They're scandal free and they love their mums - how have B*witched made it so big? Judith Woods meets them in the States
INSIDE the warren of CBS television studios in Los Angeles, a clutch of awestruck under-10s have come face to face with their pop idols. Sucking on their braces, curling sandalled toes inwards, they gaze up, mute and saucer-eyed, at Irish girl band B*witched, who are obligingly filling the excruciating silence with their sing-song Dublin banter.
"We just love meeting the fans," enthuses Edele, flicking back her glossy dark hair with brittle conviction. "Whether they're five or 50, as long as we're giving pleasure to people, then we're happy. We have a lot of parents coming up to us and saying how glad they are that we are role models for their kids, which is wonderful."
Lindsay, dark-eyed and giggly, has meanwhile regressed into the B*witched trademark "baby talk", a high-pitched - and ultimately tiresome - affectation that makes her sound like one of the Teletubbies on helium.
"Hey-oh!" she squeaks by way of greeting, rubbing her head against the band's choreographer, as though she were a cat. He pats her curls indulgently, and continues his conversation with the grown-ups.
The floor is strewn with tiny silver stars, which Lee, B*witched's flamboyantly camp make-up artist, has flung about for good luck, in preparation for the girls' appearance on tonight's nationally networked Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
"Isn't it naughty?" he giggles fruitily. "It's our one B*witched concession to rock 'n' roll."
Quite so. Given that B*witched are four virtually teetotal, drug-free, sexually continent Catholic girls, whose idea of a wild night is playing Pictionary in their hotel room, the odd crazy lapse into bad behaviour can be excused. Besides, they always ensure they vacuum up afterwards.
Tonight's performance marks a watershed in the girls' campaign to crack the notoriously difficult American market. For the past year, B*witched have taken quiet advantage of the Spice Girls' slipstream to sweep up the charts, starting with their first hit, C'est la Vie - a catchy, saccharine number with fiddles hinting at Irish jiggery. All four of their Irish-inflected singles have reached number one, a feat that no other group has achieved.
Their album has gone platinum, with sales of more than 2.7
million worldwide, a million of which were in the United States.
With a tour supporting American band N'Sync under their belts,
and a number nine slot in the Billboard Hot 100 with C'est la Vie,
they have high hopes of making it
The group comprises twins Keavy and Edele Lynch, 19, Lindsay
Armaou, 18, and 21-year-old Sinead O'Carroll. All have musical
backgrounds - they have sung, danced and played instruments from
an early age. In 1997, Sinead fell into conversation with Keavy,
who was working as a trainee mechanic in her father's Dublin
garage, and discovered that they shared an ambition to write
Lindsay then met Keavy at kickboxing classes, whereupon they christened themselves "Desire" (later changed to the wincingly Eurovision "Sassy"), decamped to Sinead's flat and devoted themselves to writing and recording songs on a cheap tape recorder.
Keavy and Edele's brother, Shane, is a member of Boyzone, a fact that helped the girls when they came to look for a record deal, although the twins are keen to distance themselves from accusations of nepotism.
Shane warned them about the unglamorous grind and the early nights, they say. Sinead asserts, rather wildly, that recently the band flew from London to New York, then on to a performance in Denver via a gig in Oklahoma, before heading off to Canada, all in the same evening. But while her recollection may be short on geographical accuracy, it neatly conveys the bizarre dislocation of anonymous hotel rooms and 4am starts that is life on the road.
America, however, is a glittering prize, and to gain a toehold in this massive market, the B*witched tour has taken in all 50 states. From shopping malls to radio roadshows, no venue is deemed too humble for a five-minute spot, no interview request turned down. These months away from home are a speculative investment in potential superstardom.
The three girls who claim to drink alcohol (Edele doesn't like the taste), can't actually remember the last time they enjoyed "an occasional glass of wine". Their wholesomeness is such that, so far, the only authenticated incident of bedhopping was at Hallowe'en, when they stayed up telling each other ghost stories and tumbled in terror into the same kingsize divan.
Edele looks crestfallen when I fail to laugh uproariously at this, and (not for the first time), I feel like a raddled old cynic. But then, B*witched radiate a curious mixture of confidence and childishness that is both central to their irrepressible charm and the reason why there is a web site entitled "100 Reasons to Hate B*witched".
The girls have the sort of family ties that would put the Waltons to shame. They weep copiously whenever they have to leave home; they telephone their parents day and night, with blithe disregard for eight-hour time differences; and they speak about their mothers' Sunday roasts in tones of hushed reverence. "But we're living a dream, and we don't want to wish our time away," Edele adds, with a faraway look. She sounds as though she might be quoting an ironic song lyric, but probably isn't.
There is no mistaking the solid foundation that their close-knit family lives and Catholic upbringing have given them. But, aside from a quick private prayer before the show, a dedication to God on the album cover notes, and the odd reference to "The Man Upstairs" smiling down on them, B*witched wear their religion lightly.
"I suppose the fact that we share the same values has something to do with our upbringing, and Catholicism," says Keavy. "It gives you a sense of who you are, and a respect for yourself and other people."
Careful to avoid soap-box morality, she doesn't condemn sex before marriage, or explain her own stance on the subject. She holds my gaze with unwavering pale blue eyes, making evident her disapproval at my probing.
"Sex is a very special thing," she scolds. "It's quite a thing to talk about, as we're not that type of band."
Dressed in a uniform of voluminous utility trousers and T-shirts, B*witched are marketed more as a band, rather than as individuals. They are happy to relinquish day to day control to their manager, Kim Glover (who formerly worked with New Kids on the Block), but because they co-write their material, their royalties are secure and there is little sense of manipulation by a hidden Svengali. Edele, the de facto leader, retains picture approval on photo sessions. Like Nolans in Nike (but without the daring boob tubes), B*witched have carved themselves a peculiar niche in the hearts of British children. Clear-eyed and god-fearing, with sensible, shiny hair and an outspoken preference for early bedtimes, the girls are every mother's fantasy role models.
Accessibly good-looking rather than aspirationally gorgeous, Keavy and her twin Edele have dark hair and rather gaunt faces, their sharply tapered chins lending them an air of streetwise toughness.
Lindsay, who is half Greek, is the prettiest, with soft brown eyes and a Mediterranean complexion; Sinead is blonde and lean as a whippet. One tabloid ran a story claiming that Sinead had judiciously shaved off several years and was, in fact, 25, not 21.
When I put this to her, she dismisses the suggestion with an air of mild reasonableness, but flushes deeply, all the same. Slightly reserved, she comes across as older than the others; she naturally gravitates towards the crew and band during breaks in rehearsal.
She last had a boyfriend two years ago. "If you do meet someone, you can't really ask them to hang on for six months while you go touring," she says, ruefully. "It's not easy, and it's even harder now, because we're in America."
But, like the others, her official account of living out of a suitcase is relentlessly upbeat. There are no tensions, no sources of friction and absolutely no regrets. If pressed, however, she will concede that life is more artificial than it was once.
"I miss Dublin and just bumping into people," she says. "To be honest, the last time I was home, I felt very strange and uncomfortable because my friends have got new friends and I felt a bit awkward - as though I was missing things."
The band's tour manager, Wilf, a cheery, bearded fortysomething wearing baseball boots, used to work with Jimmy Page, Black Sabbath and Yes. I ask him what sort of pastoral care the girls receive when they havedifficulties. Wilf freezes in quiet horror at the prospect.
"Uh, women's problems?" he says haltingly.
Any sort of problems.
"Uh, I'd like to think that if there was something wrong, I would, uh, notice it. And if there was, I'd, um, be straight on the phone to their dads."
Not their mums?
"No. It's their fathers that I talk to. I think of it as a responsibility, because you're looking after somebody's children - although they're not children."
I ask what would happen if the non-children decided to fling caution to the winds, split a bottle of Tequila four ways and head off to the Viper Room for an evening's debauchery. Wilf looks triumphant.
"They don't go clubbing, because they're too tired. Besides, you can't have them wandering off; they don't know where they are or what town they're in."
For now, however, there is no mistaking that the location is Hollywood. Outside the studio, a gaggle of nerdish blokes has gathered, waving B*witched posters and magazines. The girls dutifully sign the pictures and are driven back to the hotel, where two of the guys reappear.
Brian is 22, wears thick spectacles and has a drooping jaw. Jeff has long hair in a lank ponytail and a rippling beergut. They cuddle up to the girls, who smile and pose for the requisite celeb-snap.
Jeff, it transpires, is 38. Once indoors, I tell the girls this fact. For the first time all day, they appear unnerved. Then Edele takes the lead and breaks into a megawatt smile. "Sure, didn't I tell you?" she says firmly. "Our whole appeal is that we have fans of all ages."