Wil Marlow catches up with the Sugababes...
When Mutya Buena announced she was leaving the Sugababes last year, the news came as something of a shock to fans of the band. But it wasn't such a shock to the band themselves.
Given the speed with which Mutya - who said in her statement she was leaving for 'personal reasons' - was replaced with new 'babe Amelle Berrabah, it had obviously been on the cards for some time.
"We knew it might happen," admits 22-year-old Heidi, as the new line-up take a break from rehearsals for their forthcoming tour. "But when she actually said she wanted to leave, it was a shock to hear it."
"We weren't expecting it that soon," nods 21-year-old Keisha. "We didn't know when to expect it really."
Rumours of in-fighting have dogged the band since they first released a record. They were given some credence when original member Siobhan Donaghy left the band in 2001, saying she had felt ostracised by Keisha and Mutya.
The stories continued when Heidi joined, and both Keisha and Mutya later admitted it took them a while to get used to the new addition.
But with two Sugababes albums under her belt, it became obvious Heidi wasn't going anywhere, and the stories died down. Until late last year, that is, when rumours began circulating that Mutya and Heidi weren't getting on.
Did this contribute to her departure?
"There was no argument," says Liverpool-born Heidi with practised, if slightly weary, insistence. "She left because she had been in the Sugababes since she was 12 and she got to the stage where she didn't want to do it any more. She's happy and we're happy. We're still friends and wish her all the success. It's all on good terms."
Keisha backs up the reasons Heidi gives for their former bandmate's departure. It was assumed that Mutya's 'personal reasons' were to do with her becoming a mum for the first time, to daughter Tahlia, in March last year.
So the news that Mutya had already started recording solo material, even before she officially left the band, came as a surprise, and fuelled the idea that Mutya and Heidi had fallen out.
"She never said her leaving was to do with Tahlia," says London-born Keisha, jumping to Mutya's defence.
"She just wanted to leave something that she'd been doing for most of her life. She wanted to go and do her own thing.
"We're cool with that because we have Amelle now and we're in a better position than we've ever been. It's nice because it feels like a kick up the butt."
Keisha, now the only remaining founder member, is the one who talks up the band's fresh new start with Amelle the most. You get the feeling this is as much to help her get used to the new situation as it is the fans.
Mutya's departure obviously affected her the most - they had worked together in the band for eight years and been friends since they were both nine.
"It is still hard," she admits. "She hasn't really been out for that long and the change happened so quickly. It's strangely weird and there are going to be days where I get down about the whole thing.
"But that's just because I'm not seeing her there, not because I want her back or anything. I'm 110 per cent fine with Amelle being here and I love this new line-up, and just the energy around it is great."
Keisha and Heidi say there was never any consideration given to ending the band.
"It was one of those things where you have to think, is this what I want?" says Keisha. "And this is what I want to do so we just have to get on with it. Life goes on."
"We love what we do," adds Heidi. "And we know that we've got something good here."
The Sugababes management team had known of Amelle for two years, after seeing her perform at a talent showcase in America as part of the duo Boo 2 with her sister. Despite her years of singing experience, however, Amelle was thrown in at the deep end.
"When they called me, they didn't tell me what it was about first of all," says 21-year-old Amelle. "They just said, 'We've got something big for you', and that I couldn't tell anyone.
"The manager told me in the car on the way to the studio and I nearly had a heart attack. I couldn't take it in. As soon as I got out the car I was recording a song, to see if my voice fitted in. It was literally that quick."
Since then the Aldershot-born singer has had to re-record the entire Taller In More Ways album, take part in new shoots for both the album cover and the Pretty Polly ad campaign the girls signed up for last year, and prepare for two massive tours - the band's own and one with Take That - this spring.
On top of that she's been thrust into the spotlight and had her life - past and present - put under scrutiny. But she's taking it all in her stride.
"Keisha and Heidi told me what to expect and you've just got to go with it," says Amelle. "You can't start thinking about it too much, you've got to get on with things and do the best you can do."
She has a boyfriend, former tree surgeon Freddie, 23, who she's been going out with for two and a half years (they share exactly the same anniversary as Heidi and her boyfriend, presenter Dave Berry). She says he's also coping well with the overnight fame of his girlfriend.
"He always expected it because ever since I've been with him he's always known that I wanted to do this," she says. "He's just so happy for me. He's been such a good support."
All the Sugababes' boyfriends (Keisha is dating a basketball player called Zayne) may feel a little threatened when the girls go on the road with Take That, however, as all three of them harboured schoolgirl crushes on the band.
"I was a huge Take That fan," says Keisha, before breaking into a rendition of their hit Pray. "I used to love that video - Robbie Williams with his hair slicked back. Wow."
"I really liked Gary Barlow," grins Amelle. "This is when I was really young though. I'd gone off him by the time I was 11 or 12."
* Sugababes play Birmingham's NIA on Saturday April 8