Jesy Nelson on leaving Little Combine: ‘I felt everyone hated me’

Jesy Nelson is having her picture taken. For the primary time in her profession, it’s all about her. She is not one quarter of the massively profitable lady group Little Mix. Nelson is about to launch her first solo single and he or she says she is happier than she has been in years. However you wouldn’t comprehend it: she appears painfully self-conscious, unsmiling and anxious.

Images achieved, she disappears to alter garments. When she returns, she’s unrecognisable. Wearing black T-shirt, leggings and platform trainers, Nelson is all smiles; heat, giggly and uninhibited. I inform her I’ve by no means seen such a distinction. She laughs. “After I’m in entrance of a digicam, I don’t know what to do. The opposite three women could be within the weirdest positions and look fabulous. If I did it, I’d look terrible.”

In 2019, Nelson made a robust documentary about her life with the “different three women”, known as Odd One Out. She talked about how she had all the time in contrast herself with the opposite members of Little Combine and located herself wanting. The origins of her low vanity went again to the very formation of the band on the 2011 collection of The X Issue. She had auditioned efficiently as a solo singer, however the judges determined she was higher suited to being in a bunch. She was teamed up with different solo entrants – Leigh‑Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards – to type the lady group Rhythmix, which was later renamed Little Combine. They went on to win that yr’s collection. However throughout the present, Nelson was trolled horrifically on social media. “The very first thing I examine myself was, ‘Is it me or does that lady look disabled?’ The following one stated she actually appears like a rat. And the subsequent one was, ‘God her face appears deformed,’” she tells me. “While you’ve by no means had any points together with your face after which realise persons are saying these items about you… ” She trails off. “You assume if everyone is saying it, it have to be true.” The evening Little Combine received The X Issue, Nelson, then 20, wept and wished she was again dwelling along with her mom.

Little Mix on The X Factor in 2011, from left: Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock.
Little Combine on The X Think about 2011, from left: Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock. {Photograph}: Rex/Shutterstock

Through the years, the trolling intensified. Within the documentary, Thirlwall says: “We simply needed to watch this wonderful humorous individual turn into like a damaged doll. It was horrible.” After Odd One Out aired, it appeared inevitable that Nelson’s days within the band have been numbered. She missed a number of public appearances and was absent from some sections of the video for Candy Melody, launched in November. A month later, she introduced she was leaving the group to take care of her psychological well being. She had hit all-time low; at the moment she explains simply how dangerous it was.


Our dialog begins with a guided tour of her many tattoos. On her higher arm it says, “Music is the strongest type of magic.” “It truly is,” she says. She has been obsessive about music and dancing since she was a little bit lady. Who have been her heroes? “Missy Elliott,” she says immediately. “She is the queen. I might come dwelling from faculty and the very first thing I’d do is placed on MTV Base and research Missy Elliott’s movies. She all the time had this little lady in her movies and I so wished to be her. I beloved what we did in Little Combine, but it surely wasn’t essentially music I might take heed to myself. The music I really like is old fashioned R&B and hip-hop.” Her new music displays her personal tastes. “That’s what I grew up with and what I all the time wished to make, so now I’m making it, it feels wonderful.”

Nelson, 30, is the second youngest of 4 kids who grew up in Essex. Her mother and father separated when she was 5, and the children have been introduced up by her mom, Janis, a police group assist officer. Nelson attended the Sylvia Younger theatre faculty, the place she specialised in dance. Astonishingly, she says she had solely as soon as sung publicly earlier than The X Factor, when she was eight.

Jesy Nelson wearing a yellow jacket and trousers: Guy O’Sport, from Ninetyfly. Shoes: Vivienne Westwood x Melissa, from Archivesix Studio. Rings: Swarovski, Mi Manera Jewelry, Acchitto. Styling by Toni-Blaze Ibekwe. Photographer’s assistants: Melinda Davies; Z Perou. Hair: Christopher Southern using GHD. Makeup: Heidi North at The Wall Group using Nars.
Jesy wears jacket and trousers: Man O’Sport, from Ninetyfly. Sneakers: Vivienne Westwood x Melissa, from Archivesix Studio. Rings: Swarovski, Mi Manera Jewellery, Acchitto. Styling by Toni-Blaze Ibekwe. Photographer’s assistants: Melinda Davies; Z Perou. Hair: Christopher Southern utilizing GHD. Make-up: Heidi North at The Wall Group utilizing Nars. {Photograph}: Perou/The Guardian

Which takes us to the subsequent tattoo – XIX.VIII.XI. “That’s the date we first received put collectively on The X Issue – 19 August 2011.” She strikes down her physique, pointing with a finger. “Then I’ve received one on my leg that claims ‘A tiger by no means loses sleep over the opinion of sheep.’ It mainly means I couldn’t give a shit about what folks take into consideration me any extra. When you don’t like me, then ta-ta.”

I assume it have to be a current tattoo about self-empowerment – a two-fingered salute to the haters. She smiles. No, she says, truly it dates again to the earliest days. “That was at the start of Little Combine.” Did she actually consider she was a tiger? She shakes her head. “I wished to consider it. Now I’m genuinely in the very best head house I’ve been, however again then I used to fake I used to be. I used to be truly like a little bit lamb. I do consider as you become old you be taught to not give a shit.”

Possibly. Take heed to Nelson inform her story, although, and it appears something however a linear development in direction of self-belief. As a little bit lady, she says, she was completely comfy with herself. In her early teenagers she was bullied and developed alopecia. By her late teenagers, she was working at a bar in Romford, east London, massively widespread and loving life. “Earlier than I received into the trade, any of my family and friends will let you know I used to be essentially the most assured individual. Then all of it fell aside.”


On The X Issue, she received by way of the audition on a 3-1 vote. Gary Barlow, who was head choose within the absence of Simon Cowell, gave her an enormous thumbs down. “Gary hated me. He was like, ‘Oh Jesy, I discovered that audition terr‑i‑ble. Your voice could be very gen-e-ric.” She does an excellent impression of Barlow’s monotone. Despite the fact that she hadn’t anticipated to progress, she was devastated by his response. The judges couldn’t perceive why – in any case, she’d simply received by way of to the subsequent stage. “I stated to my mum: ‘I’m not coming again on X Issue, I’m by no means doing that once more.’ Dermot [O’Leary, the presenter] was like, ‘Why are you crying, you bought by way of?’” Possibly this was an indication she was too delicate for the enterprise. “Possibly,” she says quietly.

She says The X Issue did nothing to assist her when the trolling began. “After I was struggling, I didn’t really feel there was anybody I may speak to. We have been like infants: Perrie was 17, I used to be 20. I’m hoping that programmes like this at the moment are taking extra duty. It’s so essential as a result of no person prepares you for what you’re about to undergo.”

What ought to actuality reveals equivalent to The X Issue present by means of assist? “I feel they need to have a therapist there and – whether or not you prefer it or not – when you’re in that course of it’s important to go and see them.” The week after we speak, ITV introduced there could be no further series of The X Factor, which ran for 17 years.

Little Combine was the second most profitable act to emerge from The X Issue, after One Direction. The group developed a popularity for poppy hits about empowerment, independence and confidence; they spoke about sisterhood and lady energy. They’ve had 5 No 1s within the UK (their first two singles, Cannonball and Wings, adopted by Black Magic, Shout Out To My Ex and Candy Melody). There have been 30 High 40 singles; all six albums have made the highest 4 within the UK (with the primary two, DNA and Salute, reaching numbers 4 and 6 respectively within the US charts); and they’re the one lady group to spend 100 weeks in the UK Top 10. I ask Nelson when she was happiest within the band. Her reply leaves me flabbergasted.

On stage with Little Mix in 2017.
On stage with Little Combine in 2017. {Photograph}: PA

“After we first received put collectively, earlier than all of the TV stuff. We have been all residing at Perrie’s mum’s pub in Essex and, I feel for all of us, it was essentially the most magical time. It was so new and we didn’t know what was going to occur. We’d simply dream about what we thought it was going to be like. We’d all go to Camden and purchase matching outfits. There was no dangerous. It was all good.” This was earlier than episodes had aired, earlier than anybody knew they existed? “Yeah, however don’t get me fallacious. I nonetheless wouldn’t change my journey – it’s made me who I’m at the moment.”

Is there all the time going to be one individual in a bunch who feels “lower than” the others? “I actually do consider that. I might be very shocked to listen to of any band the place everybody felt equal. I don’t assume that’s potential, since you’re all the time going to get in contrast; who they assume appears higher, who they assume sings higher. There’s all the time going to be one individual that folks assume is weaker.” When folks attacked her on social media, was it all the time about her look? “Yeah, it was by no means about my singing or my dancing. It was all the time about how I regarded.”

To be honest, Nelson isn’t the one one who has struggled. In Might, her bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock made a documentary, Race, Pop & Power, through which she talked about how her blackness made her “the least favoured” member of the group. She stated that she felt “like I’ve to work 10 instances tougher and longer to mark my place within the group as a result of my expertise alone isn’t sufficient”.

Nelson’s relationship with social media is advanced, as it’s for therefore many individuals. Alongside the abuse got here adulation. Within the early days, Little Combine’s administration stated all of them needed to get on to platforms equivalent to Twitter and Instagram to spice up their model. Whereas Nelson has skilled surprising abuse, she additionally has a military of supporters (8.2 million followers on Instagram) hanging on her each phrase.

Issues reached a nadir in 2013. Nelson says she was hooked on social media; she couldn’t resist studying what the trolls have been saying, although she knew it could make her sad. She satisfied herself that there was a logic to it – data was energy and he or she was arming herself. Now she is aware of simply how unhealthy it was. “It’s like a drug. I used to be studying it each day. The minute I received up it was the very first thing I did. I’d sort in ‘Jesy Nelson’ after which ‘Jesy Nelson fats’ or ‘Jesy Nelson ugly’, and skim what everybody stated about me.” That’s horrible, I say. “Sure. I used to be making an attempt to mentally put together myself for what was to come back, and get used to what folks have been saying about me.”

Jesy wears corset and trousers: Robert Wun. Shoes: Gina. Necklace and bracelets: Giovanni Raspini. Rings: Mi Manera Jewelry and Boho Moon.Photograph: Perou/The Guardian. Styling: Toni-Blaze Ibekwe. Photographer’s assistants: Melinda Davies, Z Perou. Hair: Christopher Southern using GHD. Makeup:Heidi North at The Wall Group using Nars.
Jesy wears corset and trousers: Robert Wun. Sneakers: Gina. Necklace and bracelets: Giovanni Raspini. Rings: Mi Manera Jewellery and Boho Moon. Styling: Toni-Blaze Ibekwe. Photographer’s assistants: Melinda Davies, Z Perou. Hair: Christopher Southern utilizing GHD. Make-up: Heidi North at The Wall Group utilizing Nars. {Photograph}: Perou/The Guardian

She grew to become afraid of going out, and her absences have been famous by the press. “When it was within the papers that I wasn’t turning as much as work, it was simply, ‘Oh, Jesy’s not nicely,’ however actually I used to be hiding away. I didn’t wish to get papped as a result of I’d received so insecure about the way in which I regarded. There have been instances I didn’t need anybody to take a look at me. I felt everyone hated me. I didn’t know what I used to be doing fallacious, and it consumed me.” She began referring to herself as an “ugly rat”.

Magazines typically featured her, and there have been solely two matters – she was gaining weight or reducing weight. The extra she examine herself, the extra she went on excessive diets. It grew to become a vicious circle of self-loathing. “I’d solely eat a packet of ham for a day or drink Weight-reduction plan Coke for per week and never eat something. After which I keep in mind, attending to my skinniest at one level, I went on the Day by day Mail web site, which I used to be obsessive about, and there was a pap image of me and the headline was about me reducing weight. All of the feedback have been about ‘Oh my God she’s far too skinny, she appears terrible,’ and I keep in mind feeling so completely happy as a result of that’s all I’d ever wished.” She pauses. “Now I look again, it’s mad. I went to see a therapist and he or she stated, ‘You understand that’s an consuming dysfunction, don’t you?’ I by no means realised simply ingesting Weight-reduction plan Coke for per week was an consuming dysfunction. My supervisor stated, ‘Jesy, you’re so tiny, you’ve received physique dysmorphia.’”

Did the ladies inform her the identical factor? “Sure, on a regular basis, but it surely didn’t matter to me as a result of every part I learn was the other.”

In November 2013, Little Combine returned to The X Issue for a visitor go to. At this level, Nelson had already been criticised for shedding an excessive amount of weight. After their look, rightwing rent-a-mouth Katy Hopkins tweeted: “Packet Combine have nonetheless received a chubber of their ranks. Much less Little Combine. Extra Decide n Combine.” Nelson knew she shouldn’t let something Hopkins stated get to her, but it surely did. “I believed, what’s the fucking level? I’m actually ravenous myself. I’ve drunk Weight-reduction plan Coke for per week and I’m nonetheless getting known as fats. I went into a very darkish place and did what I did.” She took an overdose and was taken to hospital.

Her mom was devastated. “I feel she felt like a nasty mum – that she didn’t know the way dangerous it was. She was actually dissatisfied in herself, which completely crushes me, as a result of there was no means Mum may have identified it was that dangerous until I’d sat down and spoken to her about it. Mum wished me to come back out of the group. My mum, nonetheless to at the present time, would slightly me return to being a barmaid than doing this.”

Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock with their mothers at the Brit Awards in 2016.
Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall, Jesy Nelson and Leigh-Anne Pinnock with their moms on the Brit Awards in 2016. {Photograph}: Getty Photos

Her brother, a property developer, stated she ought to stick it out and issues would get higher. “He’s a troublesome cookie, and I’m actually glad he did say that as a result of I wouldn’t be right here now if I’d give up.” She implies that if she had left Little Combine again then, she doubts she would have gone on to have a solo profession. “He knew I used to be stronger than that and it was only a part that I may get by way of.”

For some time issues did enhance. She deleted her Twitter account – for Nelson, essentially the most aggressive of social media platforms. In the meantime, Little Combine continued to get pleasure from nice success within the singles and albums charts. However in 2018 a spat between their administration firm, Modest!, and their report label, Simon Cowell’s Syco, resulted in a switch to RCA, one other label below the Sony Music umbrella. Nelson says Little Combine have been the collateral injury. “The incident that led to us leaving the label was nothing to do with us as a band. It was to do with different folks that labored for us. We didn’t wish to go away.” For as soon as her language turns into a little bit cautious. She laughs and says it’s at instances like this that she misses having the ladies round her.

Nelson thinks the transfer to RCA was disastrous. “It was only a bit shit as a result of we beloved our complete staff. When Little Combine began out, and for a very long time, we have been very genuine. We’d go in and write collectively, however as we received older and altered label, we misplaced coronary heart in it a bit. We got songs and I hated them. I used to be like, ‘I don’t wish to be on them – I don’t just like the music.’ I don’t ever wish to be an artist that places out one thing I don’t consider in.”

Then got here the pandemic and lockdown, which proved life-changing. “I really feel actually dangerous saying this, however in lockdown it was the happiest I’ve ever been. I used to be isolating with my finest good friend, and we simply pissed round and laughed each day. I’d not felt a real internal happiness like that for a really very long time.”

Jesy Nelson wearing a green jacket
Jesy wears jacket by Versace, from Ninetyfly. Styling: Toni-Blaze Ibekwe. Photographer’s assistants: Melinda Davies, Z Perou. Hair: Christopher Southern utilizing GHD. Make-up: Heidi North at The Wall Group utilizing Nars. {Photograph}: Perou/The Guardian

Final October Little Combine returned to work to make a video for the one Candy Melody. “In lockdown I’d simply turn into a little bit porky pig and eaten no matter I wished, after which they’d sprung on us two weeks prior, ‘Oh, you’ve received a music video.’ I received in a panic as a result of I’d placed on weight.” The panic was exacerbated by the styling for the video. “They have been like, ‘You’ve received to put on a bikini!’ Clearly, I don’t have to put on it, however I knew I couldn’t be in a video with the opposite three sporting a bikini and me in a dressing robe. I received in such a state about having to shed pounds in two weeks and put on a bikini. I went again to work and was actually down about myself.”

Ultimately, she wore a corset whereas the others displayed their midriffs. Nelson was typically dressed in a different way from the others in movies. For instance, whereas they wore white, she would typically put on black. “I by no means wished to put on white as a result of I believed white made me look fats,” she says. “So I’d put on black and there could be this fixed joke on-line amongst followers: “Oh, somebody forgot to inform Jesy in regards to the white memo.”

Simply earlier than Little Combine appeared on BBC Radio 1’s Dwell Lounge, Nelson had a panic assault and Perrie Edwards needed to take over her half. She’d had them beforehand, however by no means performance-related. “I used to be having these panic assaults out of nowhere. I couldn’t perceive what was occurring. It received to the purpose the place I believed, that is an excessive amount of – I want to come back out of this now.”

Nelson has been calm, however begins to cry. “I did the music video and had a panic assault, and it was fairly psychological that day. God, I haven’t actually spoken about it and I’m getting upset. Sorry.” She brushes her tears away. “After the video I simply received again in a very darkish place and ended up again in hospital. That was when my mum stated, ‘No extra.’” The tears are nonetheless falling, and he or she grabs one other tissue. “I had already determined. Then the ladies spoke to Mum and stated, ‘We predict Jesy ought to come out of this now. She has to take care of herself.’” So ultimately it was their choice as a lot as hers? “Yeah,” she says. “Yeah. I do know there are individuals who assume I’ve let the opposite women down, and that I’m so egocentric, however I do assume there comes a time in life once you do should be egocentric and take care of your self, and it was actually affecting me mentally.”

What added to the damage, she says, is that there have been individuals who made it clear they have been glad to see the again of her. “Sure folks on my staff didn’t care.” She involves a cease. “I’m not speaking in regards to the women. There have been folks on my staff who knew how I used to be feeling and didn’t give a shit. They simply weren’t bothered.” She means administration? “Yep. There was an power after I walked right into a room. I felt there have been sure folks on my staff who simply didn’t need me to be there.”

I ask whether or not her unhappiness has made it powerful for the ladies over time. “In fact. Course. We’ve all had our personal issues. Nevertheless it’s by no means good to be round somebody who’s down and doesn’t wish to be there. As a lot as I wanted to come back out of it for myself, I didn’t wish to maintain placing three different folks by way of that as nicely.”

Now Little Combine is a trio, two of whom are pregnant. Does she assume the group will keep collectively? “I reckon they’ll take care of their infants, go off and do their very own issues for some time, then make a comeback collectively. I feel they’re simply as sick as a 3. They’re nonetheless doing it for lady energy. I nonetheless love them to items. They have been like my sisters.” Has she been in contact with them? “No, not as a lot. Not now. I feel all of us want time. It’s an enormous factor that’s occurred.”


In March, three months after leaving Little Combine, Nelson introduced she was going solo and had signed a cope with Polydor. Whereas the response from followers was constructive, the trolls have been again in pressure. They claimed she had used psychological well being as an excuse and had all the time deliberate the brand new profession. For the one time at the moment, she sounds defensive. First, she insists, she was in no state to plan a solo profession when she give up. Second, she had by no means dominated one out. “What I’ve stated about 1,000,000 instances is that I by no means stated I’m popping out of the band to by no means be within the public eye once more. I stated I’m popping out of Little Combine as a result of I couldn’t cope with the stress of being in a lady band, not that I can’t cope with the pressures of being within the highlight or being well-known.”

It’s eight years since she deleted her Twitter account. These days, she says she tries to not learn the damaging stuff, and if she does she will be able to address it. “Hand on my coronary heart, it’s like water off a duck’s again now.” I want I may consider her. She nonetheless appears delicate to pile-ons. In Might she was accused on social media of “blackfishing” – a time period used to explain white individuals who have altered their look to the extent that they appear racially ambiguous. “I might by no means wish to offend anybody, and that was actually upsetting. I wasn’t conscious that’s how folks felt.” She sounds bewildered by the allegation.

In the 2019 documentary, Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out.
Within the 2019 documentary, Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out. {Photograph}: BBC

This time spherical, Nelson says, she’s decided to not succumb to the snipers. She believes she has discovered her voice in additional methods than one. Along with talking out about bullying, she feels she’s testing herself vocally. “In a bunch, you by no means actually get to point out off who you’re since you get allotted a component. So now I’m doing this, I get to sing how I need.”

Nelson’s despatched me one in every of her new songs known as Boyz. It’s R&B influenced, with a component of hip-hop thrown in for good measure (together with a pattern from P Diddy’s Dangerous Boy For Life.) Within the music, co-written with producers Free Change, she calls herself out for being interested in dangerous boys.

Really, she says, it’s not fairly so easy with regards to relationships. “All however one handled me so pretty, like a princess. However a yr down the road I get a bit bored they usually turn into my good friend. I’m all the time extra interested in somebody who retains me on my toes, which sounds psychological, however that’s what excites me.”

Over the previous yr she had an intense on-off relationship with actor Sean Sagar. He moved into her Essex dwelling earlier than the third lockdown, then they broke up; they unfollowed one another on Instagram in March. I ask if Boyz is devoted to him. She laughs. “I don’t really feel I’ve devoted it to him. With my ex, it was the primary time I’d been with somebody the place I wasn’t in management. I fell head over heels in love with him.” Was he controlling her? “Let’s simply say it was nothing like how I’d been handled earlier than. I believed that’s what I wished. I wished to be saved on my toes and have that chase, and hand on my coronary heart I don’t ever need that once more.”

Going solo, she says, appears to swimsuit her. “A part of me feels I ought to be single for ever as a result of in relationships it’s important to sacrifice a lot. I like waking up and figuring out at the present time is only for me and I don’t want to fret about anybody however me. I’m actually not on the lookout for a relationship any extra.”

Maybe the issue is that males simply aren’t that nice? She beams. “I want I favored girls, I actually do. I stated that to my sister the opposite day as a result of she’s homosexual. I stated, ‘Jade, I want I beloved girls,’ and he or she was like, ‘Effectively, simply strive it – you by no means know.’ And I stated, ‘No, I really like males an excessive amount of.’ I simply love the way in which males odor, I really like muscle groups, and ladies don’t have that, do they?” Some do, I say. “Ha ha! I’ll by no means rule it out, I’ll simply say that.”

For now, Jesy Nelson goes to give attention to herself. “I really feel you solely get one shot to make your influence as a solo artist, so I’m going all weapons blazing. I don’t need folks to be, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ or ‘I anticipated her to try this.’ I need folks to be, ‘Fuck my life, she’s right here!’”

I remind her what her bandmate Jade Thirlwall stated about her changing into a damaged doll. Did she recognise that? “Sure!” If she was a damaged doll then, what’s she now? “Now? I’m a dolly that’s been put again collectively once more. I’m not going to say I’m a brand new dolly; I’m not going to sit down right here and say, ‘Oh my God, I’m not insecure any extra, I’m essentially the most assured individual ever,’ as a result of that may be bullshit.” If she’s going to remain wholesome, she says, it’s vital that she’s trustworthy with herself – and her followers. “I nonetheless have my insecurities and I most likely all the time will, but it surely’s studying the way to cope with them and accepting them. I nonetheless have days after I get down, however I’m undoubtedly not damaged. That’s for certain.”

Jesy Nelson’s debut single shall be launched within the autumn by Polydor Information.

Within the UK and Eire, Samaritans will be contacted on 116 123 or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]. Within the US, the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the disaster assist service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Different worldwide helplines will be discovered at www.befrienders.org.

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