Wed, Oct 01, 2008 - Page 14 News List

No apologies

For Will Young, ‘Pop Idol’ is a distant memory. He talks about his acting career,coming out, his guilt over his twin and his Nashville ambitions

By Jude Rogers  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

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Will Young raises his eyebrows conspiratorially. He’s talking about his new album and he knows he isn’t supposed to say this sort of thing. “I was dreading doing it,” he says. “I’ve had a few dark nights. I’m a bit worried about the title, too. You know, Let It Go. It sounds a bit like a self-help book. With me, Dr Young!” He laughs, tucking his tight trousers under himself as his mood quickly changes. “But what’s in it — I love it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve finally got comfortable with what I do really well.” He takes a sip from a lime-spiked bottle of lager.

Young turns 30 in January and, despite his current cheer, it’s obvious that the odd coming-of-age crisis has nipped at his heels. His new album is a master class in grown-up soul-pop, delivered in a vocal full of heart and personality, but songs called Tell Me the Worst and If Love Equals Nothing hint at other, less joyful stories. And then there’s the chorus from Changes, the album’s melancholy first single: “Been out of luck/For so long/And I don’t get much/So there’s nothing much to lose.”

These songs do have some personal resonance, Young admits. There is his breakup with a long-term boyfriend (the two are now on good terms), but there is also the sense that Young is growing up, reflecting on the peculiar beginnings of his career and realizing how he can transcend them and become an artist in his own right. “Yes, that’s pretty spot-on,” he agrees. “Although Pop Idol was wonderful for me. I could never knock it.”

Young was always an unusual talent-show winner. He turned 23 during Pop Idol, famously sparred with Simon Cowell, and looked like a worldly-wise adult next to the other finalist, the baby-faced teenager Gareth Gates. Everyone expected Gates to win. He was conventionally cute and had overcome a stutter; his was a great tabloid story. When Young won, it was a shock.

“Looking back, it’s all quite weird,” says Young. “When I started at the auditions, I just thought of it as another way in.” He had already worked for Sony Music Publishing to try to get his foot in the door. And when Pop Idol started, he had just begun a three-year musical theater scholarship at London’s Arts Educational School, straight after getting his 2.2 in politics from Exeter University.

“Then everything changed,” he says. “I was a 23-year-old student with £20,000 [US$38,000] worth of loans, who suddenly got a wodge of cash, a record contract and a business. I had to get to grips with a machine and take control of it.” Other people would have left the business concerns to the management, wouldn’t they? Young’s eyes fix me keenly. “Not me. I knew Pop Idol was a means to an end and I had to take the reins. I was determined to have a career, and that kept me going.”

Young knew, too, that success did not mean that every door was suddenly open. The Glastonbury festival [the venerable music festival with hippy beginnings held in southwest England] was a case in point: “I couldn’t just expect to waltz into a festival back then and go, ‘Oh, hello, it’s me from the telly,’ could I? You’ve got to work. You’ve got to earn it.” And earn it he did, finally playing Glastonbury this summer, as well as T in the Park [a music festival held in Perth and Kinross, Scotland]. It was clearly quite a landmark for him and he was delighted to see fields of “drunk, blokey men” singing along to songs like his 2003 No. 1, Leave Right Now.

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