Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Tuesday, 6 July 2010 10:55 UK

Cheryl Cole's life in the spotlight

Cheryl Cole
Cheryl Cole recently launched a successful solo career

It has been a tumultous few months for pop star Cheryl Cole, who is being treated for malaria, her spokesman has confirmed.

After celebrating the success of her debut solo album last year, she separated from footballer husband Ashley Cole in February.

She announced that she had filed for a divorce in May but was straight back to work supporting the Black Eyed Peas on tour.

BBC News reporter Fiona Pryor takes a look back at her career.

When five girls were plucked from obscurity on an ITV talent show, no-one would have imagined that one of them would go on to become the "nation's sweetheart".

Cheryl Cole - then known as Tweedy - was just 19 when she was chosen as the first member of pop group Girls Aloud.

"I can hardly believe it," she said shortly after winning the show.

"Four months [ago] I was sitting in a council house drinking tea and watching Oprah Winfrey on television all day."

Judge Pete Waterman was more certain of her appeal. "You have the most beautiful eyes and skin I think I've ever seen in my life," he declared during the live final.

However, the singer's climb to the top of the showbiz ladder had a shaky start.

Tragedy struck Girls Aloud on Christmas Day 2002 when their tour manager John McMahon was killed in a car crash in Staffordshire.

Then, in January 2003, with the band's debut single Sound Of The Underground still in the top 10, Cole was arrested and charged with racially aggravated assault and actual bodily harm, after an altercation with a nightclub toilet attendant.

Cole always denied the race charge and the jury agreed, but they unanimously rejected her claim to have been acting in self defence.

She was sentenced to 120 hours of community service, ordered to pay her victim £500 in compensation and required to pay £3,000 in prosecution costs.

Despite the controversy, Girls Aloud rallied around their bandmate - who had offered to quit - and went on to score a further 19 top 20 singles.

Tough childhood

One of five children, Cole began modelling at the age of three, appeared in a British Gas advert aged seven and joined the Royal Ballet's summer school two years later.

But when she was 12 she abandoned dancing and decided to pursue a singing career instead, signing with a management company and going to countless auditions.

Cheryl and Ashley met in 2004, when they both had homes in the same London apartment block.

The footballer eventually got Cheryl's number from her bandmate Kimberley Walsh, who was friendly with one of the player's then team-mates at Arsenal.

They were engaged in 2005 after he proposed in Dubai, and tied the knot the following year.

Girls Aloud
Girls Aloud won the show Popstars: The Rivals

The wedding was a star-studded affair, with members of Girls Aloud, the Sugababes and several high-profile footballers in attendance.

A reported £1m deal was struck with OK! magazine for the photographs, despite Cheryl previously saying: "We're not going to do a mag deal. We just want it to be a quiet affair with everyone we love there."

Although they were being talked of as "the new Posh and Becks", the couple were not yet media royalty - and when they posed in garish white outfits beside a Rolls Royce to promote the National Lottery, several newspapers mocked them.

Marriage strain

After that, the Coles' marriage was under constant scrutiny, but professionally their careers continued to soar.

The footballing ace won several titles on the pitch, but earned himself the nickname Cashley Cole after jumping ship from Arsenal for a £90,000-a-week pay cheque at Chelsea.

Ashley and Cheryl Cole
The National Lottery pictures were branded tacky

In early 2008, tabloid newspapers claimed he had been unfaithful, with two women selling stories about their involvement with the player.

It led to a frosty patch in the relationship, which saw Girls Aloud postpone promotion for their single Can't Speak French while Cheryl fled the country.

Pictures of her looking thin on holiday with bandmates Kimberley Walsh and Nicola Roberts were plastered across magazines.

Many questioned whether the strain was causing the singer to lose weight, but within weeks the couple had reconciled.

But Cheryl later revealed she had the "lowest of the lows" during this period.

"I can't hurt any more than I've hurt, I can't cry any more than I've cried," she wrote in Girls Aloud's book Dreams That Glitter.

"When I said my wedding vows I meant them. I said them for life: For better, for worse," she added.

Hinting that she had forgiven Ashley, she wrote: "People make mistakes, stuff happens. I believe everyone should be a free spirit."

Sympathetic

The singer's quiet strength during this period seemed to cement her popularity with fans - one of whom turned out to be Simon Cowell, who hired her to replace Sharon Osbourne on The X Factor.

Cole proved to be sympathetic, likeable and immaculately dressed - making her an instant hit with viewers.

Nonetheless, critics carped that she was easily moved to tears by the contestants' sob stories and "emotional journeys".

"I do wish I didn't cry as easily," she told the Guardian last year. "I get annoyed with myself, but I can't help it. My family's all the same - my mother and my aunties."

Cheryl Cole
Despite rumours about her marriage, Cole still sang at the Brits

Her empathy seems to have made her a helpful mentor, too, as she has steered both Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry to victory.

The exposure of the show only served to increase Cole's profile. She gave Vogue its highest-selling February issue when she agreed to grace the front cover last year, and later won a lucrative contract to front L'Oreal's advertising campaigns.

With Girls Aloud due to take a year off in 2009, it was inevitable that the singer would embark upon a solo career - and she enlisted the help of Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am to put together her debut album, 3 Words.

Helped by a strong round of promotions and a much-talked about appearance on the X Factor, both the album and its lead single, Fight For This Love, entered the chart at number one.

Ashley and Cheryl Cole
The couple married in 2006

Many reviewers noted the melancholy tone of the record (one noted "Cheryl sounds like the saddest person ever") and speculated that lyrics like "we argue a lot no matter what we do" indicated further problems in her marriage.

"When you hear a song you have to relate to the lyric of it," Cole told the BBC.

"In general, life is up and down. It is a bit bittersweet, so I think that reflects in the songs I've chosen and the things I've written."

Tabloid rumours over the marriage continued when Cole was spotted without her wedding ring on X Factor a few weeks later.

A rash of gossip magazine cover stories even prompted the star to publish a picture of her wearing the ring on Twitter with the comment: "3 words. Diamonds Are Forever."

Little did she know that, months later, her relationship would be plunged into a fresh crisis.

It was alleged that Ashley had texted compromising photographs of himself to several women, while another came forward to say she had slept with him in 2009.

Despite the controversy, Cole went ahead and performed at the Brit Awards - again without her wedding ring.

However, she avoided the red carpet and inevitable questions about her relationship.

In February, as Cole flew into the UK from a short break in Los Angeles, an official announcement of her separation was made.

An statement read: "Cheryl asks the media to respect her privacy during this difficult time."

Just three months later, she filed for divorce at the the high court in London citing "unreasonable behaviour".

By June, Ashley was off to South Africa to to play in England's disastrous World Cup campaign, while Cheryl returned to work on the X Factor public auditions.

She also played support on the UK leg of the Black Eyed Peas' world tour and took a break in Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa, with friend and dancer Derek Hough.

Shortly after returning, she was hospitalised following reports she had fainted during a photoshoot.

Cole was ordered to rest by doctors, who began treating her for malaria.

She has cancelled all appearances for the coming week - but questions are bound to be asked about whether she will be able to fulfil her X Factor commitments this summer.



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