Issue No. 133, February 2001
JUST GOOD FRIENDS - FHM gets a privileged and exclusive peek behind the doors of naughty neighbours Donna Air and Natalie Appleton.
The magical world of television would have you believe that ladies who live with each other are ugly old war horses. In the Seventies there was The Liver Birds which followed the fortunes of Beryl and Sandra, two cheeky Scouse trollops holed up in a badly decorated Liverpudlian flat. While in the Nineties we've been subjected to the exploits of two dumpy Essex girls in Birds Of A Feather, who spend their time moaning about their husbands holed up in the slammer, while suffering 'hilarious' sexual innuendoes from their oversexed next door neighbour.
However, in reality the fairer sex who set up home together can be a lot prettier, and this month's cover stars Donna Air and Natalie Appleton are a prime example. The best friends for the past three years, who have never been photographed together for a magazine before, have recently bought adjoining apartments next door to each other in London's trendy Belsize Park.
"It was just one of those things, we were both looking for new places to live and thought it would be cool to live next door to each other," says All Saint Natalie. "Who knows if it is a good idea or not, but we'll find out, ha ha!"
"Everybody seems to think that Natalie and I go out to celebrity bashes all the time, but we don't, we spend more evenings in doing our washing together or go for cups of tea and eggs benedict," says The Big Breakfast's Donna. "Our favourite evening is in front of the TV watching Jerry Springer - eating cheese and biscuits."
During FHM's exclusive photoshoot, a situation crops up in which your mother's childhood scolding that - "it's rude to stare" - resonates with truth. Through too much jiggling at close quarters, Natalie's left side of her red, glittery bikini has taken hold and refused to let go of Donna Air's right breast. What follows is much shuffling of feet and staring at shoes, trying to look anywhere but at the girls giggling attempts to free their entwined boobies.
Natalie and Donna have been close friends since 1997, despite working in a business where most friendships are either used as a stepping stone to the next big thing or where your 'friends' are nice to your face while stabbing you in the back the next day via a 'close personal chum' in the tabloids. According to Donna, the first time she met Natalie was at the London media hang-out: The Met Bar.
"I remember Natalie was really sweet," says 21-year-old Donna. "You meet a lot of girls who aren't like that, and we hit it off straight away. Sometimes when you chit-chat with people and you say, 'Oh we must keep in touch,' you know that they won't call you. But with Natalie I knew we would talk again. I guess I'm a guarded person and don't let many people into my life." However, Natalie seems to have the better memory and is sure that the first time they struck up conversation was on MTV Select.
"Believe me, I'm the one telling the truth," attests 27-year-old Nat. "It just became a sibling kind of thing, I took her under my wing and showed feelings."
Both girls' careers in showbiz started at an early age. When Geordie girl Donna was 10 she starred alongside cheeky TV presenters Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly as wide-eyed Charlie Charlton on children's soap Byker Grove. "The only thing I'd done before Byker Grove was being featured as Alice In Beanoland in The Beano,"explains Donna. "But I did Byker Grove for five years and I really grew up on set. It's only now when I do acting that I realise how much I learnt."
While Canadian Natalie put her dreams of being a dentist on hold - "I had a fascination with teeth, whenever I meet a man, the first thing I check out is their teeth" - and went to stage school at the age of ten. But unfortunately, her four years there were an unhappy time...
"It was a complete waste of effort," she says. "There was too much competition at such a young age. I would never send my child to stage school. You're very spoilt and smothered and it wasn't like the real world. If you're not pretty enough, you're not good enough."
Although Donna has been extremely successful as a TV presenter and Natalie has topped the charts twice in 2000 with All Saints, they've both made ill-fated stabs at movie careers. Donna starred as a Dutch backpacker with a very strange accent in crap rock movie Still Crazy, while Natalie's turn as 'Mandy' in Sixties crime thriller Honest was torpedoed by the critics. However, this hasn't stopped both girls looking to continue to forge a successful career in acting.
"I filmed a very brief role for The Mummy 2," says Donna. "I play John Hannah's girlfriend Sheila, who's a showgirl. You'll have to watch closely because if you blink you'll miss me. I don't get eaten by a mummy or anything, I just get thrown out of the room."
"I enjoy acting, so if another opportunity comes up and it's the right film then I'll do it," says Natalie. "I don't like costume period dramas but I like English gangster films, so if one of those comes up I'll have to consider it. I love it when Donna comes home with her scripts, she gets excited and I get excited for her."
Why do you think you and Natalie get on so well?
Donna: You sometimes have these special relationships and there's no particular reason why. It's just a bond you can't explain. I consider Nat to be my family now, we just have a connection, it's not one specific thing, it can't be described.
Natalie: I think a lot of it has to do with humour and most friendships last because of humour. I find Donna really funny. She's completely the opposite of me in a lot of ways, but her natural being is just funny to me.
Do you get Natalie to give her opinion on your boyfriends?
Donna: Natalie never likes anyone I go out with. It's actually getting quite ridiculous. She calls them 'dumbasses'. The thing is, she's usually right - often the people closest to you can see through people before you can, so she doesn't do it without reason. If they don't get on with Natalie then that's it, because if they can't get on with Nat, it's over. I've taken Natalie out on our first dates before.
Natalie: Donna trusts my opinion, she knows I'm a good judge of character. She's a little bit younger than me, and she needs someone around to be parental and give her a hug. When I was growing up I remember I beat up my sister Nicky's first boyfriend when he dumped her. I gave him a big whack to the face. Thankfully I've calmed down a lot since then. To be fair, I do like some of Donna's boyfriends, I introduced her to the last one. Up to now Donna has had no impact on my relationships, but she's always there to pick up the pieces.
So Donna, with Natalie's strict vetting system, do you find it difficult to find a suitable man?
Donna: I've been on a couple of dinner dates, but it's really hard for me. It's so frustrating because every time I try and have a relationship it's not happening because I find my mind is not on it - I have so much to think about at the moment. I had a brilliant three years with a guy, then had one relationship which I don't think was very lucky. But then we all have one where we make a bad choice, and you have to learn from these things, put it down to experience and move on.
Do you wear each other's clothes?
Donna: Oh yes, all the time. I have three wardrobes, I have a wardrobe at work, one at home and then Natalie's. We have very different styles. Natalie would never wear my flowery slippers and floaty skirts, she just looks at them and goes, "What is that?" I prefer more feminine clothes. Natalie likes punky stuff with studs and chains. I'm more of a plain person, although I wouldn't say I was dull.
Natalie: Donna borrows all my clothes, but I don't wear any of Donna's. I unfortunately don't fit into a lot of them, they are too narrow. And she has the ugliest pair of shoes I've ever seen, they are Tango orange. She has a weird taste in clothes, but she gets away with wearing things that no-one else can.
Are you Auntie Donna to Natalie's daughter Rachel?
Donna: Oh yeah, but we are nothing compared to her, she's the star. She's just finished her first movie. She plays the young Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider film. Round at Natalie's house it's manic, with Nat's three sisters and me yakking non-stop, but Rachel shuts us up in ten seconds.
Natalie: My acting agent put her on her books and then sent Rachel for a casting for the movie. The director Simon West fell in love with her immediately. Unfortunately I was working with All Saints so my mum did the chaperoning bit, taking her to Pinewood and back.
The tabloids love printing scandalous stories about the antics of The Appleton Sisters, how do you cope with that?
Natalie: It just seems really sad, and I think, "What's the big deal?" They seem to have such interest in us all the time. I'm like, "Aren't you bored by it yet? Enough already." I've got to the stage now where I'm so numb that I simply don't care anymore.
Donna: Natalie gets stressed out a lot, she has such a lot to cope with, she's so busy all the time and has a child to look out for. The press are always running nasty stories about the Appleton sisters, so I just try and help her to chill out.
When you were 16 you were in the pop group Crush, do you ever think about resurrecting your pop career, maybe with Natalie?
Donna: No. Crush were very big in Japan and Texas for some reason. The cowboys loved me, ha ha! I know what I'm good at, and singing is not one of them.
Natalie: I started singing when I was four - doing Elvis impersonations. It was fantastic, my lip would curl up and my knee would go wobbly and I'd sing Blue Suede Shoes. Then my mum used to make me sing in bars in New York. It wasn't scary, it was what I wanted to do. The toughest audiences were when I was singing to police and firemen conventions. My mum used to sit nearby and make sure nothing got out of hand.
Before you joined All Saints, did you have any dead-end jobs?
Natalie: I've done loads of jobs, but working as a babysitter has to be the worst. Kids can be such brats and so mean. I remember once I had all these children to look after, and they were pissing me off. So I sat them down and made them watch the horror movie Cujo. They were all terrified. I thought, "Yeah, fuck you!"
Donna, up until recently you were always in the papers at celebrity bashes getting trashed - are you giving it a rest now?
Donna: I'm not boring, I do like a Saturday night out, but my whole lifestyle has had to be re-adjusted. In the week, I work from 4am till 7pm, and Fridays I work from 4am to midnight, so I can't do both. To be honest, I've done enough partying for the whole of the next millennium.
Natalie: Of course we've had some wild nights out, that's what you do with your mates. But I couldn't give too much away, all I can say is we didn't get in till the early hours of the morning.
So nowadays, are you in bed every night before EastEnders comes on?
Donna: I go to bed so early. I have an obsession at the moment for pyjamas, duvets and dressing gowns. I like building my nest at home. Actually, I set fire to my bed the other night. I'm such a nerd, I'm so not cool. I'd lit some candles in my bedroom, went out of the room, came back in and my duvet was alight. I whipped it off the bed, stamped on the flames and then got a bucket of water. I'm so clumsy, I think it's the hours I'm putting in at The Big Breakfast.
Donna, as well as presenting TV shows, you own your own TV production company, Airhead Productions. Do you encounter people who think you are just a blonde, thick TV presenter?
Donna: I am, ha ha! I have to do most of my work in the mornings as I do get very stupid in the afternoons - my brain goes to mush. I sometimes don't know how I manage to pull off these shows, as I get my sentences all back to front and stuff.
Natalie, is it true that when you were at school in New York you were a cheerleader?
Natalie: Yes, I wasn't the cheerleader captain though, because I was too young. I don't think people realise how hard cheerleading is. You had to run round the track three times during practice and when it rained, the pom-poms would get real heavy. Of course we'd also be freezing our asses off because the skirts were very short. But it did have its perks - I went out with the best-looking football player.
And finally Donna, what would you say are Natalie's bad points?
Donna: There aren't any, apart from the fact that her dog keeps making love to my legs, ha ha!
Natalie: My chihuahua is my life, she is small and gorgeous with these big bulbous eyes. She's very convenient for my lifestyle. I don't have to take her out much because she gets enough exercise in the house, and when she craps on the floor, they're not that big. The only problem is that she bites everyone. She bites Donna, but she's just made friends with my boyfriend, so that's a big step overcome.