When Leigh-Anne Pinnock was still at school, boys used to pick on her. Now they’re queuing up to marry her. So what’s changed? Just a small thing called Little Mix. Having become the first group to win The X Factor, the four girls have seen their popularity with the lads soar. It’s one aspect of the job which has come as a surprise. Leigh-Anne, 19, from High Wycombe, Bucks, says: “I’ve had guys on Twitter asking to marry me. I said ‘Yes’ to one of them but didn’t hear from him again.
“At school the boys used to pick on me. I know everyone says that means they fancy you, but it didn’t feel like that at the time.” Bandmate Jade Thirlwall reckons their male fan club is growing. The 19-year-old from South Shields, Tyne and Wear, says: “I wasn’t prepared for boys to like us. I thought our fans would be mostly girls, and it was like that at first. Now we get boys saying how much they like us on our Facebook page and dads bringing their kids to our gigs.”
Perrie Edwards has experienced near obsessive adulation. “One guy had a tattoo for me,” says Perrie, 19, also from South Shields. “He came up to me when I was at home and showed me this heart on his hand with a ‘P’ in the middle and said it was for me.” Leigh-Anne, the only single girl of the group, pipes up: “Maybe it was for his girlfriend.” “Or his mum,” jokes Jesy Nelson, 21, from Romford, Essex. “I hope it was,” says Perrie. “A tattoo’s a lot of commitment for someone you don’t even know.”
Not that blonde Perrie is interested in any male attention. She is loved up with One Direction’s Zayn Malik, who she has been dating since December. Given the Brit boyband’s huge female following, mustn’t it be hard for her not to feel jealous? Perrie says: “I just think it’s funny. You have to trust each other. Me and Zayn are really happy. We see each other quite a lot, the only time we don’t is when he’s in America. It’s really hard. But I trust him. “It does get hard when you don’t see each other. It does make it more special when you do see each other though. “You just have to make sure you call and text each other all the time and tell each other what you’ve done each day and stuff.
“It’s when you don’t talk to someone that you start missing them. “As far as his fans go, there’s always going to be one or two bad comments, but you’ve just got to ignore it. About one in 100 are bad ones. “I just read all the good ones — most people are really happy that we’re in a relationship and happy.” Jesy and Jade are in a similar situation. Their boyfriends are both in Diversity, the dance group that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.Jade, who is dating Sam Craske, says: “I think it’s flattering that they get so much attention. And I think they’d find it flattering if it was the other way around and knew loads of people fancy their girlfriends.”
“We’re strong women, we wouldn’t let anyone treat one of our girls badly,” declares Perrie, a tiny slip of a thing who looks about as likely to punch someone’s lights out as mug her own grandmother. This same protective attitude also applies to their mentor, Tulisa. The N-Dubz star has had a tough few months since a sex tape involving her and ex-boyfriend MC Ultra was leaked on to the internet. She is taking legal action against MC Ultra, real name Justin Edwards, for breach of privacy and confidence, as well as six others, including Chris Herbert, former Spice Girls manager, for trying to sell the video online.
“Tulisa’s tough,” says Jesy. “We haven’t seen much of her because we’ve been busy but she’s good.” Jesy has had her own share of trouble with people criticising her weight and her brother Jonathan, 22, only narrowly avoiding jail in June after he was caught dealing cocaine. She adds: “Unfortunately you have to expect things like that might happen when you get famous. Luckily, we’ve got each other for support. If you’re on your own it would be difficult to deal with.” The last eight months since Little Mix won the ITV1 show have flashed by.