Paul Young: Eighties legend on heartbreak of losing wife and returning to stage ahead of Belfast show
Eighties legend Paul Young will perform his debut album No Parlez tonight at Belfast's Waterfront Hall. He talks to David O'Dornan about coping with the death of his wife, his passion for cooking and his friendship with Sir Bob Geldof
Paul Young calls his good friend Sir Bob Geldof a "force of nature" but he has demonstrated his own strength of character to get back on tour despite the heartache of losing his wife little over a year ago.
Stacey was just 52 when she died from brain cancer in January 2018 and he admits immersing himself in work has come as a welcome distraction.
"I'm doing fine," he says stoically. "I might have buried my head in the sand a bit by going straight out to work.
"But I've had times before and after Christmas to contemplate and get used to it and for the family to all get together and we're getting on with life now.
"With this tour and to get recording again and all these things, it's good to get back to it."
It's 36 years since the release of his debut solo album No Parlez, the first of three number one albums, which quickly established him as an Eighties teen idol with a string of hits such as Love of the Common People, Wherever I Lay My Hat and Every Time You Go Away.
He is 63 now and tonight he will roll back the years by performing the record at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, but does he still feel like a pop pin-up?
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He says: "It's weird. When I go out there, because I did a month's worth of these shows at the tail end of last year, I must admit, it felt pretty much the same.
"They weren't screaming, but they were certainly enjoying themselves in a way that they would have done back then, only most of them wouldn't have been allowed to drink, but now they are."
Paul has fond memories of previous shows in Northern Ireland and says that one of the best reviews he ever had back in his pomp came after one of his performances here.
He says: "I played the Ulster Hall and somebody interviewing me said it was the best show he'd seen since Prince and I took that as high praise indeed."
Paul adds he was never in the music business to become famous and admits that he is still getting used to the modern world where fans can have instant access to celebrities - himself included - through social media.
And while he says he goes through bouts of activity on Twitter, he knows too well that the reaction from people can be both good and bad.
"That's right, there's always a yin and yang," he says.
"If you think back to the Hollywood era there was that element of mystery about all of the stars, that's why people would sit in and watch Parkinson because they might reveal this facet of their character that they don't see on the screen, which was a great thing.
"But also on the downside of that it was covering up a hell of a lot of sin in Hollywood with Fatty Arbuckle and all those stories.
"There's a yin and a yang, so yes we're directly contactable through Twitter and things like that but then we also get trolled by some horrible people.
"I think that happens more to younger people because they're just more like that whereas my fans are a lot more complimentary. You get the odd person who wants to stir it up a bit but in general they're nice.
"But I do tend to have phases of doing Twitter and then I go off it and just like things and don't comment much, but the downside is that they want too much of you."
Away from music he has a real passion for cooking, which saw him try his hand in the Celebrity MasterChef kitchen as well as on Hell's Kitchen with Marco Pierre White.
He's adamant though that he only took those offers up because of his love for food - he says you won't see him eating bugs in an Australian jungle any time soon.
He adds: "I do get those kind of offers but I've turned most of them down - the cooking ones I wanted to do because I wanted to learn something.
"I quickly found out that in Celebrity MasterChef they don't teach you anything, they want to see what you already know.
"But when I did Hell's Kitchen I did it with Marco Pierre White and not Gordon Ramsey - I turned down Gordon two or three times.
"Then Marco was doing it the next time and I said 'yes, I'll do it' because I felt I had a bit of feeling about working under Marco, he's great.
"In fact, the great thing about him is… Gordon Ramsay gave the TV companies what they want, which was a lot of shouting and crying, but Marco was more rock 'n' roll because he was sticking it to the man.
"And when they were telling him what to do and saying stuff in his ear-piece he kept taking it out and dropping it on the floor, he said, 'they keep talking in my f****** ear. What I want to tell you is…'
"He'd really bolster us to do a good job, like a great team leader.
"That was a fascinating thing but obviously it didn't last long with him because the production company weren't getting what they wanted, which was tears and shouting.
"I'd say that I had a rudimentary knowledge, but I started getting interested in cooking in the mid-Eighties and it's been my hobby ever since."
Young grew up in Luton and was raised believing that "being born in Luton, growing up in Luton and getting a job in Luton" was the natural order of life. Famously, he was working at the local plant of Vauxhall Motors when he got his big break.
One of the big heart-throbs of the era, moody shots of Young adorned thousands of teenage girls' bedroom walls, but his heart was captured by model Stacey, whom he met on the video shoot for his second single Come Back and Stay in 1983, and married four years later.
They had three children, but split up in 2006. However, they got back together three years later and Paul became stepdad to Stacey's son Jude, who she had with Israeli businessman Ilan Slazenger.
A former Brit Award winner for Best Male vocalist, Paul famously sang the opening lines on the original Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas? and performed at Live Aid in 1984.
And he is convinced that only a man with the relentless drive and personality of Sir Bob Geldof could have pulled off such a mammoth campaign and event.
"He's a force of nature in whatever he does," he laughs.
"The funny thing is that over the last few years we've been sharing our musicians quite a lot and the guitar player that's with me now, who's also in Los Pacaminos (his Tex-Mex band) with me, was also in Bob's band.
"Also, the accordion player/keyboard player that sometimes plays with Bob, he sometimes plays with my Tex-Mex band.
"And when we did a charity thing recently for Kenney Jones from the Small Faces I saw Bob there, so you do bump into people all the time.
"And it's a great feeling to know we've all been through the same s***. And we're still there and we're still doing it, we've made a life out of being musicians, so there's a camaraderie there that one we're all still alive, and two we're all enjoying what we do. It's a great thing.
"With Bob, I think he suited the era. It's a funny thing, I think sometimes people grow up in eras that they really belonged to, the same as you can sometimes look at some people and think, 'they weren't born for this decade'. They look like they should have been born in the Sixties or whatever.
"But I think Bob was definitely a product of his decade and he fitted in perfectly."
- Paul Young will perform his acclaimed debut album No Parlez in full at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, tonight. For tickets go to www.waterfront.co.uk