I’ll admit it – I’m a Steps fan. I spent most of my 20s with my hands raised to my head in Tragedy pose and many drunken nights beside a smoke machine perfecting the moves to One For Sorrow – and I wasn’t alone. Steps are a not-so-guilty pleasure which might explain why they spent the late 90s ensconsed in the charts with 14 consecutive top ten hits, 15 million album sales and over a million gig tickets sold. However, it all ended abruptly when members H and Claire quit the band suddenly in 2001, leaving remaining three members Lee, Lisa and Faye stunned. Ten years on and the band are getting back together for Sky Living documentary on their reunion, as well as releasing a new Ultimate Collection. Will they record new music and tour once more? You wouldn’t bet against it now would you…
I meet the two double-barrelled Steppers – Lisa Scott-Lee and Lee Latchford-Evans – in Sony’s HQ in High Street Kensington. They both look immaculate, Lisa petite with perfect make-up and shiny shoes, Lee radiating health and vitality as you might expect from a personal trainer. Their faces are so familiar that in a way, it feels a lot like they’ve never been away – but ten years is a long time. What’s more, having watched the first episode of the Steps Reunion documentary, it’s clear that there’s much to work out in the Steps world. You could feel the tension dripping from the screen as old tensions exploded and these were issues that weren’t going to slip away like summer. Perhaps I was too busy dancing and drinking, but I didn’t remember the split being so acrimonious – so was all the tension real?
Lisa looks at me incredulously. “It wasn’t made up, believe me. The split was very messy and painful – H and Claire told us an hour before our final gig of the Gold tour in 2001. One minute we were in a band, the next we weren’t – just like that. So perhaps the public didn’t really know why but it was a shock to us too. I think that was apparent from the documentary because we all found it so difficult to talk about.”
Of the five, only Claire had seen the documentary before it aired, so both admitted they were nervous in the lead-up to it, wondering how they’d be edited. “I was nervous but having watched it, I felt quite proud and I didn’t think I would. We’ve had some amazing achievements over the years and I was proud of us all for stepping forward and being civil to each other,” says Lee, brow furrowed. Of the two, he’s the more guarded, the more serious. I get the impression this means a lot to him – or perhaps Lisa’s just better at covering her feelings, even though she admits she’s loving being back in the spotlight.
In the documentary, the five are driven to a location in the Cotswolds and have to sit down for dinner and have it out. So how did they feel after talking to each other for the first time in ten years? “Relieved more than anything – and H played a big part in that by holding up his hands and saying he was wrong, that he made a mistake in the way that it happened,” Lisa reveals. “That was a big part of the healing process.”
So had they really never seen each other for ten years? Lisa shakes her head: “No – we’ve supported each other going to weddings, christenings and each other’s shows, but we’ve never sat down as a group and talked about the split. That’s why it was so emotional.” Emotional is the key word – there was a lot of pent-up emotion in that room. Did they get the answers they wanted from H and Claire on why they left the group and set up on their own as a duo? “From H, yes – he’s really grown up,” Lisa tells me. And Claire? They both smile ruefully.
“They’ve both apologised in their own way and we’re all back on an even keel,” says diplomat Lee. “H has matured so much and admitted he was wrong, but Claire comes as it differently as she’s crap with confrontation so she wouldn’t say it straight up. We call Claire the ostrich as she buries her head in the sand. But to have a future we had to address the past, so Claire had to do it too in the end.”
So has the anger gone now – are things back on an even keel? Lisa looks 75% sure. “We’re getting there, but this all had to be talked about and it doesn’t happen over night.” Lee nods his agreement: “It’s dissipating. We look back on Steps with more happy memories than sad, but we’re only human and you can’t wipe out ten years of hurt and frustration in an instant.”
Having watched the documentary it looked like they’d serve up a decent dinner. So did they actually eat anything or did they just snipe at each other over empty plates? Both chuckle at this and assure me that they did eat once the nerves were out the way – and they might have sunk a few shandies too as the air cleared and chat began to flow. This all only happened in July though, and when I met the duo, episode four of the documentary was yet to be filmed – so nobody’s clear on how this reunion will end. Will Steps get back together, record new music and tour again?
Both Lisa and Lee are non-commital. “We wanted to do the show to give the fans the truth and also to support our Ultimate Collection. But after that, it’s down to the fans – if they want to see the album toured, then we’ll do it,” says Lisa coyly. It wasn’t for the money then? “It really wasn’t. Money’s not important to me – I wanted to do it to get back onstage again and to do what we love, all five of us. It’s easy to be cynical and say that, but actually it’s because of the love and respect we have for Steps. Plus, there’s a real gap in the market for what we do – there are no other boy/girl vocal groups out there are there?” I agree there aren’t.
“We’d love it to work out because that’s what we’re about – we’re performers. I’d love to get back on stage, get back in the studio and create a whole new Steps for today – that would be phenomenal,” Lee concurs enthusiastically. I can’t see a world without Steps now they’ve teased us a little and I tell them so. Both shrug and it’s apparent that these are people who’ve lived through it before and don’t want to commit without having some nearby wood to touch. “The split was done in the wrong way and this gives us and the fans some closure. We don’t know how it will end or if we’ll tour, but so far the reaction has been very positive so the future looks bright,” says Lee.
The key question though is this: do they still remember all the dance moves from their huge catalogue? Lisa laughs heartily: “They’re ingrained on my memory more’s the pity – when I hear Tragedy I have to sit on my hands.”
“Some of them are a bit rusty because it’s been ten years, but some of us remember more than others. I pushed them away, but H knows them all – I think he’s been secretly practising,” Lee adds.
This time around there’s no Pete Waterman, no member of the group sleeping with the manager and all their have been tensions aired and ironed out. All heading to into their late 30s, it’s clear that Steps would like the chance to have one more shot, to do a Take That – and an army of fans would probably feel the same. “If we’re lucky enough to tour again, I’d love to do Tragedy just to see a sea of hands doing the dance back to us again,” grins Lisa, clearly flicking through her memories. Better best forgotten? Watch this space.
Steps’ Ultimate Collection is out on October 10th. Since this interview took place, Steps have confirmed an arena tour starting in next spring. Colour me excited!