HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — A few miles past the Orange County line on Pacific Coast Highway sits a small pub, steps from the beach. Yelp reviewers of Nadine's Irish Mist praise the joint's authentic Irish food and impeccable Bloody Marys. What they don't mention, though, is the identity of the pub's owner, who happens to be one of the most celebrated Irish singers of the past decade.
Nadine Coyle, 29, moved to California seven years ago, when she was still a member of Girls Aloud, a British girl group that sold 10 million albums worldwide, racked up a record 21 consecutive top 10 hits on the U.K. chart from 2002 to 2009, and won a Brit Award. The group was between albums when they first visited Los Angeles to record an unreleased cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Games."
"I thought it was just the most amazing place I had ever seen," she said in her strong Irish accent, sitting in the pub Tuesday afternoon.
During the trip, she was in a cab with Brian Higgins — the songwriter and producer behind Girls Aloud's hits — on her way to replace a lost phone. Stopped at La Cienega Boulevard, she remembered telling him, "Brian, I'm going to move here." Today, she's lived in Southern California longer than she lived in London.
Tuesday was the first time Coyle had been to the pub since January. "That needs painting," she said, looking around noticing minor touch-ups the building needs.
But the absence is justified. Four months ago, she gave birth to her first daughter, Anaiya, and has signed on to perform in Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, the latest incarnation of the popular Irish musical created by dancer Michael Flatley.
Flatley approached her last year about the project after she had recently finished the Girls Aloud 10-year reunion tour — the group's first since a three-year hiatus. "I was still in tour mode," she said, and Flatley's offer was appealing.
"He knows exactly what he's talking about because he's been doing it for all these years, so everything is so professional," Coyle says. "It's got the Irish connection, and yet it's such a huge show and I was being booked to go on there and sing as part of the show. Not Nadine from Girls Aloud doing this show, but as a different type of thing."
Coyle first earned her spot in Girls Aloud after auditioning for Popstars: The Rivals, a 2002 reality singing competition, when she was 16. The five-member group won the show, and went No. 1 with their first single, "Sound of the Underground," a song written and produced by Higgins and his songwriting and production team Xenomania. The track included surf guitar and a drum 'n' bass line and eschewed both the tired tropes of typical reality show coronation songs (think Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This") and what we've come to expect from girl groups. Subsequent hits like "No Good Advice," "The Show," and "Biology," also creations of Higgins and Xenomania, continued to challenge pop's limits. When recording, Coyle said, she often didn't know what the final song would be. Higgins was prone to mixing and matching different verses, bridges, and choruses. "You're recording hundreds of things and different tracks, but then this track is on this song but the music's different. It's not a full song, it's a part and then all the parts are put together."
Coyle lived in London for four years and two Girls Aloud albums before her move to California, where her and Higgins ended up working frequently.
"He came out here when we recorded the last three albums," Coyle says. "He always felt that we do some of our best work here."
But her commute to promote later albums and go on tour was an 11-hour plane ride. It was "exhausting," she said. "I treated it like, I'll come here for two or three days, and I'd be there for months, mostly in the U.K. working, but I had to come back here to see my family, get the restaurant up and running after a few years."
Girls Aloud released their final studio album in 2008, but reunited for a greatest hits album and tour in 2012 and 2013. Since then, the pace of life has slowed.
"Life is not as structured because Girls Aloud is very, very structured," she said. "So you do have a lot of time, and that's not always necessarily good for me because when I'm left to my own devices, my own devices will take me to the farmers' market, they'll take me to getting a massage, they'll take me to hanging out, going to the beach and enjoying myself."
Although Girls Aloud never released any music with a label in the United States, Coyle said she's sometimes recognized.
"There's a few hot spots, places you go to. Fashion Island in Newport Beach is one," she said. The MAC store is another. She said she'll be chatting while checking out at a store with someone who's unfamiliar with her when Girls Aloud fans come up asking for photos. "A lot of the time, you forget because you're just going about your day-to-day life that doesn't involve being famous out here for the most part."
Nadine's Irish Mist also gets a steady stream of Girls Aloud fans, particularly in the summer, one bartender said, when people visit Southern California on vacation.
"I'm not always here, but I do get letters and notes," Coyle said. "Or they'll take pictures with my parents. Last night there was a guy from Argentina and he wrote a whole note for me. It was just so sweet."
Other times, gossip reporters from the U.K. have shown up, hoping to get dirt from her father who sometimes works at the pub.
"They would come here from The Sun or The Mirror and try to be inconspicuous and sit there like they're innocent people," she said. "This one time they were trying to make issues with the girls or whatever and my dad was like I don't know what you're talking about."
Coyle said she doesn't know how long she'll be involved with Lord of the Dance, and hopes to release more solo material at some point. Her first solo album, Insatiable, was released in 2010 and, despite credits from the likes of William Orbit, who produced Madonna's Ray of Light, and Guy Chambers, who's worked heavily with Robbie Williams, peaked at only No. 47 on the U.K. album chart.
Now she's sitting on unreleased music recorded with Higgins for the Girls Aloud greatest hits album. "I think Brian and I have so many good songs that it's a shame not to do something with them," she said.
A happy SoCal mom and business owner, Coyle looks back fondly at her time in Girls Aloud, particularly their 10-year anniversary tour. "The way we can do live shows of just song after song after song of just amazingness, it's something that I'm really proud of," she said, smiling."People will be on their feet all night. Very few shows I've been to have the same impact as a Girls Aloud show."