Will Young is late. Very late.
As you might expect from the well-spoken singer, whose charm helped win over millions of TV viewers who voted for him all those years ago on Pop Idol, he sends his sincere apologies, and when he does finally arrive about an hour later than planned, couldn’t be more apologetic.
He explains he’d driven up from his house in Cornwall, where he spends much of his time these days, but despite setting off at 4am, lane closures on the M4 slowed him down.
His giant muddy boots rather prove he’s telling the truth. “There is no way I’d be wearing those if I had time to go and change,” he says, making further apologies for his sleep-deprived state, and for munching his way through a gargantuan bowl of porridge as we talk.
Young’s forthcoming sixth album, 85% Proof, is somewhat slicker than today’s arrival.
He says it’s his best yet, that it’s the sound of him really hitting his stride - not exactly a unique sentiment from an artist promoting a new work, but in this case, it’s true.
Young’s lyrics are confident, and delivered with the assured nature of someone who knows what they’re doing.
“Everything from the title on is really confident,” he says. “Proof is a really interesting word. But it is proof that I am good.
“And I can say that and it doesn’t mean I am arrogant. I have my insecurities, of course I do, but I am happy to say I think I’m good at what I do. I’ve been doing it long enough, my God, so I have to think that. I can’t say to people, ‘Buy this record. I wouldn’t, but you should’. You have to believe in yourself, and your product.”
He stopped short of calling the album 100% Proof, as he thought that came across a “bit too hip-hop” for him, but liked the idea of 85%, “like really strong rum”.
“It was actually something my brother, Rupert, came up with,” he explains. “We were on a kick-boxing retreat in Thailand earlier this year...”
Young explains he used to feel a lot of anger, and decided the best way to work through it, aside from studying somatic experiencing therapy in Oxford, which he hopes to one day teach himself, was to take up a martial art. His brother felt the same, and the pair went to Thailand in January for an intensive break.
“I’ve just started. It was terrifying,” he says. “You have the hardcore people that can rip your head off, the 22-stone American men that are doing it to get fit, six-stone women who are fitness fanatics, and Rupert and I were there in the middle, desperately trying to do press-ups.
“Anger is a really good emotion,” he adds. “We’re constantly told we’re not allowed to feel it, and I never thought I had any anger, but of course I do. I’ve got a punchbag in every home now, and I’m always punching and kicking them.”
When Young, now 36, won Pop Idol back in 2002, he was still playing rugby and basketball every week, running regularly and pursuing any hobby he fancied. Then fame came along, and all that stopped.
“I was too inward focused,” he says now. “That was fine then, I needed to be, but now I can do other things. I feel as free as when I was a teenager again. And it’s helped with the songwriting.”
He’s been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post for some time, has immersed himself in activism, for LGBT charities Stonewall and Pace, has started playing various sports again, rediscovered his love of art and, maybe most significantly, appeared in West End musical Cabaret. Young played The Emcee during the show’s revival in 2012, and as it toured throughout 2013.
“That gave me more freedom than anything. It’s the most freeing, unpredictable role there is, because he’s a psychopath. I could say whatever I wanted to the audience each night.”
These sidelines, he says, have made him more focused on music than ever, which was why when it came to sitting down to write with his long-term collaborators Kish Mauve, the songs were tied up in around two weeks.
But in terms of promoting his work, he says he feels the pressure more now, compared with the early days of his career, when that side of things was taken care of for him.
“[But] It’s all out of my hands. There aren’t many TV shows to do, so that has changed. The industry is very different from when I started,” he adds. “I called my dad the other day and I was saying I didn’t know what to do, but he said he’d heard my song on the radio and told me to relax. That’s all I can do, I suppose.”
85% Proof is largely upbeat and happy, with song titles like Brave Man, Love Revolution and Joy.
“It’s funny, though,” Young quips. “I went to the dry cleaner the other day and she said, ‘Will, I’ve got to talk about your lyrics, it’s so sad!’ So people take from the songs what they want.
“That lady is like my marker for my career. I’ve just done a video and when she saw it, she said, ‘Will, I’ve got to talk about your video. Where is your head at? Where was your head at when you wrote that song?’
“People think they can say whatever they want to me,” he continues. “’You look older’, or, ‘You look skinny’. ‘I didn’t like your last song’, ‘What the hell are you wearing?’, or even, ‘Oi, Gareth Gates!’,” he says, referencing his Pop Idol runner-up. “ I get it all. But after all this time, I’m used to it and I’ve got a very thick skin.
“This album is all about shrugging off unhappiness and accepting what I am. Nothing is going to get to me.”