Singer-songwriter, actor, producer and all-round national treasure Will Young, 32, tells Lisa Merrick-Lawless about negotiating fame and being himself.
It’s almost 10 years since you won Pop Idol in 2002. How does it feel to reach that milestone?
In some ways it feels longer because so much has happened. It’s amazing that I’m still around after five albums and a greatest hits compilation. I’m even more proud of my work today than I was 10 years ago. It’s not that I’m not proud of my past but what I’m doing now both in music and outside of it, is stuff I’m really happy to put my name to.
What’s different about your latest album Echoes?
My music has evolved a fair bit and I would say this is an electro-pop album. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for around six years and this felt like the right time to change musical direction. The music still retains an essence of me so it doesn’t feel like I’ve done something dishonest.
How did you negotiate the move from reality TV show winner to credible artist?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was based on my natural desire to pursue my career. I’m forthright but not pig -headed. I listen to people around me but I have clear ideas about what I want. It also helps that I work with great producers and photographers.
Did you always want to perform?
Yes, but it was a very quiet ambition. From the age of four, I would sing along to anything my parents were listening to like Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie.
How did you cope with the sudden fame Pop Idol brought you?
I put my head down and concentrated on the music. The rest is peripheral. In the early days I read Celebrity by Chris Rojek. I was interested in celebrity from a sociological perspective and how I’d become part of it.
Are you competitive?
I am quietly competitive. You need nerves of steel to stick around in the music business, but I would never walk over anyone to get what I wanted. I want to feel that I’ve done as much as I can, because we’re not here for long. You’ve also tried acting [Will won praise for his role in the 2005 BBC film Mrs Henderson Presents and earlier this year he appeared in the Sky Living supernatural drama Bedlam].
What do you enjoy about it?
When I was 12 I was going to go to an acting college. Doing music videos reawakened my love of acting and after my second album, Friday’s Child, I wanted to give it a go. Acting is great fun and it’s very different to singing. You have to be a lot more patient because you’re not the most important thing.
Are you constantly looking for new ways to challenge yourself?
Yes. While I was making this album I took some time out to go to Serbia where I filmed a documentary on Ralph Fiennes’ forthcoming film version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus. I’ve invested money in the film and I’m a silent producer, which is amazing.
Charity work is one of your pastimes. What do you get out of that?
I’m passionate about Catch 22, a charity which helps young people who are in trouble, which I’ve been working with for 18 months. We spend time building up individuals’ confidence and encouraging them. I love spending time with young people because you can learn so much from them.
You ran the London Marathon for Catch 22 this year. How did you find it?
It was horrendous but I’m doing it again next year. It really was a wonderful day but there were dark moments. I got through them with energy bars and Jelly Babies. I trained for five months and I enjoyed taking a break from work to go for a run.
Will Young’s new single Jealousy is out on 21 August and his new album Echoes is out on 22 August.