The release of his new album, Right Place, Right Time, was imminent. He was presenting ITV’s The Xtra Factor, which beamed him into millions of homes. The stress was immense. Strung-out and depressed, he had a ‘lost week’ in late 2012. He hit the bottle. The harder he partied, the freer he felt. It was bleak.
“I had a sticky period,” he says. “Things were, maybe, getting on top of me a little. I had anxieties about the new record. And then there was The Xtra Factor. It’s hard to do both. There was a lot of strain.”
The tipping point was online vitriol. That hurt. Murs is confident, but the insults corroded his self-esteem.
He would gaze at the computer screen wondering how strangers could feel such enmity for someone they knew only via radio and television. He was wallowing, so he kicked the booze, yanked open the curtains and went to work. Right Place Right Time sailed to the top of the UK charts (it was a top-five hit here).
Continuing with his job as The Xtra Factor’s irreverent host, he upstaged the po-faced judges of the X Factor.
Several months on, the 26-year-old has recovered. Backstage at the O2, he lives up to his cheeky-chap image. His trademark hat cocked at an angle, he speaks at 100 km/h and radiates geezerish bonhomie. You look at him and think ‘pop star’. He is a born entertainer.
“I would hope I’m not massively overconfident,” he says. “I just enjoy doing what I do. I like having fun. That’s how you should approach your job, isn’t it? The stuff I went through around the time the album came out was a period. I got over it quickly. It was the worries and pressures of having a record on the way. It’s something a lot of people experience. It is perfectly natural.”
Murs was born in Witham, Essex, 45 miles from London. He was a talented soccer player, a centre forward with local semi-professional team, Witham Town. An injury ended his career in his early 20s. By then, he was working as a recruitment consultant and singing with a covers-band, Small Town Blaggers. His first TV appearance was on Deal Or No Deal, in 2007, and he won £10.
After a backpacking holiday in Australia, he decided to be serious about music. In 2009, he auditioned for X Factor, flooring Simon Cowell with his performance of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’. Twelve months later, he finished runner-up to Joe McElderry on X Factor, released a number-one single and packed arenas. He has maintained his popularity.
Murs says he has no regrets about the past year, but says he has learned lessons from his brief meltdown. For the foreseeable future he will focus on music. He is putting television presenting on the back-burner.
Better to be outstanding at one thing than mediocre at two.
“I had a new record to promote and a show to do,” he says. “It was always going to be very hard. It’s unlikely I’ll be doing the Xtra Factor next year, to be honest. I’m going to be busy as it is.”
Murs is a rarity — an X Factor graduate whose career has lasted longer than the show’s closing credits. Aside from One Direction — a phenomenon that defies analysis — Murs is the first alum since Leona Lewis to win the affections of the public.
What’s the secret? He shrugs, as if to suggest that sometimes it’s best not look too deeply into your success.
“I suppose I was in the right place at the right time,” he says.
“There weren’t many male solo artists doing what I was. People liked it. I think I struck them as fresh.”
Still, there are occasional missteps, literally as well as figuratively.
Several weeks ago, he slipped on stage in Wales. Captured on YouTube, the clip of Murs hitting the floor did the rounds on social media.
For a performer who prides himself on his dancing ability, it was embarrassing. Still, he is careful not to come across as po-faced and wants you to know he can laugh at himself.
“It’s fine,” he says. “Fans record the performance, so you’re not going to get away with something like that. It’s funny. That’s the internet for you. You just have to learn to live with it. They happen sometimes.” Among his upcoming projects is a trip around the world supporting Robbie Williams (the two stop by Dublin’s Aviva Stadium in June).
From his first X Factor audition, Murs has been compared endlessly to Williams. Far from being annoyed, he understands why audiences and critics discern a similarity — and is proud to share a bill with the sometime Take That man.
“Robbie is always going to be tops for me,” he says. “We’ve become good mates. Obviously, he’s in LA with his wife and his baby, so I haven’t seen him in a while. But we’re close and I’m looking forward to catching up with him. We’re going to do the best tour that we can.”
* Olly Murs plays Marquee Cork, Wednesday, Jun 12.