Will Young, singer, songwriter and actor chats with Kevin Cooper about winning Pop Idol, his latest book Be Yourself And Happier: The A-Z of Well Being, his latest album 20 Years: The Greatest Hits and his forthcoming 2022 tour of the UK.

Will Young is a singer songwriter and actor who came to prominence after winning the 2002 inaugural series of the ITV talent contest, Pop Idol.

This came about when in June 2021 he saw an advertisement in the News Of The World for auditionees for Pop Idol, the winner of which was guaranteed a million pound recording contract with BMG and representation by Simon Fuller’s 19 Management.

His debut album, From Now On was released in 2002 and it went straight to number one. Friday’s Child released in 2003 went five times platinum in the UK. He followed this up with Keep On which was released in 2005, Let It Go in 2008, Echoes in 2011, which also went platinum, and 85% Proof was released in 2015 and was Young’s fourth UK number one. Lexicon was next in 2019 before Crying On The Bathroom Floor was released during the pandemic in 2021. In May 2022 he released a compilation album, 20 Years: The Greatest Hits.

Young has accumulated multiple honours, including two Brit Awards from twelve nominations and has also clocked up worldwide sales of over eight million albums.

He has also acted in films, on stage and on television. For his performance in the 2013 revival of the musical, Cabaret, for which he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor In A Leading Role In A Musical.

Young has also released five books; Anything Is Possible in 2002, On Camera: Off Duty in 2004, his autobiography, Funny Peculiar in 2012, To Be A Gay Man in 2020 and more recently, Be Yourself And Happier: The A-Z of Well Being in 2022.

Whilst busy preparing for his tour later this year, and the release of his latest album, 20 Years: The Greatest Hits he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Will good morning, how are you today?

Hi Kevin, I’m very well thank you, how are you?

All is good thank you and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that life at this moment is treating me very well, thanks for asking. The sun is shining, I have done a bit of gardening earlier today, I have written a bit of a song, I’ve walked the dog, and all in all I am feeling rather upbeat at the moment.

How did you manage to keep yourself busy during lockdown?

(Laughter) don’t laugh at this but I actually did quite a lot of gardening. I have two rescue dogs, so I had to look after them which did keep me really busy; they had to have operations and things like that. I finished writing a book on Gay Shame; I recorded a covers album, so I was quite busy actually. I know that I really shouldn’t say this, in light of everything that happened during lockdown, but I really did have a nice time (laughter).

It really does sound as though you put your time to good use.

I really did try to keep myself busy as, in my opinion, that really was the best way to get through the whole situation, and for me it worked.

We have to speak about the latest album, 20 Years: The Greatest Hits and I have to tell you that I love it.

Thank you.

I really do love Why Does It Hurt, which is one of the new songs on the album.

Thank you for saying that, as you say it is one of the two new songs on the album which I actually recorded during lockdown. I wrote that particular song more as a songwriter and not as a song for me. However, when I heard the finished song I thought, ‘oh I quite like this song’ and so I kept it for myself (laughter).

Are you happy with the song choices on the album?

I am, yes. What I mean to say is that it wasn’t as difficult as it might seem. I made it easy on myself because I thought that to start the selection process I would start with the singles. So, the only difficult thing, I think, was the fact that there were a couple of singles that just didn’t make it onto the album, simply because there just wasn’t enough space. I think that they would have made it if we had released the greatest hits on a double album. The double album that we did release, on disc two was mainly demos, acoustic versions of the hits that I have done over the years, and that is quite fun.

I like the fact that people can buy this double album and get the original demo of Jealousy, the original demo of Your Game or the acoustic version of Leave Right Now which I did for the radio. I really am pleased about that because if you are asking people to part with money, then you want it to be something worthwhile and so I trawled through the attic looking for old photographs, and things like that. So, I actually think that it is a nice thing to have particularly in a physical format. I also think that it will tie in nicely with the forthcoming tour. I’m looking at making a really good tour brochure which has got lots of stuff that you would usually get as a fan.

During this promotional period, I have, when time has allowed, explained all of the songs, and have also looked at all of the videos that accompanied the songs, explaining just what was going on in those videos. I personally feel that I am giving people good stuff, rather than just churning out something for the sake of it.

It’s good to see that you haven’t fallen into the Michael Bublé way of selling albums. He simply adds a new song to the album and releases it for the fifth year running at Christmas (laughter).

(Laughter) is that what he does. Well, all I can say to that is that I am sure that it is working for him. Perhaps I will look into that for the next album (laughter).

You have briefly mentioned the covers album, Crying In The Bathroom, which was released in August 2021. What was the rationale for releasing an album of cover versions of songs all sung by female artists. Are they songs that mean something to you?

Firstly, let me say that I was really amazed with the response to that album actually. As you quite rightly point out, they were all songs that were sung by female artists, and I really did look upon it as a stand-alone project, with the aim being for me to celebrate she/male pop stars on the left-field side of pop. Every single song on there really did mean something to me; everyone from London Grammar to Bat For Lashes to Everything But The Girl. I was really pleased with that album, and I think that Richard X who produced it did an amazing job. It was only ever meant to be a small, side project, but actually, the first single Daniel, was top two airplay and people really did love the song.

They all were brilliant songs, and I had always wanted to record my version of them. I knew that they were brilliant songs because I had been listening to them for years, so I might do another version of that, perhaps a part two. Having said that, I really do think that the next album that I do will be all original stuff again.

Will there be any new songs on the set list for the forthcoming tour or will it be a greatest hits tour?

To be totally honest with you, I want this tour to simply be all of the hits. During the show I am going to have a section where people can request any song, so there will be a twenty-minute section messaging in live where they can request any one of the hundred and forty odd songs that I have recorded over the whole of my career. I think that is really going to be fun; it will also be really challenging, because every night is going to be different, and people can really get a chance to hear that one song that maybe I have never sung live.

The UK tour starts in October; are you looking forward to being back out on the road once again?

Yes, I am, I really am. It has been such a long time since I was last out there doing what it is that I do, so I think this tour is really going to be fun, especially as everything seems to have died down a little. So yes, I am actually looking forward to the tour, and more to the point, I know that the band simply can’t wait. It has been a very difficult time for musicians, and also for people who make their living by playing on other people’s tours. I think that everyone is relieved, and I think that it will be really special for all of us to be back in a room with other people, with an audience, and because it is a celebration tour, that gives a nice sort of edge to it. I think that it is going to be really fun.

You are here in Nottingham on the 7th November at The Royal Concert Hall once again.

I have to say that The Royal Concert Hall really is a lovely venue to play, and I really do enjoy the time that I get to spend up there in Nottingham.

So, am I to take it that you like our fair city?

I absolutely love Nottingham, and I have been there many times now. I played Cabaret up there for a week, and I used to have a friend who was at university in Nottingham, so I used to go up there quite a bit. I have always enjoyed my time spent in Nottingham actually. I have always enjoyed coming up there. I like a city that has a university on campus as well. I was at university in Exeter which is not that dissimilar to Nottingham. I really do like smaller cities.

The city did take a bit of a battering whenever the Americans came over to take a look at Nottingham Castle, especially after Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Robin Hood. They would say, “that’s not a castle, that’s no bigger than a shed” (laughter).

Really, how rude is that. Anyway, they can go and get lost (laughter).

The last time that I saw you was back in 2019 on The Lexicon Tour, when you posted yourself in a big box to the stage and then on Who Am I you came out of it as a Naval Captain with a blow-up boat around your waist. What can we expect this time?

God knows (laughter). Well, I have just started working on the show, and I think that there are going to be some quite fun things. Between you and me I am thinking about using puppets at some stage. I am also trying to work out a way of bringing in Pop Idol and the winning moment and things like that but in a fun way. So, that is what I am working on at the moment (laughter). I quite like the idea of starting on stage; I have always wanted to be in a glass box, and actually be on the stage when the audience starts to come in, so my dressing room would be on the stage. I have always thought that would be quite good fun, but I don’t know if we are going to do that this year because I have come up with another idea (laughter).

We will just have to wait and see then (laughter).

Yes, you will, along with everyone else; don’t be such an inpatient hussy. You know what they say, good things come to those who wait, so wait (laughter).

Here we are speaking about the greatest hits album, and the fact that you have been in the music business for twenty years now, so I have to ask you, have you a picture of Dorian Gray hidden away somewhere because you don’t look a day older?

Oh come, come, that is so very kind of you, but I think that I look ancient. That is really kind of you, but I would say that I am quite lucky in the fact that the female side of my family have always looked very youthful. So, I think that I have managed to acquire some of that. I do think that I am quite fortunate as my mum, who is seventy, really does look great. But I think that more importantly it is about being happy. I think if you are happy, then that comes across as does trying to lead a good life. But I really do think that happiness is the key. I also think that remembering that you are a kid at heart really does keep you young.

You have briefly mentioned Pop Idol. Taking you back to 2002, just how did it feel winning it?

Well, it was a complete surprise in many ways, but it was also a wonderful feeling. I think that there was a real purity about that show, and I think that people have a real fond relationship with Pop Idol which they might not have so much with something like The X Factor. What you have to remember is that there were only ever two Pop Idol’s ever here in the UK. It never overstayed its welcome and I think that people feel very fondly about it. I personally feel that it would be a brilliant show to bring back actually, because there is something very pure about it. The whole experience for me was really such a laugh (laughter). It was crazy, but all of the contestants had a laugh, and we were all very close. It really was a very special time.

People remember you as the winner, everyone remembers Gareth Gates finishing as runner-up, but no one ever remembers the guy who came third, Darius Campbell-Danesh.

That’s right, Darius was there too. We all got along so well together, they really were very special and happy times.

It is clear to everyone that you have a fondness for the show, but I was going to ask you, do you think that talent shows have had their day?

To be totally honest with you, I don’t really think that talent shows have had their day. Talent shows were around long before Pop Idol, so I think that the good thing now, because I am big on wellbeing, I think that when people do those kinds of shows, they have to, they have a responsibility to look at who they are putting on the shows, and they have a responsibility to look after the people. I think that is a good thing, because there were lots of times when people were not looked after. We were very lucky actually I think because we were not manipulated but I think that there have been a lot of people who have suffered actually; lots of trauma because of those talent shows. Having said all of that, I think now we can’t get away with it and that has to be a good thing.

Remembering the ‘infamous exchange’ between you and a certain Simon Cowell, do the two of you get on now?

No, not at all, he’s a dreadful man. He is absolutely bonkers. He’s bonkers isn’t he? Well, I have always said that happy people do not do nasty things. Luckily, my path was very quickly separated from him; in fact he wasn’t so powerful that he couldn’t get told off by the head of my record company. In fact, I was very fortunate that my record label took me off his label. They kindly took me out of his zone so to speak.

I recently interviewed Gareth who told me that the two of you became, and have remained, good friends since the show, is that right?

Oh Gareth, yes, we still message one another. He really is sweet, and I hope that we can get together and do something to commemorate the twenty-year anniversary of Pop Idol at some stage. It would be great for us to sing our duet again; he really is a sweet, nice man. The two of us were so very different; you couldn’t get two more different people, just in age alone. Gareth really was so young. It’s nice that we still message one another, and I try to keep tabs on what he is doing.

Having personally suffered from PTSD now for over forty years, your latest book, Be Yourself And Happier: The A-Z of Well Being, was that something that you wanted to do or was it something that you felt that you had to do?

That is a really great question. First of all, thank you for sharing about your PTSD, it is still something that is very underexplored. I actually felt like it was something that was needed and that is actually the way that I view a lot of the things that I do with mental health and wellbeing. I feel a deep concern about what isn’t being provided, and I have a huge passion for mental health, and just how humans work. Having been through really difficult times, and luckily, come out the other side, now it is really nice to talk from a place of a shared experience. It good that I can now say, “hey look, this is what maybe helps me” and I get a lot of pleasure out of it.

I want to continue to do stuff, be it books, TV programmes, or whatever, because I think that the worst thing is the shame that comes with feeling anything other than content. I think that it has got better but there is still a stigma attached to anything to do with mental health issues. Also, I think that we are all very quick to shame ourselves. That is one of the reasons why I like to share things, because I think that it can help people feel that they are not alone, they are not odd, they are not weird, they are in fact just like anyone else.

What I have found from my own personal experience is that the doctors are very quick to hand out medication and then show you the door rather than trying to actually get to the root cause of the problem.

It is very interesting that you bring that up, because that is something that I am interested in exploring, the misuse of medication, because I, like you, have experienced that. I have actually been put on medication which has made me ill; it certainly didn’t help me. The other problem is that it takes so long to actually wean yourself off the medication. I personally feel that medication is a really interesting area to debate, and it is something that unfortunately we have inherited like lots of other things from America, and it is seen as a quick fix, but it doesn’t actually do that, particularly with trauma, it won’t do anything at all to help with that anyway.

Medication might create a cushion, but I am more on the side of being anti-medication. I have yet to hear of medication doing amazing things for people, and I have to say that I think that globally, drug companies are making a lot of money so it really is interesting for me to hear you say that. Don’t get me wrong, for some people it works which is brilliant, but I think that a lot of people operate on a very limited understanding of these things.

Do you think that your sexuality has held you back in anyway especially when dealing with the BBC as both Jimmy Somerville and Andy Bell have both been reported as saying that the BBC is, even now in 2022, full of bigots?

What I would say is I think that people like Jimmy (Somerville) and Andy (Bell) were both really at the forefront during a time when there was really bad homophobia and I think that people forget people like Andy and Jimmy. Personally, I feel that they should both receive MBE’s and that they should both be lauded as true gay icons, they really should. I can understand why someone like Jimmy would think that. To be honest, I haven’t experienced it myself, not really. Maybe certain areas within various institutions, and I include the record business in this, are very bigoted. But I have to say that I haven’t personally been subjected to any form of homophobia. I have worked at Radio 2 where there are a lot of queer people who work there so I haven’t come across it but I don’t live either Jimmy’s or Andy’s lives so I can understand just why they may feel that way.

Looking back over the last twenty years, would you do anything differently?

No (laughter).

Which Will Young song do you enjoy performing the most?

Well, I would have to say that it does change, but there is a song called Who Am I that I really love, and I never seem to fall out with it, so I would have to say Who Am I.

On that note Will, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful.

Thanks Kevin, I really have enjoyed that. You take care, stay safe and I will see you up there in Nottingham. Bye.