Earlier this week our resident bear, Steve Gregory was lucky enough to chat to this year’s fantastic UK Eurovision entry James Newman.
James took time out of his busy schedule while he was prepping for his trip to Rotterdam to have an EXCLUSIVE chat with us, his only Gay magazine interview!
We were made to feel VERY Special.
Here’s what he had to say:
So, James, how are you doing? How did you find lockdown?
It’s been a bonkers year!
JN: Yeah, it’s been mad, last year I was supposed to be doing Eurovision, and it’s all kind of gone flip reverse. I went from going to Rotterdam, to performing in my kitchen and just doing loads of interviews, it was a real challenge like it was for everyone. Obviously, I was trying to look after my mental health and I was doing that through ice and cold water therapy and loads of breathing techniques and stuff, like we’ve all been going through the same thing but I’ve been focusing on getting back in the saddle for Eurovision this year really
We know that you got Corona Virus, are you all better now?
I’m sure that was rough?
JN: Yeah, it was rough, it wasn’t long after Eurovision got cancelled and then I got Corona Virus. It was pretty rough, I’d say I got it medium bad, I didn’t have to go to the hospital, but I have asthma so I was really ill and then I had it for like two months – so I literally didn’t leave the house for two months and neither did my wife, it was a real challenge! I’ve also got long COVID, so last year was a bit of a write off really, for most people as well and I was one of them.
Well, we are really glad you’re better and fighting fit again.
JN: Thank you.
You said you were doing lots of performances in your kitchen and of course no one could perform live, tell me a bit more about that?
JN: Well, there was a show last year but it wasn’t a competition and we all sang ‘Love shine a light’, which is the last song the UK won Eurovision with! All the delegates of Eurovision sang it and so I had a part and I got the adlibs at the end which was amazing.
I was also doing performances, Eurovision has such a huge fan base, I was doing gigs and live videos for people from home and stuff and doing covers in my kitchen. I was also doing lots of writing as I’m a songwriter too, so was writing songs all the time, writing for other people, and doing Zoom sessions, it was really a big learning curve on how to still be creative and to put things out into the world.
Do you think that’s changed how you will work in the future?
Are there some bits you’ll continue to use?
JN: Yes, definitely. I think now your threshold for how long you want to be writing has changed, when you’re on Zoom you write a song for a max of three hours, cos after that your brain is fried having to stare into the computer.
I think you write songs a little bit quicker and you don’t have to be in the same place as someone to be creative with them. I used to do a lot of writing in LA and now I don’t have to go there, but hey I still love going to LA, but I think there’s pros and cons, you don’t have to leave your house to write a song but it’s good to be able to go and socialise. For me, it’s inspirational to be around other people and get other people’s vibe and energy.
As far as Eurovision, would you say you’ve always been a fan?
What’s your earliest memory of the competition?
JN: I think my earliest memory was Gina G. I just really love that song, we used to have it on every year in the house and now I realise we weren’t like mega fans, like some of the real fans of Eurovision are, but every year it would be on and you would be like it’s such a great event, it’s so fun and such a festival of music. I think every year we’d watch it and enjoy it and it’s also a big night in front of the telly which brings everyone together. I’ve learned so much about it through this, too.
You’ll be representing the UK two years in a row, do you feel there’s extra pressure or do you feel it’s extra joyful, after what we’ve all been through?
JN: I think it’s a bit of everything really. I think last year felt like a dry rehearsal now, a dry run. I’ve learnt so much about the Eurovision world and I’ve had the chance to write again, like oh I didn’t like that song so much, I’ll just write another one.
The idea is to get the UK public more interested in Eurovision and get us back on the board after we came last, last time. I felt we’d lost touch with Eurovision a bit and the idea was to get us into more form.
We’ve won 5 times in the completion and I’m trying to get us back to those glory days. I think this time around people seem to be taking notice more and the song fits a lot better, I don’t know, it just feels really positive and everyone has been so amazing across the UK and Europe and throughout the Eurovision family, it just feels like a silver lining.
I see you’ve hit over a million streams and over a million video views, that must be a massive boost to know that you’ve got it right a second time?
JN: Definitely, it’s really scary, Hi everyone, here’s another song that’s representing our country in a massive competition, so you just have to trust your instincts and the people around you and their advice.
I’m really happy that people have reacted so positively to it, it could have not been received so well and then we’d be screwed! But, it’s worked out so well and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
So the new song “Embers” Tell us all about it!
JN: “Embers” is about the glow in the fire that hasn’t burnt out, it’s about passion re-igniting and people coming back together and just because you haven’t been together for all this time, doesn’t mean that that spark isn’t still there.
When we were writing it at the end of last year, we managed to do it safely before the end of lockdown! In the actual room, one of the writers, Connor Blake, had a list of titles and he suggested “Embers” and I was like, that’s sick!
It’s such a great thing for me to sing on the stage in Rotterdam, a song with such a positive, uplifting message, that life is coming back out of the darkness.
The timing is so impeccable really… We can officially hug from Monday!
JN: Yeah I know, it’s literally perfect!
You mentioned Connor, who helped write ‘Embers”, was it the same team who wrote your last entry, “My Last Breath”?
JN: No, it’s a different team, the guys I wrote with last time were, Adam Argyle, Ed Drewett and Iain James and we wrote that up in Scotland and this time obviously, things were different with COVID. We couldn’t go away, so I just did a week of writing with different people, obviously, it was all COVID safe and in one of the rooms were Connor Blake, Sam Brennan, Tom Hollings, and Danny Shah and we wrote this song and it was kind of luck of the draw that day, how we all wrote that song.
I wrote ten that week and there were about fifteen in contention that I really liked, but “Embers” was always the one that was like shining and glowing out of the group.
We are just over a week away from the start of the competition, what preparations are you doing for it at the moment?
JN: I’m currently tucked away in the countryside, self-isolating, getting out of the way, but for weeks and weeks I’ve been doing exercise while singing the song cos I want to be fit, I’ve got a bit of a dance routine! I’m training like Beyonce!
I’ve been doing singing lessons every day, I’ve been eating really well, I haven’t been drinking, I quit smoking. I’ve been watching Bruno Mars videos and stuff like that and getting my head right in the game and watching all the old Eurovision videos, I’ve just been immersing myself in what I’m about to do. Nothing else, but totally being focused on getting on that stage and it seems to be really helping me and in the whole confidence of how I feel about it, I was feeling confident anyway, but I just feel so much more confident about how I’m going to turn out on stage.
I’ve been doing boxing with a guy who’s been doing boxing with Team GB. He was saying when he’s training for a fight, and when he gets in that ring, he knows he’s done EVERYTHING he possibly can to be the best he can be.
He was like, “that’s what you need to think like” and ever since he’s said that to me, I’ve just been thinking that I’m training for a fight in a competition. So that what I’ve been doing.
We have heard that Rotterdam is going to let an audience into the arena, what have they told you?
JN: I think three and a half thousand people are going to be let in and will be sitting in the seating area and then the main floor is now for all the contestants and we’re all in separate booths. I’m so excited for those people who actually get to go, cos imagine how buzzing you’re going to be if you love Eurovision and you’ve got a ticket, like the hottest ticket in town! I think the energy from those people is going to make up for it not being at full capacity.
Before you go on stage, do you still get nervous?
Do you have a mini routine to prepare yourself?
JN: I do get a bit nervous, but as soon as I step on stage, I’m like yes!
It just all turns into excitement and fun. I always try and do the ‘Wim Hof method’, Wim Hof is the iceman who was in the “My Last Breath” video. So I try and do his breathing, I do it every day anyway, but I try and do a little bit before I go on stage and I’ll have an ice bath in the morning, to get myself in the game.
But for me, I think like everyone, you do get a bit nervous, but as soon as you step on stage it all goes away.
We watched your BBC Newsbeat documentary (BBC iPlayer) about the cancellation of Eurovision last year and saw you interview a lot of your fellow contestants. How do you rate your competition this year and do you have any favourites?
JN: There are so many amazing contemporary artists in it now, it’s really hard to say who I like the most but…. me and Lesley Roy of Ireland have said our fans are going to vote for each other which is great and I really think she’s got a great song.
I really REALLY like Destiny from Malta, we’ve got the same singing teacher, she’s wicked. I also really like Victoria from Bulgaria, I love her song “Growing up is getting old”. I love Gjons Tears, Blas Canto from Spain, there are so many great people!
I’ve been watching all the rehearsals for the semi-finalists that have arrived in Rotterdam already, the level is really up there. It’s been wicked to watch so I’m really excited to get there and show everyone what I can do.
When we were watching the documentary, your good friend Molly King (of The Saturdays) let slip that if we need a good night out, you’re the man to call. What is your perfect night out?
JN: Well, this would have to be after Eurovision because I’m not drinking.
I think I would go for a nice dinner somewhere, maybe get some Mexican food or there are some nice Peruvian places in Soho.
A nice long meal, a few cool bars, then I’d like to go dancing. In normal times, my friends Rudimental normally have a studio party, they’ve hired out big places before too and so I love to go watch my mates DJing.
So dinner, drinks in a cool bar, then a cool warehouse for dancing after!
And would you say you have a favourite drink?
JN: It would have to be an Old Fashioned!
So finally James, we have 5 quick-fire questions to end on.
London or Yorkshire
Pizza or Fish & Chips
JN: Fish & Chips
Kylie or Dannii
JN: Dannii, cos I think I’m the Dannii of the Newman brothers!
Bar of Club
Boxers or Briefs
James Newman performs “Embers” at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest, with the final 22nd May 2021.
You can support him by streaming “Embers”, or downloading it from all the usual places, click here for links.