The Observer, Jan 2003
Kelly Osbourne is a foul-mouthed Beverly Hills teenager, brought up among the chaos of drugs and booze. Now, after appearing in last year’s biggest TV hit, she’s gone from obscurity to stardom and launched her first album. She should be a typical Los Angeles nightmare. But there’s nothing typical about Ozzy’s girl.
For a ‘potty-mouthed spitfire’ or ‘precocious punkster’ Kelly Osbourne is surprisingly well-mannered and courteous. It’s not her fault she’s two hours late for her interview but still she greets me with a sweet smile and an apology which is hardly what one expects from a ‘wild child’, or for that matter any 19 year old pop star from Beverly Hills with a famous dad and a hit TV show. Manners are rare among celebrities, particularly in Los Angeles, where fame is a thing to be wielded. But then Kelly is not your typical celebrity brat. She’s Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter, and there’s nothing typical about that.
“I’m so sorry we kept you waiting,” she says, pulling up a chair with her management chaperone Melinda, “but the photo-shoot just went on and on, and I never know what to do with photographers anyway. They tell you stuff like ‘do your sexy face’, but what the fuck is that?”
She swiftly orders some fries and a Sprite and plonks herself down, casting about the poolside café of the Sunset Marquee just in case she knows anyone. Then she’s off again. “I fucking love this place. I used to live here when I was 14 you know, in one of their bungalows. I used to sneak down into the Whisky bar in my pajamas, can you imagine, and there were all these people around like Mark Wahlberg and Marilyn Manson. And they’re like, who’s this drunk child crawling around? Everyone loves getting kids tanked. I tell you something, that 21 rule is fucking retarded. I could get a drink when I was 12 – I still look 12, so it doesn’t matter. Oh shit! You’re not going to put this in the piece are you? The barman will get the sack. No actually, it’s a different guy now, put it in. Fuck it.”
No one will get the sack, don’t worry. “But yeah, anyway – ‘do your sexy face’?” She shrugs. “I’m like, listen buddy – to the photographer – I’ve only got one expression, it’s on every one of my magazine covers and this is it, that’s all you’re getting.”
Dropping her chin, fixing me in the eye, she does her look. It’s withering, unimpressed and impatient but not at all sexy. Those eyes aren’t saying ‘come hither’ so much as ‘is that it? That’s pathetic’.
“My mum was going through all my pictures at the office the other day and she goes ‘God, Kelly, can’t you smile for once?’” And on cue, Kelly’s mouth, which has scarcely stopped since she arrived, stretches into a chubby, gleeful grin. She transforms into a laughing Buddhette with tiny teeth. “I’m like, fuck off! When I smile my eyes get all squinty and I look retarded!’”
Now this is more like it – underage boozing with Marilyn Manson, telling her mother Sharon to affectionately eff off and talking 13 to the dozen, this is the Kelly we’ve come to know. It is also very Kelly to scoff at “doing sexy” for the cameras and not only because she would look “retarded” (one of her favourite words), but because everyone “does sexy” and it’s Kelly’s job to mock rather than conform to pop celebrity norms. Rather than love the lens, she would sooner show it her middle finger and stomp off, spitting at passing cars – our Kelly is known to breach showbiz decorum, not tow the line.
For example, she called Britney Spears “orange-faced” and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins “an insecure asshole”. Charlotte Church should “stop trying to be a fucking Mariah Carey wannabe” and as for Christina Aguilera, well, the ‘acid-tongued fashion icon’ has called her “one of the world’s biggest cunts” (The Mirror) and recently spat on the diva’s car. In PR terms it was a very well-aimed gob. “My mum told Rolling Stone magazine about it, that’s how the whole thing started,” giggles Kelly. “So I’ve had to be extra bitchy ever since, to defend myself!” And her fans love it. With every bleep and indiscretion, Kelly’s popularity grows. It is ridiculous of course that such an outspoken, controversialist should need Melinda at her interviews but to a generation of young girls and campy gay men, this isn’t the point – the Osbourne girl is fast becoming a role model, a breath of fresh, rude wind.
She is officially a singer, with a couple of hit singles and a surprisingly decent debut album on the shelves called Shut Up. But the rise and rise of Kelly Osbourne began with her ‘my vagina, my business’ episode in series one (she says ‘vagina’ so often Sharon said she should be called ‘Vagina Osbourne’). When her elder sister Aimee tries to book Kelly a gynaecologist appointment – with Ozzy’s full support, too (after all, there’s no harm in a check-up) – Kelly fires back with characteristic sass and we get an early glimpse of the hip-shooting irreverence that would become her trademark. She wasn’t always so unleashed. “At the beginning I wasn’t comfortable with all the cameras in the house, so I used to do my makeup before I came downstairs in the morning,” she admits. “But after a while I was like, ‘fuck that, I can’t be bothered.’” And from ‘my vagina’ onwards, the first Kelly fans were born.
“The Osbournes” was always going to be a springboard for Ozzy’s kids. No other show got America talking so much last year. Quite why it was such a success is a subject for another day, but wherever there is talk of the family unit, of proper parenting and communicating with teenagers, “the Osbournes” is wheeled into the debate. The show’s penetration into the culture is such that even President Bush, who really ought to be concentrating on his impending war, knows Ozzy, Sharon, Jack and Kelly by name.
For a while it seemed that Jack would be the child most likely to succeed. After all the ‘son of Ozzy’ is a joker, a self-confessed ‘fat kid’ who forever pulls pranks around the house and already has an A&R gig at Epic records. But beside sister Kelly, Jack comes off as immature, as perhaps trying too hard. She emerged as the sharper wit, brassy and opinionated and with a keener balance of maturity and teenage defiance. In series two she teases her dad for ordering porn from his hotel room, and finds love in Bert McCracken, the lead singer of The Used. In a typically candid exchange with Sharon – who is concerned that Bert has VD on account of his nickname (which through the dodgy bleeping, sounds like ‘cauliflower’ something) – Kelly rolls her eyes and threatens to marry Bert in Vegas. Go on, says Sharon, get pregnant as well.
Kelly’s career really took off, however, when she started to sing. Not that she’s a brilliant singer or anything, or even a particularly committed one – “I’d never have lessons or anything, God no. What for?” But when, as a whim, she recorded Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach, a song that was originally released when Kelly was a 1 year old, it went straight to number three and there was an immediate scramble to sign the new, lippy, insouciant Osbourne.
“It was all just an experiment, I didn’t realise it would go this far,” she says, breezily. “It was only after the single that I thought – let’s go for it.”
There’s something reassuring about Kelly’s lack of intent. The way she found success, it wasn’t lusted after, plotted and worked towards, it just fell incidentally into her lap and she has been refreshingly realistic about this happy stroke of good fortune. How many young artists would be sufficiently secure of ego to frankly admit that they owe their entire career to their famous father? “It’s obvious, though,” says Kelly. “It’s so retarded when people say ‘oh she only got her music career because her dad’s Ozzy Osbourne,’ like it’s a put-down or something. I’m like, well, fuck yeah! How else would I have got here? That’s why I’m not up my own arse about it. Some people like Christina Aguilera work up to being famous their whole lives so when they make it, they feel they have a right to be cocky. Success just happened to me.”
Kelly isn’t even the singer in the family, Aimee is – the ‘other sister’ who refused from day one to be part of the biggest series in MTV’s history, a decision she surely laments. Poor Aimee, who is a year older than Kelly, has been quietly taking singing lessons for years and she has long nurtured dreams of a pop career that would avoid the shrugs of cynics pointing to her surname and saying ‘well, it’s easy for some…’ Who knows, perhaps Aimee opted out of the TV show in the first place for fear of jeopardising her future calling? And then along comes Kelly to casually snatch her dream away from her, gifted with no outstanding talent, desire or even interest – only bundles of attitude. Now Aimee’s chances continue to sink as far as Kelly’s star rises – how many singing Osbourne sisters can the market support? She must be green with envy.
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask her,” says Kelly, curtly. “I know she doesn’t like me, though. And it wasn’t the TV show that did it, she has always been like that. All I ask is that she’s respectful.”
And Jack? In the second series, Kelly’s singing success takes her to Top of the Pops and to Germany on a publicity tour and sure enough, all the attention heaped upon his sister has put a strain on the young lad. “I hope your album fails,” Jack says huffily, in one episode.
“Oh Jack is soooo jealous,” says Kelly. “You have to understand that his whole life he’s been Ozzy’s son – that Jack Osbourne – and people didn’t know I existed. Now the tables have turned, so he says shitty things he doesn’t mean like ‘if it wasn’t for me, Kelly would never have got signed’. I’m like, Jack, you’ve been at that record company for years, so if you would have found me, you could have found me a long fucking time ago. So fuck off.”
When a 19 year old talks about “a long fucking time” it’s salutary to remember how quickly things have moved. Today, Kelly is conducting perhaps her hundredth interview of the year. She has a fully fledged pop career and fans around the world (“we’re fucking huge in Germany, it’s really weird”), pots of money, an S class Mercedes and [ital] a turquoise 1957 Belair Chevy with white fins. And when she stops to think about it, no hold on, can that be right? – yes, no one knew who she was only 12 months ago.
“Fucking hell!” She gasps. “This time last year the first series wasn’t even on! I was sitting on my arse watching cartoons!”
The speed with which not just Kelly, but her whole family have been elevated from obscurity to ubiquity is remarkable. MTV’s cameras first invaded the Osbournes’ home for four months at the end of 2001, so it wasn’t till early 2002 – when the programme was first aired – that things began to get out of hand. Within months the Munsters of rock became America’s second family. The ex-Black Sabbath frontman was saluted at the White house and Sharon, whose colon cancer has plucked the heart strings of the nation, has become the grand dame of the MTV generation, signing hugely lucrative merchandising deals and even competing with the Queen’s speech on Christmas day. Meanwhile Kelly, over a frantic six months, has written, recorded and released an album, played every self-respecting TV show on both sides of the Atlantic and a series of 75,000 seater stadium gigs for the radio industry around Christmas time, called Jingle Balls, not to mention a prestige gig shortly after Mariah Carey at the American Music Awards, the other night (hosted by The Osbournes) at which she bravely decided to sing live in front of an audience of her showbiz peers (perhaps that voice training wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all)… And as though that were fabulous enough, she even found herself sat beside Puff Daddy at the Marc Jacobs fashion show last summer. Which isn’t bad going for a year’s work.
“I was at this bar in New York when his security came in and moved everyone out of the way, and they knocked me over,” she says. “Flat on my back. So he apologised and everything and said ‘we’re all going to a fashion show, do you want to come?’ I was like, fuck yeah, because I’ve never been to one before. I thought it would be just a bunch of skinny twats walking up and down with cool clothes on, I had no idea there were like 500 snapping cameras everywhere and it was really important who you sat next to and everything. But Puff Daddy is a really nice man, a real gentleman.” She fancies a fashion line herself somewhere down the line. At her current rate, she may have already launched it as you read this.
The wheels of fame must be well greased now, if an act as sudden as Kelly can be launched, marketed and sold worldwide before the passing of the seasons. Her sheer incongruity has fuelled Kelly’s appeal from the off – on the face of it, she is a highly improbable candidate for fast track pop stardom. She writes her own songs, for a start, and Shut Up is a passable effort – lively, punchy and compact, like Kelly herself, and brimful of her infectious attitude.
But she also looks the part, every inch a reaction to the parade of factory pop bunnies which have become a cliché in the music business in recent years. “Seriously,” she says, stuffing her face with French fries, “have you ever seen anyone with my body in the music business?”
For all the trim, flat-bellied formation dancers who talk like Miss Teen USA – the likes of Jessica Simpson, Aguilera and of course Britney Spears the reigning queen – Kelly has emerged as the antidote, the anti-Britney. It’s possible that fame makers like the Simons (Cowell and Fuller) might have sensed the market’s exhaustion with their plastic-pop formula and been secretly seeking a punkish alternative. But Kelly has beaten them to the punch, and she came with the ready push of an enormously successful TV show – this squat, proud, doughy young firebrand who trumps her competition not with her flowing blonde hair and hourglass figure, nor her slick gyrating choreography but her wilful impudence and superbly grounded manner.
“I do get nasty things said about me,” she says, “and it’s usually girls who fancy my boyfriend. They say stuff like ‘you’re fat, you’re ugly, stay away from him’, like I care what they think. But I’m not as big as people think, anyway. When the Osbournes started people sent me tonnes of free clothes, but they were all size 14 when I’m only a size 10. I don’t care, I just give it to my friends.”
Such nonchalance about her appearance is remarkable enough for a Beverly Hills teenager, already a leading market for adolescent insecurity, let alone one who lives her life in the limelight. But her assurance is no pose. When I ask her whether she would consider changing anything about her appearance, she just shakes her head. “Nah,” she says, reaching for the fries again. “Maybe when I’m really old and wrinkly, but… If I had a flat-stomach, it wouldn’t be me, would it?”
Kelly’s sheer good sense and self-confidence is a counter to that sneering ‘dysfunctional’ tag that dogged the Osbournes in the early part of last year. Not only polite, confident and refreshingly blasé about her fame having been surrounded by it all her life – “I don’t give a shit about famous people,” she says, “they’re just people, and most of them suck anyway” – she has none of the paranoia that obsesses so many celebrities these days. Having begun her public life under the most invasive scrutiny, you tend to believe her when she shrugs, “I’ve got nothing to hide, I just say what I want”. If only the Aguilera’s of this world would take a leaf out of Kelly’s book.
Her sensible approach to fame, image and privacy extends to the more workaday elements of her life, too. Having been raised till the age of 13 in the public school system in England, her moral compass was primed to excoriate the wastrels of Los Angeles’ idle rich. “When I was in England, designer clothes meant you had adidas pants!” she laughs. “I come here and if you don’t have the right bag, the right clothes, the right boyfriend and the right car you don’t get in anywhere. And that’s just sick.” She didn’t finish high school out here – “because it sucked, basically” – but she didn’t fall into the typical traps like drugs, for example. “There’s two reasons why people take drugs,” she explains, “and that’s to escape something or have fun. Well I don’t need to escape anything and I’m already having fun. I’m not into shoving anything up my nose or jabbing a needle into me. Millions of my friends have had to go to rehab for that stuff and that’s no exaggeration – about 15 last year, all for coke. And they’re all rich kids.” Is she not curious at all? “Not really. I’ve had my stomach pumped twice for drinking too much – the last time I had 14 vodkas, I was just gone. But nothing else. I tried pot a few times but it makes me puke, I can’t see and I get itchy. Anyway, why would I? My dad is a walking anti-drug commercial!”
Besides, Kelly’s life is quite hectic enough on its own. Emotionally, last year was a rollercoaster. For all the thrills of gigging and falling in love with her boyfriend Bert, she has also had to cope with her mother’s cancer which hit the family like a bombshell last year. Kelly was in a restaurant in Soho, New York, when she heard.
“I was having dinner with my friend Nikki Richie, Lionel Richie’s daughter, and my brother called up crying, he was like ‘you’ve got to go back to the hotel, we’re going home.’ I was like, ‘Jack, we’re in New York. If you’ve just had an argument with mum, I’m not going back with you. What’s wrong, just tell me.’ And he said, ‘mum’s got cancer, she’s going to die.’ I – was – fucking – hysterical. If Nikki wasn’t with me, I think I would have fainted, or had a heart attack.”
Still, Sharon’s cancer showed just how close knit and supportive the Osbournes family unit is. While it may have driven a heartbroken Ozzy back to “self-medication” it has also healed a long and bitter feud between Sharon and her father, the hard-nosed rock manager Don Arden, who for 20 years, like some Greek myth, refused to speak with his only daughter for ‘stealing’ Ozzy from him. Nevertheless, her illness marks the beginning of the end of the Osbournes TV show. After two series, there will only be one other, and then the family look set to bow out.
“I’m not doing a fourth series, no fucking way,” says Kelly. “It’s nothing to do with mum being sick or my career getting in the way, I just think we should go out on a high. There’s so many other shows out there trying to do what we’ve done, like Anna Nicole Smith, but they’ll never do it. They’re always going to play up to the camera because they’ve got something to live up to now.”
What is it about her family then that so captured the public imagination?
“I don’t know,” she says, thoughtfully. “You have to understand that my life is normal to me. People ask me what it’s like being Ozzy’s daughter, well I don’t know what it’s not like. I think maybe people see what they want in us – they think, ‘why can’t my parents do that, I wish I could talk like that to my parents.’ They see honesty, too. I think people like honesty.”
As we get up to leave, three cocky young men with their shirts undone to their navels sashay up to the table. Himboes to a man, all with fresh holiday tans and Essex accents, they wink at young Kelly, full of swagger and “allo sweetheart”.
“I saw you at the Smash Hits awards, you were the best thing on it,” says one, peeling his shirt off as he speaks. And Kelly smiles sweetly at them, “oh that event was just the saddest thing, did you see the crowd, all 12 year olds with their mums…” After some brief small talk, she bids them adieu and whispers to me. “Right let’s get out of here or I’m going to piss myself laughing. I get that sometimes, these ridiculously good looking men coming up to me. I’m like, what are you doing talking to me, fuck off and talk to that Barbie over there. I mean did you see him winking? What are you supposed to say? ‘I hope it’s working out for you, walking around without your shirt on like that!’”
Didn’t you fancy him, though Kelly, just a bit? Wouldn’t you even consider it?
“Oh my God no,” she shivers. “Urgh!”