Steps star Claire Richards says yo-yo dieting has left her infertile and she doesn’t deserve IVF
She shot to fame as one-fifth of bubblegum pop group Steps. And in the 14 years since they disbanded, Claire Richards has remained in the spotlight with stints on Lorraine, Loose Women, her own shows, and a reunion. But she admits she’s become almost as well known for her yo-yo dieting. Blonde-bobbed Claire has lost and gained between four and six stone, an amazing six times, and knows questions about her size are not going to go away. “I have accepted people will always want to know what my weight is,” she says. “It has dominated so much of my life.” But Claire does not do violins. “When I lose weight, people come and tell me I’ve inspired them. I really like that,” she says. “But when I gain weight, I get trolled online by keyboard warriors who think they have the right to judge what my scales say.
Healthy now: Claire Richards with her husband Reece Hill and their children Charlie (left) and Daisy
“You can’t win, so I stopped trying to please people, apart from my family, a long time ago. I am who I am and I weigh what I weigh. It just happens to change a lot.” The mum of two, 37, is in her healthiest shape for a long time, after losing six stone in two years. It’s been a steady weight loss that she finally feels she can maintain. And she’s hit back at internet bullies who label her anorexic for the dramatic change. The diet began in 2013, when Claire and husband Reece Hill decided to try for a third child. It came after she made it to the Celebrity Big Brother final in January that year. With the baby plan getting nowhere, Claire’s doctor suggested the 5ft 6in star’s size might be the problem – she was creeping towards 16st. And so the weight loss began. By spring this year, Claire had dropped to a size 10 and around nine-and-a-half stone. But with still no joy on the baby front, Claire went back to the doctor.
Steps star: Claire Richards, Lee Latchford-Evans, Lisa Scott-Lee, Ian ‘H’ Watkins and Faye Tozer
He gave her the shattering news her constant yo-yo dieting may have damaged her hormone levels to such an extent she might never conceive again naturally. He suggested IVF, but Claire does not feel she deserves the treatment. She says: “I feel I only have myself to blame, so it would be unfair to go down that road when there are so many couples who have not been blessed with any kids and it is their only option – and when they haven’t done it to themselves like I have. “I guess maybe I feel I don’t deserve to be third time lucky. IVF just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do to my body. “And even though I have always wanted three children, and my children want a brother or sister, I now have left it to nature. “We are not going to stop hoping, but we are not trying as intensely as we were. I am a strong believer that if it’s meant to be, fate can always find a way.” She adds: “My husband is in the same mind as me, really, he said to not blame myself. When the doctor first told me, I was annoyed at myself and then upset and horrified I might have caused the problem. “But I have become calmer about things and we are counting our blessings.
“We are very lucky to have a family and all be together in a house we love. I have to remind myself some people don’t have any of those things, so I never take it for granted and have stopped beating myself up over it.” And Claire has her career to take her mind off the heartbreak. As well as singing at the Pete Waterman tribute show at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday night, Claire has been working on solo material. “Despite all the celebrity hoo-ha and magazine cover lines about the way I look, I am a singer first and foremost,” she says. “It would be nice to try and turn it around and get back to being known for what I love so much. “I’m hoping this will be the year I can release some material and people will concentrate on sales charts, not size charts.” Claire’s obsession with food began during her time in Steps. The group – Faye Tozer, Lisa Scott-Lee, Ian “H” Watkins and Lee Latchford Evans – formed in 1997 and stormed the charts with four albums and three compilations.
Bandmates: Steps Lisa Scott Lee, Ian Watkins, Faye Tozer, Lee Latchford Evans and Claire Richards
They scored two No1 singles, Tragedy and Stomp, and in 1999 supported Britney Spears on tour. After splitting in 2001, they had a reunion in 2011 and remain friends. But despite their success Claire, then a size eight, felt driven at the height of their fame to stay thin at all costs. She says: “I definitely had an eating disorder back then. I wasn’t diagnosed, but for four years at least I exercised like crazy. I ate as little as I could possibly get away with.” When the band split, Claire started to pile on the pounds. By 2007, when she had son Charlie, now eight, she was a size 20. Claire went on a crash diet before her wedding the following year – when she also released her 5 Step Fat Attack workout DVD – and got down to a size 10 in around nine months by training five days a week and eating specially delivered diet meals. But it was not a sustainable regime, and after the wedding the weight crept up again. After the birth of her daughter Daisy, now five, Claire was nearly a size 18. “Then I lost it again. Then I gained it again. God, it’s awful isn’t it?” she says.
Super slimmer: Claire Richards in 2010
Today, Claire eats 1,000 calories a day, sticking to small portions of yoghurt and fruit, salad with tomato and mozzarella, and chicken and vegetables. She allows herself a mini Magnum on her son’s school’s “ice cream Fridays” and a glass of wine at the end of a hectic day. “I’m a mum,” she laughs. And Claire “walks everywhere”. It’s been six months since she reached her target, the longest she has maintained a slim size, and she is determined to keep it up. “I don’t want to struggle to run around after my kids,” she says. “The reality of being big is you have a few more aches and pains. “In the morning I was almost in agony walking down the stairs because my ankles would hurt.” She adds: “I have come to terms with the fact my relationship with food is extreme. It’s always one slip away to be back in the old habits. “But I do feel differently this time, I really believe I will stay at a reasonable weight.”
Weight battle: Claire Richards arriving at the launch of Celebrity Big Brother 2013
Husband Reece’s support is crucial. “He’s never made me feel I need to gain or lose weight or worry about it,” Claire says. “But this time, when I did get a bit lower, around nine stone, he told me to put a bit back on. He was right. I was getting a bit obsessed. I was looking at photos and thinking, ‘I need to lose more.’ “So I checked myself.” And now, Claire would be happy to show off her figure on a show such as Strictly Come Dancing. “Gosh, I would love to do that show,” she says. “I’m not the best dancer but I am in love with the dresses and show dances. We never miss it in our house. “I was asked to do Dancing on Ice once, but I was quite big at the time and I didn’t have the confidence on the ice. I knew I would have ended up breaking something.” Claire performs along with other guest artists at Pete Waterman: A Life in Song at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from southbankcentre.co.uk or 0844 8479910.