Jess Simpson: ‘I changed my number when I met my husband’
Jessica Simpson has been relatively unheard of for the past decade. Indeed, many people could be forgiven for asking, "What ever happened to Jessica Simpson?"
And yet the 39-year-old singer suddenly seems to be the most in-demand woman in the world, with the possible exception of Meghan Markle.
When the all-American pop star of the early 2000s talks to Stellar she's enroute to New York's largest department store for an in-store appearance and apologises down the phone line for the chaos that ensues as she battles through a wall of paparazzi.
The reason for this renewed interest in the singer? The release of her autobiography, which has resulted in the press pursuing Simpson with the same fervour it did when she was at the height of her fame.
Simpson's memoir is a no-holds-barred account of her life in the public eye. She recalls being told at 17 by then Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola to drop seven kilos from her 53-kilo frame and what it felt like to fire her father Joe as her manager.
She reveals the moment she discovered Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling had a 20-year-long bet over who would kiss her first, revisits the breakdown of her marriage to Nick Lachey, reflects on her relationship with singer John Mayer - including her response to the infamous sexually explicit comments he ungallantly made about her to Playboy magazine after their romance ended - and opens up about her battle with alcohol addiction.
It's been a long time since you've been in the media spotlight. Now the details of your life are out there for all to read, are you nervous?
Actually, I'm feeling pretty relaxed at the moment. I have a lot of confidence in the woman that I am today. The person I'm presenting to people is very vulnerable and very raw, but I can take ownership over her. So no, I feel inspired to do interviews and to reach out to as many people as possible.
Is there anything in particular that you felt apprehensive about sharing?
Not at all. There's nothing in there that I'm ashamed of, or that I'm afraid of. I have learnt that being on the other side of fear is so rewarding.
The version of you we first saw on Newlyweds in 2003 really stuck with audiences. How hard was it to shake off that persona and get people to see the real you?
Oh god yes, I had to shake off the role of being a perfect wife, that's just not relatable by any means. I couldn't stay in a relationship that was holding me back and wasn't allowing me to be my best self. I needed to make a stand for myself.
If you had your time over would you still choose to do Newlyweds?
Yes, absolutely. Newlyweds was a lot of fun when we started. It was six weeks into our marriage so we were discovering a lot about each other because we had never lived together. In a way it was very freeing for me as a person. I'm in my sweats, wearing no make-up, saying goofy things. And people really related to that.
When the terms of your divorce were being negotiated between your father and Lachey, you instructed your dad to pay what Lachey was asking because you would make the money back. As you say in the book, "And I did, give or take a billion." How did you feel being able to write that?
[Laughs.] I mean, I was speaking the truth; it was honest. At the time I wanted to move forward with my life and not have to hold up just because of money, so I was like, "Give it over to him." I knew in my heart it would come back around. I never thought it would be a billion, though. Talk about playing the long game.
As you pointed out, you have since made over a billion dollars with your clothing empire The Jessica Simpson Collection. Despite this, many people know you better for confusing chicken with tuna in an infamous scene on Newlyweds - does that frustrate you?
Oh no, not at all. I always have asked a lot of questions and sometimes I don't think things through before I ask, like the chicken of the sea thing. But nothing that I've said out loud I regret; it's who I am and the way I see it. People can say whatever the heck they want to say about me. I really don't care because they're probably walking on my name already. My logo is likely to be on the bottom of their shoes.
Many celebrities have made attempts at fashion lines but yours is one of the most successful. Why is that?
This empire that I've built is not just me, it's my mother and a lot of my very dear friends. I really think with the brand, it's my name; it's authentic, fashionable, affordable and accessible. I have been a size two and I've been a 14 and every size in-between, and I wanted to feel cute at every size and embrace the body that I have in that moment. I give women the ability to do that, too.
In 2009 you made headlines all around the world for being a bigger size when you performed at a country music festival.
At the time I was heartbroken by the headlines, and of course I beat myself up over it. I was taking diet pills and I was pinching my fat until it was bruised. People were used to seeing me washing a car in a bikini as Daisy Duke in The Dukes Of Hazzard.
How did you overcome that?
I had to keep going up onstage every night on tour and I had a lot of things weighing heavy on me, and it wasn't weight. It was these demons in my head and the public, who I allowed to destroy my self-esteem.
Do you think if it happened in 2020 you would have to endure that kind of reaction and body shaming?
I don't think it would happen, no. That makes me very happy, to be raising my children now where there is much more acceptance and people are focusing on talent, because that's what it should be about.
The account you give in your book of your relationship with John Mayer reveals a woman who was treated quite badly by her partner. Have you found that other women have reached out and told you of their own experiences?
I've been doing these in-store appearances and people have been reading the book so fast. It's really incredible to hear how many people relate to that story, and to have them say that I have given them confidence is everything to me. That's why I am doing this.
You dated NFL footballer Tony Romo from 2007 to 2009, and when you went to watch him play for the first time, he played poorly and the crowd started shouting "jinx" at you. What was it like to have an entire stadium of people turn on you like that?
Well, I was not the one on the field throwing the ball so I don't know why I was ever blamed for that, but it was something that I had to face head on. I still had to go to the games because I love football and I wanted to support my boyfriend at the time - but I will say that I believe the way he played had absolutely nothing to do with me.
You give very honest accounts of your relationships with Nick Lachey, Justin Timberlake, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Romo and John Mayer. Have you heard from any of them as a result of your book?
Oh no, I have completely cut off all connection with everyone. I changed my phone number and email when I met my husband Eric [Johnson]. Nobody has been able to get a hold of me and if anybody tries they will not be able to get to me.
You are now a mother of three [to Maxwell, seven, Ace, six, and Birdie, 10 months]. When your children are old enough to read the book, what do you hope they will learn from you?
I want them to be proud of me for standing up for myself and being honest with who I am. I've already talked to my seven-year-old about some of the things in the book in a very "mum" type of way. The thing I want to shelter them from is accepting people's judgement. I want them to understand that anybody's criticism about who they are or what they're going through or what they look like doesn't matter. That's my message to my children.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson (HarperCollins, $32.99) is out now.