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Claire Richards, 40, came to fame in pop group Steps, notching up hits such as Tragedy and One For Sorrow. They’ve just made a surprise comeback

Your new album’s been a surprise hit — what were your expectations?

We wanted to do a new album for our 20th anniversary and not just repackage a greatest hits again. We were a bit worried as it’s 17 years since we released an original studio album. We just kept thinking, ‘As long as we like it, hopefully other people will, too’ — we didn’t expect to be in a battle for No.1 with Ed Sheeran. We weren’t even expecting Top Ten because the charts work differently now.

Do you understand how it works?

Not at all. But I’ve been told if it was calculated on sales alone, we would have been No.1. So thanks, streaming.

Was there a temptation to update it all and go in a different direction?

No. One of the reasons why this has worked so well is we don’t apologise for what we are. After 20 years, we know what people want from us — whether that fits in with today’s music scene or not, we had to be true to what Steps is. We can’t appeal to everyone because we never did. It’s pure pop and what people want to see us doing.

Pure pop: In Steps’s heyday

There’s a lot of memorabilia in the video for your new single, Story Of A Heart — is it yours?

Quite a lot of it is. I’ve got five trunks of Steps stuff. Two full of costumes, one of merchandise, one of shoes and one of magazines and videos of our TV performances.

What’s your favourite piece?

The coat for Deeper Shade Of Blue that I wore on a tour. We came down from the ceiling then at one point the dancers stood either side and ripped our coats off — they had poppers down the middle. I loved that. I was so happy to find out it still fits me. I’ve got the empty boxes of Steps Easter eggs and birthday cakes. It was pretty big time back in the day.

We were selling more records and arena shows than other acts at the time but people thought we were a joke

What’s your proudest Steps achievement?

The fact we’re all still talking to each other and still love doing it. We’ve never been cool, especially in the industry. People used to write stuff like, ‘How can they still be selling records and selling out arenas — they’re rubbish?’ But, ultimately, it shows how important fans are to an act because they kept us going. It was frustrating. We were selling more records and selling out more arena shows than other acts at the time but people in the industry thought we were a joke — because our first hit was a novelty single, I guess. We didn’t get invited to the cool parties and designers didn’t want to dress us. But it’s much more satisfying to know we did it without all that. It’s a testament to hard work and perseverance and having an amazing core fan base.

How’s your solo stuff coming along?

I’ll get there eventually. I keep changing my mind. I don’t want to mess it up because I’ve banged on about it so much, if it’s rubbish it’ll be such a disappointment.

You’ve said you were put off doing solo stuff because you worried what people thought of you. Is that still a concern?

Not as much but I’ve always had that worry and it’s been my downfall. Rather than fail at stuff, I won’t risk trying. I joined my first band hoping it might be a foot on the ladder to get a solo deal but over 20 years later it still hasn’t happened. I’m 40 now and if I don’t do it soon I never will so I’m determined to get something recorded and released.

Big Brother buddy: Rylan Clark

Other than Rylan, do you see anyone from Big Brother?

I still see Razor Ruddock, Gillian Taylforth and Tricia Penrose occasionally. We’ve all kept in touch. I am not in contact with Speidi [Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt].

Do you believe they’re reformed characters?

I have no idea. To this day I have no idea who the real Heidi and Spencer are and, to be honest, I don’t really care. They’re the biggest headf***s I’ve ever met.

What lessons has 20 years in showbiz taught you?

If you take yourself too seriously and think you’re some kind of megastar people don’t forget that quickly. If people see you enjoy what you’re doing that gives you a bit of longevity. People can see we work hard, we always did.

Tears On The Dancefloor is out now. Steps embark on a 22-date arena tour in November,