FHM, 2000

During World War II, when one of our plucky soldiers went missing in action, the worried next of kin back in Blighty would receive an official telegram from the War Office in Whitehall, giving at least sketchy details of where the brave hero had been "lost". Even if it was then discovered the missing private had been captured and incarcerated in a Japanese sweat box, the family would, at least, receive a further telegram helpfully reassuring them that their son was now in fact a prisoner of war, and not to worry.

But these days, when the nation's pop stars go AWOL from the charts for long periods, there's not even a curt but doleful delivery by the postman to tell us where they are. The only indication that they are still alive might be pictures of the warbler in a Sunday newspaper sporting chunky thighs, 14 chins and enjoying a holiday "fling" with some Eastenders Lothario.

Incredibly, it's been two years since Britain's sexiest girl-next-door Louise last released a single, and since then, apart from a commendable runners-up spot in last-year's 100 Sexiest Women In The World and the FHM cover last August, we haven't heard a squeak. But now, finally, the wait is over. The ex-Eternal singer, who's chalked up six top ten singles and sold more than half a million copies of her two albums - Naked and Woman In Me, has a new singleTwo Faced and album Elbow Beach to go with her record fourth FHM cover. She's returning to the pop scene a married woman, after her Bermuda marriage in June 1998 to Liverpool and England footballer Jamie Redknapp.

"I wanted to get married and enjoy it for a while," says the 25-year-old about her long sabbatical. "I didn't want to get hitched and then go back to work a week later. I thought it was important to play the wife for a bit."

Having got the nuptials out of the way (the couple married on Elbow Beach - hence the name of the album) Louise was also determined to no longer be just another pop puppet singing other people's lyrics, and so spent nine months writing a large majority of her new disc, as well as personally doing the dishes.

"I was fed up of receiving a song through the post, recording it and then later being asked about the track and not knowing what it was about," says Louise. "The words had to be personal. I'm not Eric Clapton - I haven't been through loads of different experiences, but what I have been through is falling in love, marriage, leaving a band and growing up - so that's what I've focussed on."

Louise is also determined to reassert herself as the nation's pop queen despite an influx of American female solo singers - Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson - which have saturated the UK charts. The reassuring thing for the girl from Lewisham must be that, despite her absence, she hasn't slipped from the male population's minds and has secured yet another top ten finish in this year's FHM 100 Sexiest poll - for the fifth year running. She's also convinced she has something new to offer.

"The first thing is that these girls are all American," says Louise. "And I don't know if they wrote their albums, but I wrote mine. I do turn on the TV and go 'God, there's another one.' I feel quite a lot older than most of them and I've been married for a couple of years, so maybe we won't be put side-by-side because of the age gap."

Settled into an enormous comfy chair, Louise prepares to shed some light on her new-found skill in rhyming couplets...

FHM: There's a song on the album called First Kiss (The Wedding Song) and you sing, "Why take a kiss from a stranger's lips, when you have the best?" Presuming you're referring to Jamie, is he happy for you to reveal that he's so adept with his tongue?

Louise: I would never risk doing anything to lose him. When it comes to myself and Jamie we've never done the, "Look, here we are happily at home!" photo shoots in magazines. We're not going to be holding hands and walking down the street kissing and cuddling for every photographer - we do that when we go home. We keep our married life private. But I sing for a living, and if I choose to write lyrics about my husband, then so be it.

FHM: You also sing about an Egyptian queen in which you call your lover your "Rameses". Rameses II once returned victorious with the penises of slain Hittites. Has Jamie ever brought home a similar gift after winning a football match?

Louise: No, there's nothing personal in that song. Jamie is not my Rameses. The best thing he's brought me home was a British bulldog for my birthday.

FHM: Marrying Jamie on a beach was a happy moment, but what has been your biggest beach disaster?

Louise: When I was making the video for Light Of My Life in Hawaii, it was on a beach of black volcanic sand. It was my first video and it was supposed to be really sultry. I was sitting in the water in my snakeskin swimsuit, it was peeing down with rain and the sea was so rough the sand was going everywhere. The first thing my brother said when he saw the video was, "Why have you got mud on your face?"

FHM: Any other beach-related catastrophes?

Louise: In Hawaii, you're told not to take the sand off the island or you'll be cursed with bad luck. I was on the flight home and this girl sitting next to me took off her shoe and a huge lump of sand dropped out. In the same instant the plane dropped and everyone screamed. I thought I was going to be sick.

FHM: Crikey. Do you go topless on holiday?

Louise: Well I always go to Bermuda, where it's illegal to sunbathe topless. If I wasn't Louise the singer I wouldn't think twice, but I expect a photographer with a long lens to be hiding in the bushes and I'd never know where those photos could turn up.

FHM: So you wouldn't slip into a thong either?

Louise: No, it's big, thick swimming costumes for me.

FHM: Who would be your number one in this year's 100 Sexiest Women poll?

Louise: I like the girls who win your poll not to be the typical in-your-face type - six-foot-tall with blonde hair and perfect teeth. Gillian Anderson was great, because she wasn't skinny and she was picked because of the strong character she plays. I think Jennifer Lopez should win - she's sexy while not trying to be something she's not.

FHM: When you've had enough of singing, would you like to manage your own "girl group", as Ronan Keating has done with fellow Irish crooners Westlife?

Louise: No, I admire managers - it's not easy trying to keep everyone happy. I'd like to do photography. I think I'll be taking pictures for FHM soon. I've done more photo shoots than anything, so I know a fair bit about how to do it. I take pictures privately but one day I'd like to do it professionally.

FHM: There was a rumour last year that you were going to appear in an episode of Friends. What happened?

Louise: It was a bit of a nightmare. I did an audition and was asked to appear in the episode where Ross finally married Emily in London. But the day they needed me was the day they record Top Of The Pops. I tried to work it out that I could do both, but it just wouldn't work. In the end I needed to promote the single and couldn't do Friends. I was absolutely gutted, as it's my favourite show. I sit down and watch an episode literally every night.

FHM: Did you have an audition with the cast members?

Louise: Yes - I was totally in awe. I expected Matt LeBlanc to be just like his character, but he was really different and weird and didn't say a lot. I was so nervous when I had to do it - I went all red and blotchy and was shaking.

FHM: Because you are a pop star and married to a footballer there are bound to be comparisons between you and Jamie, and Posh Spice and David Beckham. Famously Posh once gaffed by saying her husband enjoyed wearing her knickers. Are you careful what you say to avoid Jamie getting a ribbing from the bawdy away fans?

Louise: I'd like to think that Jamie wouldn't be able to fit in my knickers, ha ha! But I wouldn't say anything stupid that would mean him getting stick. I think Victoria Beckham must have a very dry sense of humour and is probably sitting at home laughing at the fuss made over it all.

FHM: When Jamie is out playing football, do you sit at home and bake an apple pie eagerly awaiting his return, or go out on a bender with your mates?

Louise: When I'm in Liverpool and he goes away, it's my chance to come down to London and see my friends and family. When I'm out with the girls there's usually lots of chat, lots of dancing, lots of vodka shots and then lots of sleep.

FHM: Has he ever had to hold your hair back as you "examine" the toilet?

Louise: Yes, he has. I've ruined the odd suit, ha ha! He's very good about it, though.

FHM: When you go down the gym, do you get the other ladies in the changing rooms taking a sly peek when you're slipping into your leotard?

Louise: I've just started going to the gym, and I was told by everybody who goes that, "Oh, once you start, you'll love it." Three months later I hate it as much as the first day I went. I don't actually go into the changing rooms - I go in my gym stuff and leave in my gym stuff. Mind you, where I live in the Wirral, no-one looks twice at you, so you certainly wouldn't go there for an ego boost. You can wander around the supermarket saying, "Hello, anyone recognise me?" and just get blank stares.