MAKING a comeback is no easy feat – but this iconic duo are having a cheeky go at it
Romanian pop duo The Cheeky Girls – comprising identical twin sisters Gabriela and Monica Irima, 39 – have released their first new track since shooting to stardom 20 years ago.
They catapulted to fame on Popstars: The Rivals and despite being branded the “worst act ever” by judge Peter Waterman, they found a strong fanbase that saw them land four top three singles.
But the highs were followed by crippling lows, including eating disorders and botched boob jobs, and the pair were left penniless.
Here we take a closer look at the pair’s rollercoaster career and personal life.
Toured care homes before bankruptcy
In 2002 the girls’ now iconic debut single, Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) went straight to number two in December and sold 1.2million copies globally.
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Their success was followed up with both Take Your Shoes Off and (Hooray Hooray) It’s a Cheeky Holiday landing in the top three.
However, just four years later it all came crashing down as their record label collapsed and left them with no earnings.
They were given a £40,000 advance when they signed their record deal, but by the time it fell through they were reportedly owed more than £1million.
It left the twins with cash-flow issues and in a bid to get some income, they made holiday camp and nightclub appearances paying around £300.
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They even resorted to doing a tour of care homes in a bid to get their finances back on track – but it wasn’t enough.
Gabriela told the Evening Standard: “For two years we worked flat out thinking we would make a lot of money. But after all that we hardly have change for a drink.
“Everybody in the street thinks we’re millionaires and imagines we lead these glamorous lives but the reality is very different.”
In 2006 they were declared bankrupt and owed £60,000 in taxes.
Struggles with eating disorder
And it wasn’t just financial woes they were struggling with.
The siblings, who are trained ballerinas and gymnasts, began to develop eating disorders as a result of feeling isolated from their support networks.
At the height of their devastating illness, they both weighed just six and a half stone.
“It happened just like that – we didn’t have control over our life at all, over our career, so what do you control the best, what you put in your mouth basically,” Gabriela said on ITV’s Lorraine in 2016.
“We didn’t even realise it, we were just sick overnight.”
In a bid to keep their issues with food under wraps they boycotted fancy events over fears of canapes being served and starved themselves in their London flat for five years.
While both are in recovery for their eating disorder, it has left them with serious damage including arthritis in their spines and knees, kidney stones, digestive damage and memory loss.
Gabriela added: “Our memories are quite lost now – looking back at some pictures when we travelled all around the Far East and around Europe, I’m looking at the picture and saying to myself, ‘Did I actually go there?’
“I can’t remember because I had been sick at the time.”
Botched £100k surgery
Their struggles with their appearance didn’t end there and they felt pressure to undergo boob jobs after being sidelined for a bustier woman in their music video for Cheeky Holiday.
Monica and Gabriela went under the knife a shocking nine times, costing £100,000 in total.
But their first operation was a disaster, leaving both girls with bad results from the surgery.
Monica told the Daily Mail: “[Gabriela’s] were the worst. One breast was up and one breast was down and they were facing different directions. She looked like a freak, honestly.”
Describing her own, she continued: “Imagine two apples stuck on you, it looked exactly like that. It looked horrible and disgusting.”
Reflecting on the decision to have the body-altering operations, Gabriela said: “At the age of 19 we never really had an issue with our body, but the moment we started being pop stars and being in the glamour and being in the industry…
“It was a lot of pressure coming from everywhere so this was the first reason why we took some action – we thought it was going to make our career even better at the time.”
Motoring into a new career
More recently the girls have been back on TV on Coach Trip and in 2016 Monica participated in a documentary about young people struggling to find employment in the UK and Hungary.
Last year, they reinvented themselves as car dealers, with Gabriela first to dip her toes in the motoring world.
Monica followed in her sister’s footsteps at a different dealership in Lincolnshire.
She said: “I think the British public have a perception that if you are, or have been, in the public eye or a pop star, you’re not allowed to try something else.
“I always said it’s no shame to work, it’s a shame not to work. We’ve chosen another career path and we are very, very proud of it.
“I’ve got a passion for cars, so it’s not just the selling bit, but I like the buzz of selling and making people happy.”
She later added: “Gigs all disappeared for two years during Covid but we didn’t stop making money. Sometimes we only sleep two-three hours to do the gigs and get to work, but it’s worth it.”
Even their mother approves of the move, claiming that her daughters couldn’t be Cheeky Girls in their 60s.
Doomed MP romance
True to form, their love lives haven’t been plain sailing either.
In 2006 Gabriela started dating Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who was 17 years her senior after he split from ITV weather presenter fiancee Sian Lloyd.
Lembit described her as the “love of my life” and took her on their first date two weeks after they met.
Surprisingly their large age gap didn’t prove a problem, but the performer claims they didn’t have a healthy relationship and she started avoiding his calls.
She said: “Not a very nice thing to do but he wanted to stay on the phone for three hours, maybe more. I would speak for three minutes and the rest was him.
“I would fall asleep on the kitchen table with the telephone to my ear at four o’clock in the morning. So tired! I couldn’t handle it anymore.”
The pair went their separate ways in July 2008 due to a series of alleged heated rows.
Since then Gabriela has dated out of the spotlight and was last linked to a Romanian man who is not thought to be famous.
Sister Monica has been luckier in love and married building contractor Shaun Taylor in 2016.
He proposed to her in Paris after four years together and they tied the knot in Goldsborough, North Yorkshire.
Her mum Magrit said at the time: “He’s a very special boy. He goes to all her shows and has bought her many presents – including a car. Her engagement ring has a huge diamond.”
The path to true love and happiness never did run smooth, but it seems like both girls are on the right track.