Sofia Vyas has a chat with the cheekiest chappy in Essex, ahead of his gig in Abu Dhabi this month
Olly Murs has just called us “babe” and we’re in a bit of a flap. So much of a flap, that at the end of the interview we get a bit giddy and tell him we’ll “talk to him later” (three hours afterwards, we still want the ground to swallow us, but not enough to stop us from telling everyone who will listen what has just happened).
Olly just has that effect on people. Ever since his grinning face first graced our screens back in 2009, as a wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky X Factor contestant, he’s been charming fans across the world.
“My name is Olly Murs, I’m 25, I live in Whittam in Essex, and I work in an office and basically give people advice on how to save money on their energy bills,” he said. There was no sob story, no tearful shots of his family, and, amid the melodrama of reality TV, it was all just so refreshingly… normal.
“I am just a normal bloke, yeah, I am just a normal geezer. I go out each weekend, socialise with my mates, play football, sing a lot,” he told the camera.
Could anyone have guessed, then, what a superstar he would become? Perhaps. Simon Cowell probably claims he did, in any case. But when he walked out onto the X Factor stage, and Louis Walsh asked him: “What is your big dream?” Olly himself never believed it would become a reality.
“To be a pop star and be famous and sell records and be an international superstar,” he’d replied. And now here he is. Famous, an international superstar, and with well over 10 million record sales under his belt.
“I sort of believed it,” he tells us, looking back at his first audition. “I felt like it could happen... but I never thought it was actually going to happen, you know?”
Incredibly, he’s remained as down-to-earth as he ever was. “I came into this at 25,” he tells us when we chat to him ahead of his show in Abu Dhabi. “I had normal friends, a normal upbringing, normal everything. Also, I know what it’s like to have no money, to be in debt, to wake up every day doing the same job over and over again. I’ve been in that position, so I think that’s what’s always kept me grounded in this job. I know how lucky I am to be in it.”
He’s gushing with appreciation throughout our conversation, to his fans, to the X-Factor, to his family. Even to us for taking the time to call. “When I got given that opportunity [on The X Factor] I just ran with it,” he says. “I didn’t hold back. I just was like, ‘right, I’m gonna go for this.’ And that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
His career has been incredibly wide-ranging – he’s gone from being a professional footballer, to working in a call centre, to his brief stint as a television presenter, to pop star, but this, ultimately, is where he wants to be.
“Football was a big part of my life,” he says. “Would I change my pop career for football? 100 percent yes, I would love to. But – I think I learnt this year and last year really – that the one thing I love the most, and the one thing that I always wanna do is perform and dance and sing for people. It’s what I love to do. I don’t think I’m gonna change now.”
In the words of Cheryl Cole, he’s a natural born entertainer. So, while he might be steadfast in his resolve to keep going full-steam ahead with his musical career, shaking things up for his fans is at the core of what he does. His cheeky-chappy persona is ever-present on stage, but his music is constantly evolving, and his latest album 24 Hrs (which he released in November of last year) is a step away from the funk-tinged tracks of his first hits.
“I try to sort of surprise [my fans] and not do something similar to what I’ve done in the past,” he says. “It’s probably why I’ve stayed as long as I have – I’ve never tried to replicate what I’ve done previously. Dance With Me Tonight is a completely different song to Please Don’t Let Me Go, which is kind of a reggae song. Heart Skips a Beat is like a ’90s record. They all have a different place.”
Contrary to what you might think, Murs isn’t afraid to branch out into new genres and tackle issues close to his heart, like his break-up with his girlfriend. His recent releases have more of a danc-electronic vibe to them, that he says allows him to switch things up on stage.
“I’ll be dancing like I’m from the ’50s when I’m doing Dance With Me Tonight,” he says. “Then the next minute I’m giving a bit more of an MJ kind of vibe in You Don’t Know Love. As a performer, I get excited ’cause every song gives me a chance to showcase what I’m all about and that I can adapt to different sorts of songs.”
He chats about the constantly changing nature of the charts, and the influence of musicians like Drake, who, he says, has shaken things up with a modern kind of music that hasn’t been done before.
But Drake clearly isn’t the only one who knows how to keep people interested. Far from relying on his X Factor reputation, Murs is determined to keep it fresh.
“I’m just adapting and moving with the times. You have to be on the pulse of what's happening,” he says. “It’s really funny ’cause when Justin Timberlake’s I Can’t Stop the Feeling came out, all my fans thought it was my new song! I think my mum even texted me saying ‘I love your new song’.”
Which isn’t to say he’s trying to re-invent his image. He's still staying true to what many fans consider to be his signature style, of sorts. But he talks a lot about the importance of trying different things and tackling different subjects through his music.
“Not change my style of music,” he says, “but you can’t always do that cheeky, fun song because it can always sound similar to the records you’ve done before.”
Case in point, 24 Hrs, he tells us, has a bit of everything. It’s got cheekiness, it’s got sadness and it’s fun, but it’s got heart-break as well.
Not completely revolutionary, perhaps, but different nonetheless. There’s a vulnerability to it, especially in piano-led tracks like Flaws, that’s almost surprising to hear from an artist like Murs, who is so consistently upbeat.
And you can hear the change in typically catchy but hard-edged tracks like You Don't Know Love (though in true Murs fashion there are plenty of subtle, funky disco undertones to this one, too).
He does hint at the difficulty of making 24 Hrs, and writing music that isn’t so chipper. “You know, this album is probably a little bit difficult,” he says. ’Cause I am a bit of a cheeky chappy.”
But he shrugs it off quickly, pausing only briefly before gushing on: “It was obviously nice to go in a different direction and I’m so proud of it. My fans loved it and Abu Dhabi’s gonna be such a laugh because I love coming on stage and having a good time.”
His enthusiasm is infectious, and before we know it, we’re back to chatting about breaking cup of tea making records (“I’m always just having a giggle really and having fun,”) and his appearances on UK game shows (given the chance, he would love to have a go on The Chase: “I probably would never be able to do it... I’m not stupid, but the questions [are hard] on that show! It’s one of my favourite shows to watch, so I’d love to have a go.”).
He’s so down-to-earth that it’s little wonder we forget who we’re talking to, and round off the interview with a cheery goodbye like we’re on our way home from catchingup with an old mate. He’s still every bit the loveable, cheeky Essex chappy who grinned his way through to The X Factor final eight years ago (for the record, we still think he should have won).
“I wanna be in music,” he said back then. “You don’t want to be sitting there picking up the phone, you’d rather be sitting there with one of them mics on, having a sing or being on stage.”
And now? “I never thought it would get to this point,” he says. “And it’s all thanks to my amazing fans for giving me this opportunity on The X Factor... and I can’t wait to come over and see you in Abu Dhabi!”
What can we say? Us too, Olly. WhatsApp us, yeah? From Dhs215. Fri Apr 28, from 7.30pm. du Forum, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi www.ticketmaster.ae.
Did you know?
Top 12 Olly Murs facts1 For seven months in 2011, he held the record for the most cups of tea made in one hour, after brewing 496 times.
2 His index finger and middle fingers are the same length (they’re not supposed to be).
3 He has a twin brother called Ben Murs, but they haven’t spoken since Murs was forced to miss Ben’s wedding because of The X Factor.
4 In 2007, before he was famous, Olly appeared on gameshow Deal Or No Deal. He won just £10 (Dhs50).
5 Murs has even performed with the Muppets. He sang his single Dance With Me Tonight with them on The X Factor.
6 He released an autobiography in 2012 titled Happy Days.
7 His favourite football team is Manchester United.
8 He previously played football for Witham Town, but had to give it up due to an injury.
9 For the Comic Relief charity, he spent five days in North Kenya’s Kaisut desert.
10 He once won £10,000 for charity, after appearing on Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
11 Before becoming successful, Murs performed in duo called Small Town Blaggers.