Was she your ‘girlfriend’, because she wanted to? Honey to the B, that’s B-illie (Piper), day AND night!
Leian Paul Piper (b.1982) was one of those child stars destined for fame and fortune. Having made her name on the kids TV show Scratchy & Co. and after appearing in a commercial for Smash Hits magazine, Leian, using her stage name Billie, won a record contract with Virgin aged 15 years old. She released her debut single, “Because We Want To”, in June 1998 and it hurriedly found its way to number one in the UK. It also performed well in parts of Europe and Australia, where it reached the top twenty.
The follow up, “Girlfriend”, debut at number one that October and paved the way for Billie’s debut album, “Honey To The B”, the following month. Although this did not perform perhaps to expectations, the album eventually gained a Platinum disc in the UK. It was the singles that continued to bring in the sales and the cash. “She Wants You” combined with Billie’s version of Wham’s classic, “Last Christmas”, reached No.3 that festive season, while the title track made it four top three hits at home and four top ten charting singles down in New Zealand!
Billie was one of the many artists to perform on the ABBA tribute single “Thank ABBA For The Music” in 1999 (UK No.4) as she collected three Smash Hits awards (remember them?) and two Brit Award nominations in quick succession. By now a sprightly 18 year old, Billie adopted a more mature approach to her second album and added her surname to all future releases, beginning with the leas single, “Day and Night”, in May 2000, which brought a third UK chart topper, a third Australian top ten hit and a sixth top ten hit further down under in New Zealand. The more refined sound of this album could be found in the second single, “Something Deep Inside”, released prior of the album and reaching No.4 in the UK and another top ten hit ‘down under’ in both countries.
“Walk Of Life” was released exactly two years on from her first, in October 2000 and although it equaled “Honey To The B”‘s chart position of No.14, sales and longevity were not as forthcoming, barely scraping Silver status in the UK. The more than credible title track saw release at the end of the year, but could only manage No.25 at home, her first to to reach the top ten, and, as it would turn out, become her last commercial release, to date. Billie was done with music as there were bigger fish to fry from now on. The early 00’s seemed to be more about her personal life more than the artist, as Billie married DJ and TV presenter Chris Evans. She was 18, he was 35. They married in 2001 but separated three years later.
While Billie’s private life seem too make the headlines and her music career faltered, Billie just about shocked everyone when it was announced she has been cast in the revival of the classic sci-fi television series, Doctor Who, in 2005. Off screen for sixteen years, there were great expectations and doubts in equal measure. Billie had actually made her first tentative steps as an actress before “Because We Want To”, making a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance in Madonna‘s musical box office smash, ‘Evita’, in 1996! A part opposite Orlando Bloom in the 2004 film ‘The Calcium Kid’, preceeded her travel through space and time with the new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, which would become a ratings winner, pulling in 11 million viewers for the first episode. Billie stayed with the series and her role as the Doctor’s assistant, Rose Tyler, until 2010.
Billie was now seen in a different light, and while her private affairs kept the media on red alert, her acting career went from strength to strength. Awards and nominations began to flood in from her stage performances, most notably from her long running role as Yerma. Her big screen role as Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (2007) and her ‘steamy’ casting in the TV series Secret Diary Of A Call Girl (2007-11) all won acclaim. More recently, key roles in Penny Dreadful (2014-16), opposite former Bond stars Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Rory Kinnear, and I Hate Suzie (2020), a show co-created by Billie herself, have only enforced her status as one of Britain’s most talented and diverse players of modern times.
But of course, what does this mean for Billie the pop star? Will she ever record again? Or could we see her take on more musical roles as she enters middle age? She’s been around for a quarter of a century now and it looks as if Hollywood or even Broadway beckons in due course. She’s done it all by herself and, because SHE wants to!
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