How the Marmite girl, Diana Vickers became the toast of British pop

Revenge of 'The Claw': Diana Vickers' decision not to rush her album release has paid off

Revenge of 'The Claw': Diana Vickers' decision not to rush her album release has paid off

Appearing on The X Factor as a callow 16-year- old schoolgirl, Diana Vickers was the unconventional pop princess who millions of TV viewers loved to hate.

Singing barefoot as she nervously pawed the air with her left hand, her sweet, folk-tinged vocals immediately set her apart from the traditional cast of big, warbling balladeers.

She was dubbed 'kooky' by the judges and 'The Claw' by the show's huge audience. Simon Cowell, an admirer, said she was like Marmite: you either adored or detested her.

And as she progressed to the semi-finals of the 2008 contest, won by Alexandra Burke, the Lancashire lass provoked increasingly extreme reactions.

But Vickers was unfazed. A down-to-earth girl who liked singing Coldplay and Dido, she was happy to be the one whose face didn't quite fit. She was also relieved to exit the show when the time arrived.

'I'm pretty confident and easy-going, so I didn't take the criticism too seriously,' says Diana, now 18, chatting between recording a Radio 1 live session and a clothes fitting in the London HQ of her record label.

'I didn't exactly enjoy the negative comments, but I did have 250,000 people voting for me, too. Everyone wanted to win the show, but Alexandra was a deserved winner that year. She was fully formed as an artist and knew just what she wanted.

'I gave everything, but I was pleased to leave after the semi-finals. If I'd won, I might not have been given the freedom I've since had. As it is, I'm really grateful for the path I've taken.'

Diana's post-X Factor route has been long and winding. Confident enough to wait 18 months - a lifetime in talent show terms - before releasing any solo material, she took a four-month break from her pop career to star in a critically acclaimed remake of The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice in the West End.

Now, though, music is centre stage once more. Diana's debut single Once last week deposed Usher at the top of the charts, while her first album, Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree, should silence those keen to write her off as just another Identikit reality show graduate.

The album showcases her raspy vocals and features support from some talented friends. Electro diva Ellie Goulding ('a top girl') and guitar-strumming indie-folk maverick Lightspeed Champion ('a really sweet guy who is passionate about music') both helped to write tracks.

'It made sense for me to bide my time,' Diana says of the album's languid release. 'The most important thing was that I was happy with the record. I wanted to cowrite all the songs and I wanted to get them right.

'Little Voice delayed things, but appearing in the West End was something I couldn't refuse. I'm not a trained actress, but I learned on the job. I was singing Dusty Springfield, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey songs. It took a lot of stamina. One night, I had a chest infection. Another night, I got burned with hot water and fell over. But I was determined not to miss a show.

diana vickers

Singing to the nation: Diana Vickers sings her No.1 single Once in the Live Lounge for Radio One's Fearne Cotton show

'Now I've finally got the chance to release my own album. I'm feeling a mixture of emotions. I'm anxious - but excited, too.'

Although Cowell is no longer involved in Diana's career ('he's far too busy with Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle and Alexandra!'), he has offered support from afar and was one of the first to congratulate Vickers after she topped the charts.

Born in Blackburn and raised in the nearby village of Huncoat, Diana was taking A- levels in Theatre Studies, Classics and Psychology when a schoolmate signed her up for The X Factor.

'I didn't want to do it at first, because it sounded like too much effort,' she says. 'Most of the other performers - Alexandra, Ruth Lorenzo and JLS - had all sung live before. My stage experience consisted of singing in the school choir and doing a couple of school plays. 

'But I loved music. When I got home from school, I'd go straight to my room and listen to CDs. I was always playing Queen, The Beatles, Kings Of Leon and Tina Turner.'

Diana's roller-coaster ride on The X Factor will also be remembered for her close friendship with fellow teenager Eoghan Quigg, who finished third in the 2008 series. Simon Cowell at one stage referred to the pair as 'just a couple of kids in love'.

However, Diana (who is now dating actor and singer Joshua Jenkins) claims the pair were not romantically involved. 'There was never a relationship between Eoghan and I, but we did become good friends. We were both very young.

West End star: Vickers performing in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice last year

West End star: Vickers performing in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice last year

'The X Factor experience is very intense, and you strike up strong bonds with people. I'm not in touch with him any more. We drifted apart when he went back to school in Ireland, but I have some great memories, and it would be nice to see him again.'

Diana is looking forward to taking her new songs on the road. Next month' s UK tour will be followed by open-air shows at the V Festival and the Summer Sundae Weekender. Once the Marmite girl, she is now getting used to being the toast of British pop.

'I don't think the success of the single has sunk in yet,' she says. 'I would have been happy to get anywhere in the Top Ten, but to get to No 1 is amazing.

'Singing my own songs has been the best part of this. And I now feel much more comfortable on stage. I love feeding off the energy of a live crowd.'

Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree is out on Monday.

• Diana starts her UK tour on May 8 at the O2 Academy, Liverpool. For details, visit