Neither of the customers who bought their cars from a Hyundai dealership in York on Wednesday afternoon probably expected the deal to be sealed by someone once thrust into the limelight by exhorting people to ‘touch my bum’.
But if you did happen to be one of those two customers, then your sales executive was no less than Gabriela Irimia, one half of the infamous pop duo The Cheeky Girls, whose Cheeky Song featuring those very lyrics went to No 2 in the UK charts in December 2002.
Today, though, two is the number of cars that 38-year-old Gabriela — known as Gabi — sold in the space of just a few hours that day.
‘One new, one used,’ she affirms. ‘So, ker-ching!’
The Cheeky Girls, pictured with Gabriela, left, and Monica, right, now work at the Hyundai car dealership in York
Indeed, there have been several ‘ker-ching’ moments since Gabi first stepped on to the garage forecourt just over eight months ago.
And she is not the only Cheeky Girl to have found success in the car-sales arena. Monica, her younger twin by ten minutes, has been at it for years at another Hyundai dealership in Boston, Lincolnshire, and is such a natural that she is regularly the best-performing sales executive on the team.
This new string to the Cheeky bow had gone largely unnoticed by the public until earlier this week, when pictures emerged showing Gabi hard at work on the garage forecourt, minus the silver hotpants which helped propel her and Monica to stardom, clad instead in a sensible, chill-defying padded black jacket.
Her new role prompted surprise in some quarters — the general thrust being that it was a bit of a comedown. But woe betide anyone who expresses such a sentiment. For, as the twins reveal today to the Mail, they both love the job so much they are hoping to open their own dealership one day.
‘I think the British public have a perception that if you are, or have been, in the public eye or a pop star, you’re not allowed to try something else,’ says Monica.
‘I always said it’s no shame to work, it’s a shame not to work. We’ve chosen another career path and we are very, very proud of it.’
Gabi nods enthusiastically.
The Cheeky Girls pictured at the National Music Awards at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, 2002
‘We both enjoy the work,’ she says.
‘I’ve got a passion for cars, so it’s not just the selling bit, but I like the buzz of selling and making people happy.’
Make no mistake though — this is not the end of The Cheeky Girls.
Car sales is a ‘parallel’ career, as Monica puts it.
The duo have never stopped performing and have a gig in just over a week’s time.
Nonetheless, aware of the ticking clock that often accompanies their particularly ephemeral brand of fame, both have taken a pragmatic view.
‘We know there are people selling photos of their boobies on the internet and for me that is no way, not even as a last resort,’ says Monica, who I detect is by a nudge the more practical of the two.
‘What we are doing came from a long discussion with me and Gabi, because we accept that The Cheeky Girls is not going to go on for ever.
‘OK, we still look good, and we still fit in the hot pants, but I don’t really feel like I will be getting on the stage at 60 — although you never know.’
It’s true — they do still look good. The near two decades since the Transylvanian twins burst on to the scene have been kind to them on that front at least.
In fact, they arguably look better than they did when, newly arrived in England from their native Romania and sporting alarmingly bouffant barnets, they first emerged on the scene in 2002, wiggling their bottoms and singing the memorable Cheeky Song — penned by the girls’ mum-turned-manager Margit — on ITV’s talent show Pop Stars: The Rivals.
Monica and Gabriela Irimia arm-in-arm with PM Boris Johnson, in 2011, who was Mayor of London at the time
Margit is undoubtedly the power behind the throne, a cheerful but fiercely protective Mama Bear-turned-lyricist who has shepherded the girls’ career from day one.
She separated from the girls’ father, childhood sweetheart Doru, a doctor, 26 years ago, but they remain on good terms.
The girls have an older brother, Remus, who drives an organ donor ambulance.
Margit — who declines to give her age — moved to the UK 25 years ago after meeting her English second husband, who likes to guard his anonymity.
Pop Stars: The Rivals judge Pete Waterman branded the twins ‘the worst act ever’, but despite (or perhaps because of) this ignominious start, record labels clamoured to sign them, and a pop career was launched.
The Cheeky Song single — sample lyric, ‘Don’t be shy, touch my bum, this is life’ — sold more than 1.2 million copies worldwide.
Two more top three singles followed, and hit album Party Time, before the duo seemed to vanish without trace, two more faded stars in the unforgiving pop firmament.
Behind the scenes, however, was a much sorrier tale of eating disorders, bankruptcy and botched breast surgery, all of which has left a legacy of emotional and physical consequences.
Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia with ex-fiancé, Lembit Öpik, a former Liberal Democrats MP, in 2007, at the Marine Connection Safety Nets Ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London
‘People think being a pop star is such a glamorous life and we did travel the world and get to meet a lot of people, but every movement was dictated — what you ate, what you wore, who you met,’ says Gabi of their time in the international spotlight.
And I’m not complaining, because we grabbed this career, and we really wanted to make the most out of it, but it was intense.’
So intense that in the early years both girls, away from home and desperately lonely, developed anorexia.
Their weight plummeted to 6½ st, and they’d weigh everything they ate.
With time they overcame the condition, but both have a series of health problems as a result.
‘Our digestive system is completely ruined because of the anorexia,’ says Monica. ‘We have kidney stones, IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], stomach ulcers — you’d be surprised.
‘We are managing it today, but it’s there.’
There was also a series of disastrous breast augmentation operations prompted, both say, by their record label’s decision to hire a well-endowed model to cavort through the surf on the seaside video to one of their songs, leaving the smaller-chested Cheekies singing forlornly on the shore.
‘We didn’t want to be glamour models, but we were really a bit depressed because she looked a lot sexier than we did,’ says Monica.
‘That’s the way we saw it because we had nothing, just two cherries on a cake really.’
They had surgery on London’s Harley Street, which didn’t work out because of their low body fat.
‘Our bodies rejected the implants — we looked more awful than before,’ says Monica.
‘They kind of moved. One boob was up, one boob was down, it looked awful really. And then we ended up having the second operation to correct that.’
Gabriela said of her time in the spotlight: ‘People think being a pop star is such a glamorous life and we did travel the world and get to meet a lot of people, but every movement was dictated — what you ate, what you wore, who you met.’
Both went on to have three more corrective surgeries, Monica’s last one in 2017 when one of her implants ruptured in two places, requiring removal and replacement.
The duo didn’t even really make any money, not helped by their record label Telstar going bust in 2004, owing the twins — according to Margit — £2 million in royalties.
‘We were just about to sign for our second album when we read in a newspaper that Telstar Records had gone into administration,’ recalls Monica.
‘We had the contract in front of us. After that, we never had any royalties from the Cheeky Song.
‘So probably we should have been rich, but after that we survived on our own.’
In 2009 they were both declared bankrupt after it emerged they owed £60,000 in tax.
By then, Gabi had also suffered the ignominy of a broken engagement to the Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, an unlikely May to December romance (he was 17 years her senior) that had transfixed the nation.
‘I’m not going to say that my relationship with Lembit wasn’t genuine because it was — but having such a public relationship is not very healthy,’ says Gabi now.
‘I was really young, 24 or so, and that was one of the main reasons why the relationship didn’t survive because it was just all too much.’
After several other long-term relationships, for the past two years Gabi has been dating a professional bodybuilder called Adam.
They met at their local gym, and he is eight years younger than her.
‘We kind of eyed each other a few times in the gym and then he came to talk to me,’ says Gabi.
‘And he is amazing. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go clubbing.
‘He’s not bothered about the age or anything like that. I think I was a bit more worried.
‘But I can tell that he really loves me for who I am, and for what I am, and we have a really genuine relationship, so I am happy.’
Monica has been happily married since 2016 to builder-contractor Shaun Taylor, with whom she lives in a Lincolnshire village.
Despite the physical distance separating them, the bond between the twins remains as strong as ever: they talk every day at dawn as they clock up their miles on the gym treadmill, and see each other as often as they can, not least because they still perform together.
‘We’ve always been gigging, and we’ve always worked,’ says Monica. ‘We did a few TV shows abroad, so it hasn’t been just in the UK.’
Nor are they only trading off past glories: pre-Covid they were in the studio laying down more tracks written by the redoubtable Margit, and there are plans for a new mini-album release.
Monica says: ‘She wrote every single line and every single chorus of every song we ever sang. She would call me at midnight and say, “What do you think about this?” And she would start to sing it to me. And she is still writing.’
The bond between the twins remains as strong as ever: they talk every day at dawn as they clock up their miles on the gym treadmill, and see each other as often as they can, not least because they still perform together
Alas, those hoping for a Cheeky Christmas single will be disappointed: the twins have recorded one called Ain’t No Christmas Without Party, but are not releasing it this year as they say they have no time to promote it.
They do, though, have plenty of gigs coming up, including one on Halloween — their 39th birthday.
‘I don’t know what this lockdown has done to people, but they are even more happy to see us now than before,’ says Gabi.
‘It’s a new generation now too; they appreciate us differently. We said to each other as long as the telephone rings and people want to see us then we will keep doing it.’
Certainly, no-one can accuse them of slacking off: both work six days a week in car sales, often criss-crossing the country late at night after a gig to ensure they make their shift.
Do people do a double take on the forecourt?
‘You don’t instantly put the two together, especially at work when I am not wearing the hot pants,’ giggles Monica.
‘But sometimes people do realise.’
Monica got into the industry six years ago after moving to Harrogate, her husband’s hometown.
‘I found myself feeling a bit lonely and I just realised, although we did have everything still going on with The Cheeky Girls, building up a second career would be absolutely amazing.’
So when a friend who ran a recruitment agency mentioned a host position at Mercedes-Benz she jumped at the chance.
‘I said to her, “Look, go back to them, and say to them that I’m a size 6, with an amazing figure and a huge personality” — and the next day I got the job,’ she laughs.
‘So this is how I started. But it’s not so crazy. In my family everybody is very car-oriented. My dad has five cars. Then I moved into sales.’
Gabi followed in her sister’s footsteps eight months ago after a stint selling make-up for Boots. ‘I can’t stay at home, during lockdown I was going mad,’ she says.
It’s impossible not to like the Cheekies who, despite nearing 40, today retain some of the naivety and girlish enthusiasm that charmed us all two decades ago.
‘It’s true, we have not really changed,’ says Gabi.
‘We have had a lot of experiences and we have learned a lot, but we are the same as we ever were really.’ Monica adds: ‘We are The Cheeky Girls and nobody will ever replace us.’
But there’s clearly more to them than their pop personas: if you want to buy a Hyundai, you know whom to contact.