most recently of the Big Brother house, is curvy and proud. She shares her fashion secrets with MAXINE GORDON and reveals how she has at last come to terms with her shape.
CLAIRE RICHARDS was an athletic teenager when she auditioned for pop group Steps. She was offered a place in the band, on condition she lost weight.
Claire accepted the terms – but with hindsight, she now sees that the pressure to lose weight spiralled into a problem she found hard to control.
“When I went to the audition, I was no bigger than a size 12, or nearer a size ten. I am five foot six. I was 19 and didn’t think I was overweight.
“I was quite sporty and had athletic legs and was smaller on top. I had a smaller waist and no boobs; a typical pear shape. I used to try to hide my bum by tying something round my waist. Looking back, that probably made it look bigger.”
Desperate to be a pop star, Claire did as she was told. “I didn’t think I was fat, but I was eager and keen, so I went off and lost half a stone through exercise. I got a bit obsessive about it.”
When she left the band, she piled on four stone. Fans expected her to launch a solo career, but her size put a stop to that.
“When I left the group I put weight on and that was a big deal for me. I didn’t take it very well. Rather than do something about it, I let myself slide into a vicious circle of eating something and feeling terrible then feeling there was no point doing anything about it tomorrow.”
It was several years before Claire returned to the celebrity circuit, often using the limelight to highlight the struggles she had with her size. A TV crew followed her as she prepared for her marriage to Reece Hill, with whom she has two children. Viewers of Claire Richards: My Big Fat Wedding watched as she slimmed down from a size 20 to a size ten for her big day.
Today, she is a 35 and a voluptuous size 16. While she says she doesn’t rule out losing weight, she says she is more comfortable in her own skin.
“It’s taken me a long time not to let pressure from other people get to me,” she says.
Moreover, she points out, most women in the UK are a similar size to her. “I am not advocating obesity, but what I am saying is it is okay to be different and okay not to be a size eight. For many women it’s not natural and not easy to stay slim.”
She adds; “Just because I am a size 16 doesn’t mean I am any less of a person or my talent is any less. I can still sing.”
Going into the Celebrity Big Brother house was a gamble.
“I thought I would struggle a lot more than I did,” she begins. “But that wasn’t the situation. We were quite lucky. On the whole, the people were great and we all got on. It was quite easy to adapt to living with people. That was the thing I was most frightened of; I like my own space and there is no where to go in there.
“But I loved it. It was a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity and I feel much stronger for doing it. I proved to myself I can cope with stressful situations and get on quite well.”
It’s this new confidence that sees her fronting a new fashion project for plus-size women’s wear.
Claire has teamed up with online retailer Fashion World to promote its spring-summer collections. Claire loved the experience so much she has worked with the designers to create her own capsule wardrobe for the company’s autumn-winter range too.
It’s taken Claire a while to work out what suits her body shape, and she is keen to share her tips with other women.
Like many women, Claire prefers to shop online and try on clothes in the privacy of her own home rather than in a public changing room, which can be an ordeal. “That can be upsetting and stressful,” says Claire.
Even though the average British woman is a size 16, the high street still fails to recognise this, says Claire. What’s more, it’s hard to find bigger sizes on shop rails. Another problem is inconsistent sizing, meaning women have to buy the item one or two sizes larger, which is depressing.
Claire says curvy girls need to invest in “shape wear”; undies that smooth the contours of your body to give your clothes a clean look.
“I swear by shape wear,” she says. “It’s not going to make you a size smaller but it smoothes everything out and allows you to wear something more fitted.
“You can get it at Marks’ and Debenhams and even Primark do a range which doesn’t work out too expensive. It’s my saving grace and I don’t leave home without it.”
Her next rule is to try things on at home. “You are used to the mirrors and the lighting; you can try it on with the right shape wear which means it’s going to look better.”
Another tip is to pick clothes that flatter you rather than slavishly following trends.
“Each season, try not to get things that are too trend led; nine out of ten times it is not going to last you that long. I prefer to buy things that are going to last and are going to flatter my shape.”
For the new spring-summer collection at Fashion World, Claire shows off how to wear everything from a prom dress to a strapless jumpsuit. The navy jumpsuit is surprisingly flattering.
Claire says: “It’s in navy, which is warmer than black but still slimming, and I wear it with a belt and a little cardi because I don’t like to show off my arm area that much. It is tapered at the ankles and looser on the thighs and looks great with heels.”
Claire says fan mail provides a real boost. “They encourage me and it makes me feel better about myself and more confident. So many men and women have come forward and said: ‘thank you for speaking out about this, I don’t feel I am alone’.”
Ultimately, Claire hopes her foray into fashion makes other women feel better about themselves. “The pieces I have designed for autumn-winter have some glam items in there and casual ones and will hopefully encourage plus-size women to go for something a bit different.
“You have to experiment with different styles. We are told to wear leggings with bigger tops, but I would say try something fitted. In my experience, I feel better and look slimmer if I a wearing something fitted and cut for a curvier shape.”
• Check out Claire Richard’s style choices for spring and summer at fashionworld.co.uk
• Fashion World sells clothing for sizes 12 to 32