As I enter the top floor of a hip East London studio, I’m greeted by the whirl of the photographer’s camera clicking and, next to a wind machine, a dedicated hairstylist giving Rochelle Humes’s curls the Beyoncé treatment.
We’re here to chat about those curls – or, more specifically, Rochelle’s debut children’s book, The Mega Magic Hair Swap, which is all about accepting, loving and celebrating curly hair. The book certainly moved me. As the mother of mixed-heritage seven-year-old twin daughters, I’ve battled hard to boost the self-love of my girls who, from as young as three, have questioned why they don’t have ‘normal’ straight yellow hair like Elsa from Disney’s Frozen.
‘In this social media world we live in, it’s really easy to find positives in everyone else and maybe not so much in yourself,’ agrees Rochelle – who’s as warm in person as she appears on screen. She hopes her book will help make a difference to how the next generation feel about themselves. ‘It starts in school,’ she says, ‘whether it’s about hair, skin colour or even the type of shoes you wear. That’s why I want to grab hold of my two girls [Alaia-Mai, five and Valentina Raine, 23 months] and shake that out of them now.’
According to a recent UK study, only 1% of children’s books have BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) main characters. ‘The publishing industry is in the dark ages when it comes to representation,’ says Rochelle. ‘It just doesn’t reflect the way we live in our society and schools.’ Rochelle is clearly passionate about educating kids when they’re young, to try to build their self-esteem and sense of self. She’s even curated an Instagram account, Curls Like Us, to serve as a resource for curly hair care. ‘I was posting things I use and love for curls on my account and started receiving thousands of messages and questions, so I opened a separate account and it’s grown from there.’
As a teenager in Essex, Rochelle says she was desperate for straight hair. ‘Growing up, my only hair hero was Scary Spice, and in the playground playing Spice Girls I was always Scary Spice, even when I wanted to be Baby. I was desperate for straight hair.’ Her mum was a paramedic but ran a hair salon on the side. ‘I used to wash people’s hair for pocket money and beg to have my hair blow-dried, but the stylists wouldn’t do it as they said Mum would sack them! I’d have my hair straightened as a treat.’
Now 29, Rochelle’s crammed an awful lot into a short space of time. She burst on to the scene aged just 11 in S Club Juniors, a spin-off from pop group S Club 7, later graduating into a fully-fledged pop princess with The Saturdays, racking up 13 top 10 hits and a number one smash with What About Us along the way. She’s also given us all ‘couple goals’ with husband Marvin Humes of boy band JLS.
For much of this time, Rochelle’s hair was poker-straight. ‘In the past, like everyone else, I’ve felt judged and pressured to look a certain way, whether it’s regarding my weight or having straight hair.’ Rochelle only recently made the decision to embrace her curls, motivated by being a mum and trying to encourage her daughters to love their hair. ‘I spent so many years straightening my hair that when I wanted it to be curly again, it said “No! No!” After years of me being so unkind to my curls, I had to cut off lots of dead hair and start all over again.’
Rochelle’s crusade for us all to embrace what nature gave us doesn’t end with her book; later this year, she will be launching her own range of children’s products for both straight and curly hair. ‘I wanted to create something for newborn babies and kids that was kind, natural, had no perfume and was easy to find on the high street,’ she explains. Now best known for presenting – Rochelle regularly covers for Holly Willoughby on This Morning, while her upcoming BBC Saturday night music quiz show Playlisters will see her co-hosting with husband Marvin – she recently attended the NTA awards, dazzling in white with her natural curls worn loose: ‘Everyone was dashing out of the rain trying to shelter while I was loving it for my curls. I love the humidity on holiday, too. Embracing my curls has been really liberating.’