After some time away from the limelight, James Arthur is back – and 2018 is set to be the singer’s year.
The Say You Won’t Let Go hit maker took some time out ahead of his UK tour to talk fame, second chances and mental health with Source. It’s been quite a year for James Arthur. After winning the X Factor in 2012, his career has been a bit of a rollercoaster – and after some controversial comments in the press and parting ways with his record label Syco, we thought we’d heard the last of him.
And then Say You Won’t Let Go happened.
“It’s been incredible to see that people have connected with my music again,” says James. “If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have thought Ashton Kutcher would come out of some corner to say I had been punk’d!”
And people really have connected with it. The single went to number one in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden – and it finished at number 19 in the overall year-end charts in 2016, here in Britain. The song, and its follow-up Safe Inside have received incredible airplay – something he says he’s still not getting used to, despite five years in the business.
“It’s always such a great feeling hearing your song on the radio and seeing the support you’re getting,” he admits. “I don’t think you can ever get too used to it.”
It’s marked an incredible return to form for the 28-year-old – and he’s a little bit more grateful for his success this time around.
“I think time away from the limelight has really helped with everything that’s happening now,” he says. “I needed that time away, and as cliché as it sounds, to find myself again. I got lost. But I feel like everything happens for a reason and I had to hit the bottom to then come back up again.”
James and fame have had a pretty rocky relationship. When he stepped onto The X Factor audition stage back in 2012, he was just the kid with the big glasses, wonky teeth and massive voice from Middlesbrough. Within weeks, the whole nation was talking about him.
And that was a lot to take on – as it would be for anyone. But for James, who had struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, it was even harder. During his time on The X Factor, he suffered panic attacks that almost forced him to pull out of the show – and as he got to grips with fame after winning the show at Christmas time, things steadily got worse, turning to drink and drugs to cope.
He’s now an ambassador for mental health charity SANE, and regularly speaks out about his own experiences to try raise the profile of mental health in the media.
“I don’t think people talk about it enough and it’s so important,” he says. “If I had known about the help and support you could get, it would have helped me through a lot. Mental health, especially amongst young men too, should not remain such a taboo subject and should be discussed more openly.”
And his battle back from the brink has definitely inspired his new material. Now signed to Colombia, his third album Back from the Edge, which hit the number one spot back in October, has a cathartic feel to it – and it acted almost as therapy for the songwriter.
“This album is very much a redemption album,” he admits. “A lot of the writing influences came from that.”
And it’s an album where he felt he had to prove himself too. Aside from falling off the radar and parting ways with Syco in 2014, he’ll always have ‘The X Factor winner’ tag following him. Does he feel like there’s more pressure on him to do well as a result of the show?
“I think there is always that pressure to try and prove yourself when you come from a talent show,” James explains. “But this time around I just wanted to do things my way and fortunately people seems to have connected to it too.”
And they can’t wait to connect with it live. This spring, James is off on a 16-date UK tour, his first major live dates in some time. And it’s the Glasgow date which is standing out for him already.
“Being on the road and performing live is my favourite experience,” he says. “It’s where I feel most comfortable. I love Scotland and I have family there. The crowd are always excited and lively up there, and it’s a great place to perform!”
It’ll be the perfect way for James to round off the album’s success. The record has given him the opportunity to play around the world – even on James Corden’s Late, Late Show in the States.
“There are too many now to pick just one, but this whole year has literally just been a highlight,” he says. “Having a number 1 single and album was a pretty incredible experience.”
After a phenomenal six months and the British public back on his side, what would he say he’s taken away from his time in the music business?
“To live in the moment and enjoy everything,” he says. “It’s a tough business but you’ve got to make the most of it.”
James’ album Back from the Edge is out now. Catch him at the Glasgow O2 Academy on 10 March – get tickets from www.ticketmaster.co.uk