Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Boasts of drug taking and life in a girl gang. Say hello to X Factor's new judge Tulisa

By Alison Boshoff

Greek grenade: But Tulisa's PR people insist her hellraising days are behind her as she joins X Factor as a judge

The sun has risen over Ibiza by 7am, but the clubbers are still chasing a good time in Pacha nightclub.

One group, fuelled by champagne and vodka shots, is more raucous than most, and includes a young woman with bleached hair wearing masses of gold jewellery, with a huge tattoo covering her back and shoulder.

She has put up her hair using knickers as a hairband – an act her pals find hysterically funny.

The partygoer is Tula Paulinea Contostavlos, known as Tulisa, who will replace Cheryl Cole on the X Factor judging panel.

Simon Cowell thinks she is ‘fantastic’, and has decreed that Tulisa, who has had three hit albums with hip-hop group N-Dubz, is what the show needs to give it more ‘edge’.

Her £500,000 deal has just been finalised and she will judge the first X Factor auditions in Birmingham today.

She is, though, a somewhat controversial choice for a prime-time family entertainment show.

Tulisa, 22, has not only admitted to frequent drug use in her past, but was also a member of a violent girl gang as a teenager.

Known as the ‘Greek Grenade’ because of her hell-raising tendencies, her PR people insist her bad behaviour is behind her, but only last year, she was asked to leave a hotel in Miami after trashing her room following a drunken night out.

What’s more, in 2009, she was involved in a late-night fight outside a convenience store in North London that left one man with knife wounds and Tulisa in court as a defence witness.

Tulisa’s then-fiance, Adam Bailey, admitted to swinging a baseball bat ‘in self-defence’ during the scuffle, and Tulisa said a youth had pulled a gun on her.

A man was found nearby suffering a stab wound to his abdomen.

Bailey was charged with – but later cleared of – wounding with intent. Tulisa was arrested, but no further action was taken.

Pop success: Tulisa, centre, with N-Dubz bandmates Dino 'Dappy' Contostavlos, her cousin, left, and Richard 'Fazer' Rawson, right

So why would Cowell choose a woman with such a chequered past to help front the reinvention of X Factor?

A source close to the deal said: ‘The producers love her because she is opinionated, young and credible. She likes to tell it how it is.’

That’s something of an understatement, since Tulisa holds opinions that are as vulgar as they are inarticulate.

She told one of her Twitter followers they were ‘ugly’, adding: ‘Shame ur mum didn’t aborted u.’

Down with the kids: Tulisa performing with N-Dubz. Simon Cowell hopes she will lend the X Factor 'credibility'

There have been reports that during a screen-test with X Factor bosses, Tulisa swore so much that the executives turned pale with fear, although her management deny this.

However, Tulisa is unapologetic about her bad language, saying it’s just the way she had to be while growing up in a council flat in Camden, North London.

In fairness, she had a tougher childhood than most. Her mother Ann Byrne, a singer, was diagnosed with schizophrenic disorder when Tulisa was a baby.

Tulisa also endured severe bullying at school, where she was set upon repeatedly, and on one occasion had a bottle smashed over her head.

Tough childhood: Tulisa with her mother, Ann Byrne, a singer, who suffers from schizophrenic disorder

She attempted suicide aged 14 by swallowing painkillers. Three years later, she slashed her wrists.

By then, she was smoking marijuana and drinking heavily. When she was 14, she started having heart palpitations because of her drug use.

One day she blacked out. ‘I woke up in an ambulance and never smoked weed again,’ she said.

Troubled teen: Tulisa ran with a girl gang and smoked weed - until a bad experience encouraged her to give it up

She also fell in with a group of older girls at 15. ‘There were about 20 of us. We would go around starting on people for no reason,’ she said.

‘In the years before that I’d been getting beaten up and would take the beatings. But now I was the bully.’

Tulisa’s escape came via music. When she was 11, her uncle Byron asked her to join a band with her cousin Dappy and his best friend Fazer.

The three started recording at a local studio, and Uncle Byron funded them by working as a hairdresser six days a week.

They were on the brink of success in 2007 when Byron died suddenly at the age of 50, but the band pressed ahead with their first album, called Uncle B in his memory.

Tulisa said: ‘He saw us as famous pop stars and convinced us it could happen.’

And it did. Their big break came when they hired Jonathan Shalit, known for guiding the careers of Charlotte Church and Myleene Klass, as their manager.

It is Shalit who has helped smooth over numerous whiffs of scandal, and most likely Shalit who encouraged Tulisa to tone down her reputation as a hellraiser.

Perhaps that’s why she said on television recently: ‘I don’t condone drugs. I have never taken them and I never will.’ It was a curious declaration given her previous confessions.

Shalit said: ‘She is the sensible matriarch. She is definitely the clean-living one.’

That’s probably true – though, of course, it’s all relative. Whether Tulisa can control her wilder outbursts enough to front a family show like X Factor is another matter altogether.


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