Will Young and his obsession with taking his clothes off
by Karen Shaw
It was in 2001 that Will, a struggling student, was persuaded by a pal to enter Pop Idol and after beating Gareth Gates in the grand final; he hasn’t looked back. Fast forward fifteen years and success continues to follow him. In the last year Will Young has competed at synchronised swimming for Sport Relief and caused a stir in the kitchen on The Great British Bake-Off, but there’s no way you’ll ever see him in the Big Brother chair or chewing on a kangaroo penis in the jungle. “I’d only do something if I felt I could learn something from it,” he says.
With a rather extensive tour dates list as long as the Amazon River, he’s really looking forward to performing at the historic Hoghton Tower near Preston, and it promises to be an unforgettable evening.
I’m slightly obsessed with taking my clothes off at the moment
He’s just returned from the gym in an attempt to ‘up’ his fitness levels ready for his rather gruelling schedule this summer. Despite working out he’s looking forward to meeting up with his band members for a curry. “The curry really doesn’t go hand in hand with the gym,” he laughs, “but there you go!” Will and his band are excited about the tour and are meeting up to discuss ideas. “It won’t just be me and a triangle on stage,” he chuckles. “There’ll be gigantic balloons bobbing around in the audience and massive confetti cannons. It’s going to be like a really messy six-year-old’s birthday party.”
Sounds right up my street, so when he goes on to tell me they may also be a jelly fight, I immediately challenge him to a pillow fight, which he gallantly accepts with the promise of a goody bag for the winner.
“I really enjoy performing,” says Will. “It would be pointless doing it if I didn’t enjoy it.”
It’s clear that Will loves his work, but it doesn’t define him. After being swallowed up by fame and then catapulted into a multitude of different roles from singing to acting, Will has finally managed to achieve a work/life balance. He checks and answers his emails for two hours a day. “I’m getting a lot more done now, I’m more focused, and it doesn’t consume my days anymore.”
Despite being offered a wealth of roles, Will is adamant that he’ll only accept a role if it makes him happy. “It would be pointless otherwise. I wouldn’t enjoy it and in turn, neither would the audience. It’s always tempting to do things for money. I could probably earn twice as much if I accepted what I was offered, but I don’t want to be involved in a s**t show.
“I’m slightly obsessed with taking my clothes off at the moment,” Will adds.
I’m just about to shriek for joy at the prospect but my excitement is soon deflated when he goes on to say: “You wouldn’t want to see my body at the moment. It’s flabby.”
Although he won’t be stripping off on tour, you may still be able to sneak a peek…
“I’m going to have a dressing up box and will do costume changes on stage.”
Totally dis-regarding my sigh of disappointment, he goes on to say: “There’s something rather empowering about being naked on stage. It shows a level of vulnerability. And that’s why I love performing, because it is empowering and you have to be brave to sing sad, emotional songs. You have to be brave to jump around like an idiot on stage, and you have to be very brave to tell crap jokes while on stage,” he laughs.
“I’m playing a role on stage when singing, I would prefer more of a protection. I feel very vulnerable talking about work that I’ve done. I much prefer playing a part. I don’t have to worry so much. I can just get on and do it. Working in the pop industry is much harder, but I’m not complaining, it’s my job.”
After achieving a degree in Politics at Exeter University and in an attempt to boost his confidence, Will attended the Arts Educational School in London. “At the time I didn’t even like Musical Theatre,” he laughs. “I hated the singing lessons!”
I had recently interviewed actor George Costigan, who aired his frustration at London based theatres screening live stage performances in Northern cinemas.
George rightly believes that there is a ‘snobbery divide’ and London is not the ‘be-all and end-all’ when it comes to the arts, defending the wealth of marvellous talent and venues in the north of England.
When I discuss this with Will, he wholeheartedly agrees. “My theatrical debut was in Noel Coward’s The Vortex at the Manchester Royal Exchange, and that’s a great theatre.”
To be fair, there is a massive conglomerate of theatres in the capital, but despite this Will doesn’t feel the need to live in London, and agrees that there is a snobbery divide between London and the north.
“I really shouldn’t be telling you this but… I’m really interested in why we have to travel so far. I live and have always lived in the countryside and I’ve always wondered why it is that you have to travel to London to see a gig. Why do you have so travel so far? So next year I’d like to take music out to places where you wouldn’t usually find it. I’d love to get up into the Highlands, I live on Bodmin Moor. I’d love to perform there.
“I used to live in ‘Rammy’ (Ramsbottom) outside of Manchester. I‘d love to get back up there. The audience who voted for me on Pop Idol weren’t just from London, they were from all over the UK.”
Will hasn’t seen his former competitor Gareth Gates for a while and admits that he’d love to perform again with him in a reunion concert. “Winning was such a special experience,” says Will. “The entire world went quiet, and I thought ‘My God, my dream has just come true.’ I remember saying to my uni friends ‘Think of all the free parties we can go to’, and we did.”
While on the subject of dreams coming true, Will was overwhelmed when offered the role of Bertie in the film Mrs Henderson Presents… starring alongside Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.
“I was also doing my arena tour at the same time, so I was filming and then rehearsing for the tour. I deliberately didn’t research who the director, Stephen Frears, was because I thought if I knew his work I wouldn’t be able to look him in the eyes. “When I went into the final audition, I sat next to this chap, who asked me how I was, to which I replied “I’m fine, I’m just waiting for the director. The chap answered ‘I’m the director!’”
Despite stopping smoking for over two years, Will is contentedly chuffing away on a cigarette. It’s a vice that he’s going to be stopping again, but he’s struggling, as addiction can come too easy to Will. He openly admits it’s in his nature and in the words of the singer Robert Palmer, our Will is ‘addicted to love’.
“People don’t talk about that sort of thing, it’s just another type of addiction. I’ve done a lot of research and studying on the subject, but I’m better now. I had to do a lot of hard work. I got very, very ill. I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and depersonalisation for two and half years. I couldn’t see my own face, I couldn’t even recognise people! It was extremely hard and some of the people I was in recovery with didn’t ‘make it.’ I understand why they didn’t make it. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the time off work and could afford the treatment.”
His mood lifts dramatically when shrieking with delight he says: “My mother’s just driven past me in a new ridiculously fast sports car.
“I love cars. I collect them, but I don’t know anything about engines and when people start taking about engines, I just lie and nod politely. I like to talk about the way it looks, the colour, and how it makes you feel when driving it, and it must have Bluetooth. I don’t care about horsepower,” he laughs.
When I ask him if he has a spare car to throw my way, he offers me his Transit van. Nice offer, but I’ve had one before and when I tell him how I used it to collect timber and sell it, he’s in hysterics
and laughing says: “That is so weird. We really need to become friends. I’m the same. Whenever I’m out in the Transit and I see kindling by the side of the road I put it straight in the van. It means I don’t have to pay for wood!”
If you would like to wiggle to Will you can catch him at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on Thursday 30th June – www.scarboroughopenairtheatre.com or Houghton Tower on Friday 31st June – www.symphonyatthetower.co.uk