I GOT a real insight into what life’s like for X Factor stars when I chatted to a few of them at the Leeds Christmas lights switch on.
My favourite Shayne Ward was there to turn the switch and sing his new single and so were X Factor rejects Futureproof, who were tipped to win by the bookies and include my old friend Richard Wilkinson.
A year ago Richard was working for me at my bar, Fibre. Now he’s on stage in front of hundreds of cheering teenagers. "I wish I’d known you were so talented, I wouldn’t have let you leave," I said to him. "Well it’s a good job you didn’t know, then," he replied, cheekily.
If it doesn’t work out he can come back any time – though all indications are that Futureproof are going to be big. "You should start keeping a diary," I advised Richard. "Then if you’re huge like Take That you can do a book, it’ll be easier than remembering it all."
"Ooh yes," he said. "I hadn’t thought of that but it’s a brilliant idea."
I love being in the limelight but there’s clearly a price to pay. Richard told me about the long hours that you need to put in to make it on X Factor, rehearsing tracks over and over again, barely getting the chance to give your family a quick call.
And it’s clear they’ve given him media training and told him to be very careful what he says to people, particularly the press. The Richard I know is a gregarious and outspoken young lad, not afraid to say what’s on his mind. But suddenly he’s this very careful and considered professional.
I know stupid comments are often blown out of all proportion in the media but stars and their management are so cautious now, it makes interviews you see on TV and read in the magazines totally boring. I long for a return of the days when people just said what they felt like saying.
If I’m making being a fledgling pop star sound really hard work, it doesn’t get any less hectic when you’re established. Shayne had come by helicopter from Manchester, where he’d just switched on some Christmas lights there. He landed on the outskirts of the city and was whisked in to the centre by car, with a police escort.
For Shayne this is all part of a relentless campaign of personal appearances designed to get his new single in the charts and on the airwaves.
He made a beeline for me backstage which was great because I had my sister Rosemarie with me, who’s his biggest fan. She’s always wanted to meet him and it was really great to see this respectable 32-year-old mum turn into an excitable teenager when he put his arm round her to pose for a picture.
Shayne was telling me: "You’d think it would get easier the more established you are but it doesn’t. Every record needs promoting, you can’t just release something, sit back and see it do well."
It was only a minor gripe, you can tell he clearly loves meeting his public – it must be amazing to be in so much demand.
Chico was there too, he gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and we talked about his home country of Morocco, and the property scene over there. Dick and Dom, the TV presenters were there but as I’m not a particular fan of kids’ telly I didn’t bother introducing myself.
Shayne was looking great in a leather jacket, white shirt and a big silver costume cross necklace with trendy jeans. He’d heard about my TV appearance on Secret Millionaire on Channel 4 and asked me a lot about it.
Last time I saw him I’d written in the column about him wearing underpants that looked like drab prison shorts, when he flashed them onstage. "They were Armani!" he told me, aghast. "And anyway, you can blame my mum, she buys them. I’m wearing white Calvin Kleins today – you can’t go wrong with those."