INTERVIEW: Will Young, Learning to love himself
HIS pure voice and raw talent won Will Young legions of fans when he became the first winner of Pop Idol a decade ago.
While other talent show winners have fallen by the wayside, he has a clutch of platinum albums and a string of music awards. He's sold more than nine million records worldwide and boasts the biggest-selling single of the 21st century, Evergreen.
And he's had an amazing time, he says, although reading between the lines of his autobiography Funny Peculiar, pictured, which he wrote himself, his path to happiness hasn't always run smoothly.
Insecurities, depression and feeling ashamed about his sexuality for many years all merge into the melting pot of his life, along with highly amusing anecdotes of his awkward encounters with the rich and famous and his tendency to put his foot in it whenever he meets one of his celebrity idols.
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"I'm a psychotherapist's smorgasbord," the 33-year-old singer declares, having gone through years of therapy. But singing has been his salvation.
"If it wasn't for my singing, I'm not sure I would even be around today. Singing has been the one place where I have found my true, powerful self."
Cynics might question what he's got to feel insecure about. He's a highly successful recording artist, has appeared in TV and film productions including Mrs Henderson Presents alongside Dame Judi Dench, and is now receiving rave reviews for his performance as the Emcee in the stage version of Cabaret in the West End.
In person, he is likeable, self-deprecating and funny.
Yet reading his autobiography, it's clear his self-mockery is borne out of his inability to enjoy some of the highlights of his career, and the disappointment he's felt during the low points – most notably when he was offered a job as one of the mentors in the BBC series The Voice and then had the offer retracted before filming started.
In the interim period between the hiring and firing, he'd imagined how famous the show was going to make him.
"I'd planned it all: my clothing range, Grammy Award-winning album and rise to A-list celebrity, my house in the Bahamas," he says. "I was one Google search away from private jets. I have a friend who calls this level of delusion the 'Oscar acceptance speech moment'."
Joking aside, he admits he was absolutely gutted.
"I don't think in 10 years I have ever been treated like that, been led on so long for a job, got it and then had it taken away – or ever been so weirdly upset about it.
"It was a great lesson for me not to place all my happiness on a job, and a great reminder that this business is a very cruel one."
The son of a businessman father, Robin, and market gardener mother, Annabel, Will grew up in Hungerford, Berkshire with his twin brother Rupert and sister Emma.
While he had a happy childhood, he blames many of his insecurities on his prep school, Horris Hill, which his grandfather and uncles had also attended.
"It was a pretty loveless place, it was lonely, archaic and full of people who weren't very good teachers. It was a bit of a prison and way out of place in the 80s. You weren't far off cold showers. It was like Tom Brown's Schooldays."
He never begged his parents to remove him from the school, and believes they just thought they were doing what was best for him. He went on to Wellington College where he was happier, but for almost all of his schooldays he carried the fact he was gay like a weight around his neck.
"I knew I was gay from the age of eight and that was a big thing. I felt like an outsider and carried that for 20 years. Some people come out and they're fine, but others find it harder.
"I spent a lot of years thinking there was something wrong with me because I'm not like most other boys. There is still a stigma, particularly in schools, where the term 'that's so gay' really needs to be changed."
He came out to friends and family while studying politics at Exeter University and finally found a sense of freedom.
"It was a build-up of years of living a lie really and it was one of the most important moments of my life," he says.
He put his studies on hold to go in for Pop Idol. After winning the show, he came out publicly but kept it low key.
"I wanted to downplay my sexuality because I knew if that became the overriding thing about me, then people would possibly not like it and I would become more threatening and less attractive as a pop star. I didn't want my sexuality to overtake who I was. My point at the time was that sexuality made no difference. I was still the same person, with the same voice."
That voice, those songs and that love of music have been his saving grace.
"I always felt like I was my true self on stage. Then when people started to show belief in me, that was the most wonderful thing in the world."
His memories of Pop Idol are genuinely happy. "It was a complete fairytale and I knew I was going to win. There were so many other things in my life which were up in the air, but my path in singing was so focused. Nothing was going to get in my way, which was made clear the first time I spoke back to Simon Cowell."
He says his stubbornness has ensured his music career has thrived while other talent show winners have disappeared.
"I was given an opportunity, there was no way I was going to let it go. For years it has been my lifeline. But now I've got more of a handle on things."
Despite his recording success, he says he started therapy in 2006 when he spiralled into depression.
He said: "I had a lot of money and a nice house and a job that I wanted and I had to look at what I didn't have, which was happiness. I was hyper-functioning at work but I wasn't functioning as a human being."
Therapy has really helped and he still has sessions, although he admits he recently suffered a bad bout of depression and is currently on anti-depressants.
"I'm coming out of the other side," he says. "You have to learn to love yourself – and that's a lifelong thing. I had an album out, which was so wonderful, but I felt nothing when it got to number one. That was when I thought, 'come on, you need to start loving yourself'."
Today, he has homes in London and Cornwall and is single, but hopes he will one day have a family of his own.
And he has strategies for tackling his depression – talking about it, taking exercise and generally connecting with the world, planning his days and thinking about others rather than himself.
"I don't worry about the next job any more. If it all ended tomorrow, I've had an amazing time," he says.
Funny Peculiar by Will Young is published by Sphere, priced £18.99. Available now
He stars in Cabaret at The Savoy Theatre, London until January 19, 2013. Visit www.atgtickets.com/savoy