“Marx got it right,” declares Will Young with a flourish, as the former Pop Idol identifies the unattainable material desires imposed by the capitalist system as the root cause of the London riots.
It’s not a discussion one expects to have with a winner from Simon Cowell’s star-making factory but then Young, 32, has turned out to be no ordinary pop idol.
Dumping Cowell soon after his 2002 triumph in the ITV talent show, the smooth-toned singer has enjoyed sustained musical success, selling eight million records. His new album, Echoes, has gone straight to number one.
It fulfils his aim to meld the melancholic sensibilities of the Pet Shop Boys and his recent discovery Bronski Beat, with a falsetto vocal style which Young says is consciously inspired by indie outsiders Wild Beasts.
Declaring his homosexuality during his first flush of television fame, the outspoken Exeter University politics graduate is now fighting an even bigger battle than defeating Gareth Gates in front of 13 million viewers.
Young believes young people have been let down by successive governments and that the anger on the streets last month was caused by the dissatisfaction of feeling disenfranchised in a hollow, materialistic society.
He is partnering with a London charity, Catch 22, to help mentor young people who find themselves in difficult situations get the skills and training that they need to get back on the right path.
“I think something has to be done,” said Young. “It’s a real worry that they’ve taken away any sense of mutual responsibility and social cohesion. Everything has been stripped away .Young people can learn if you show them the right way. I do feel they’ve been let down.
“What do they have to aspire to? You go from being young to adult with no inbetween. We just have (advertising) messages everywhere.
They are so marketed at. Young people and gay men, they are the biggest areas, the youth pound and the pink pound.”
Young moved to a new home in Hackney just as the streets were set ablaze. “It shocked me but once there was 16,000 police on the streets and the Turks in Dalston said ‘enough is enough’, then people didn’t feel so frightened. There was a bit of a power change. It brought communities together in a way.”
Young’s absorption of Marx’s theory of alienation survived his clash with Cowell’s “profit above art” credo. “I remember clearly that Marx made me want to be a singer,” the Berkshire-born performer said.
“For Marx it was all about putting yourself into your work. People aren’t allowed to do that because they try to strip away that sense of self. For the last 50 years people are harbouring a miserable society. The primary thing about capitalism is to make the consumer feel unhappy, to make you spend more money.”
It was in order to gain control of his “art” that Young declined to be managed by Cowell after his win and signed instead with Simon Fuller, the impresario behind American Idol and keeper of the “Beckham brand”.Young said: “I don’t think anyone can survive for a long period and not be in control of their career.”
Despite believing that the “innocence” of his Pop Idol run has been replaced by the more manipulative X Factor, Young has no regrets about his participation. “I would do that show again in a heartbeat. I got instant feedback every week and the level of confidence I had in my singing grew.”
“I love X Factor. It’s all round family entertainment andyou get to see live musical acts too. It’s like Commedia dell’arte (Italian masked theatre popular in the 16th century). You’ve got all the different characters in there. If you broke it down into a dramatic script it would read brilliantly.”
Young chose to announce his sexuality in the News of the World “because another paper was going to out me.” Despite collaborating with the tabloid, Young has learnt that he was a hacking target.
“I did get called in and saw lots of pages with lots of numbers, written down and scribbled,” he said. “I don’t know if they listened in, I haven’t heard back since I was invited to the meeting.”
He doesn’t think the public wants to hear “celebrities moan”about being targeted but is delighted that the full extent of the criminal activity has been uncovered.
“The Dowler case was really despicable. For it to come out, it shows that we have a working democracy. That MP (Tom Watson) kept picking at it, he wouldn’t let it go and he unearthed a whole menagerie of corruption. I think it’s great, it shows that there is legal recourse and our country is working. It shows that we have a working democracy and we can get legal recourse and the right result.”
Young, who appeared in a production of Noel Coward’s TheVortex, has his own dramatic ambitions. He helped produce a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus starring Ralph Fiennes and has “a new film project Iwant to fund and a couple of theatre things I’m working on.
“But I get distracted so easily and I want to try and remainas focused as possible on the album. It’s a different sound for me and it’s important because it could so easily have gone wrong.”
A longer term project is a civil partnership and children.“I do feel quite broody at the moment. I’m single at the moment. I’d have to be with someone for a period of time.
I see my friends who are having children, straight couples, and I like the idea of it.
“It’s like working with Catch 22, which gave me the desire to mentor and to do workshops. I think it’s a natural feeling to want to put something of yourself into other people. I never felt like that before really.”
And in a pop world full of “boring mannequins”, the Marxist pop singer promises to remain opinionated, “even if it sometimes bites me on the arse.”