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Bringing Up Whitney hide

Behind the star is a worrying, protective mum

CISSY Houston said: "I want to protect her. But I can't, not all the time." That's a statement most mothers can understand.

But then most mothers don't have a daughter who has shot to fame as one of the most glamorous and best-selling singers in the world.

Whitney Houston has taken less than three years to reach the top and she's only just 24 _ young enough for mum still to worry, especially when the rumors are flying.

"The music business builds you up to tear you down," said Cissy, drawing on her long experience as a pop singer, gospel singer and a Baptist church minister of music.

Cissy didn't mention anything specific, but recently stories have been going around _ like her daughter isn't as clean and wholesome as her image and she's been having an affair with her best girlfriend.

Both Whitney and her friend have denied it, but still the speculation continues.

"I think some talk still bothers her. I hope she's starting to understand you just don't pay attention to the rubbish," said Cissy.

"I tell her if you've a firm foundation no one can destroy you _ whatever they say. She knows that and I think she's learning you mustn't even talk about those things that are not really true."

Whitney does wonder why people are fascinated by details of her private life. "I really do very ordinary things," she said. "I eat, sleep, sing, play tennis, play with my cats. Being alone is very important to me, but when I'm with friends I laugh, joke, fool around. I just act normal."

Cissy insisted Whitney did indeed want all the ordinary things in life. "She wants to get married and have babies. It's just a matter of finding the right time and the right person. She's got to find someone who loves her for herself, not simply for her money or anything."

Now living away from home in her own $4 million house in New Jersey, Whitney remains close to her mum despite the very strict upbringing Cissy gave her as a child.

"What the public don't understand is that even though Whitney can take over a stage she's very fragile," said Cissy. "She was a delicate child but, though I sent her to this strict school, I sure didn't need anyone to enforce my rules.

"Early dating, cruising around _ she wasn't going to do that anyway. She wasn't going to wear stockings until I said so, even if her friends did. No make-up, no lipstick, no high heels. And no discussion.

That's how I did it.

"She didn't like it. She hated it. Sometimes she would go to her father with her brothers because she thought he was more lenient. But they didn't ever get round what I told them."

ALTHOUGH she ruled the Houston home, Cissy says she didn't push Whitney into her career as a singer.

"I didn't require that my children sing anywhere but in church," said Cissy. "When Whitney said that she wanted to be a singer, around 12, it was her choice." Because Whitney started singing so early, there have been suggestions that she missed out on being a teenageer. But Cissy said: "It's what she wanted to do. Besides, one of the reasons I had strict rules was so the kids wouldn't become adults too soon for their own good."

Whitney agreed. "Watching all of those great singers and meeting them _ there's nothing I would rather have done. It was like a dream."

Some people suggest Cissy wanted Whitney to become a star because she herself never had a hit record. "I don't regret anything about my career. Sure, I hear a lot of myself in Whitney. Many people have tried to take my style over the years, so who better to do it than my own daughter?

Cissy certainly believes God was watching when a terrible accident threatened her daughter's career before it even began. When she was little, Whitney pushed a stick into her mouth and almost severed her tongue.

"If they hadn't been able to sew it up she wouldn't have talked again, far less sung."

Whitney agrees she is blessed. With a second album selling as fast as her first and Hollywood knocking on her door with film roles, she said: "I'm blessed with this voice which was just given to me. And I'm also blessed with people who love me and care for me.

"Why should people know everything about me? There have to be surprises. One of the best things about my act is that I come out like this frail thing with these skinny little legs and then people hear this great big voice and say: "How did all that come out of this little thing?' " As Whitney belts out her hits, her mum still can't relax and enjoy it.

"Sometimes when I hear her sing I get the chills. She's got such a gift. When I think about people who want to say things just to tear her down, well, it gets me so crazy."

But Whitney's happy to have mum about and she does listen to her.

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