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From the buzz to the bottle... How Jordan O'Keefe turned to drink and a suicide attempt after dreams of singing stardom crashed

Jordan O'Keefe, from Londonderry, reached the final of Britain's Got Talent six years ago - but hit rock bottom when he returned home. Now, with a new single out, he tells Leona O'Neill how he recovered from the depths of despair

Bouncing back: Jordan O'Keefe had a tough time after Britain's Got Talent, but now he has a new single on the way
Bouncing back: Jordan O'Keefe had a tough time after Britain's Got Talent, but now he has a new single on the way
Teenage kicks: Jordan on stage during the Enough Food For Everyone If campaign at Belfast's Botanic Gardens in 2013

From a young age, former Britain's Got Talent finalist Jordan O'Keefe has been privy to the highs and lows of stardom more than most. The 24-year-old, from Londonderry, competed in the ITV talent contest in 2013, making the final stages after gaining the judges' and public's attention with his rendition of One Direction's Little Things.

The singer moved in exalted circles, mixing with the likes of Ed Sheeran and US rapper Macklemore, and seemed destined for massive success. However, his world came crashing down around his ears and he watched his dreams evaporate before his eyes when he returned home to Northern Ireland after experiencing the dizzy heights of the London high life.

After turning to alcohol as a crutch in his battle with anxiety and depression, the Waterside singer tried to take his own life.

Five years after that dark day, however, he can look back with confidence as he launches his first single, secure in the knowledge that hitting rock bottom made him a stronger person.

"I auditioned for The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent a long time before I got onto the show," Jordan begins. "The auditions didn't go well at all, then one year I just went to the auditions, had a good singsong and was asked back.

"I ended up getting on the show, which was great, but the waiting between auditioning and getting told you are in was gut-wrenching. It just played on my mind constantly. If you had mental health problems to start with, it wasn't good.

"So, there I was standing up in front of Simon Cowell, Alesha Dixon, Amanda Holden and David Walliams. When I got as far as the semi-finals, I was picked up in lovely fancy cars and they paid for my flights and treated me like a superstar. I was meeting with Ed Sheeran, Gary Lightbody and Macklemore.

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"Before all this I had been travelling with my guitar and a suitcase all around the Tube in London. It was gruelling, but I wanted to do it because I wanted to be on the show."

Jordan remembers his final time appearing on the programme being difficult.

"They very much told us what to do," he says. "On the final night I wanted to wear a shirt, but they wanted me to wear a blazer. I just wanted to be myself.

Jordan with Louis Walsh
Jordan with Louis Walsh

"They picked what song I sang. For the final they picked the song Firework, which wasn't right for me - even Ed Sheeran said that to me.

"In the final I came sixth, then it was all over. I came home and sat in my house for two days playing Fifa with the curtains closed. I had been so high up, then nothing happened. I sat in the house and I waited.

"I went on tour for a while with Jonathan and Charlotte, the opera singers from the show. It was good, but I had no one really managing me.

"I was singing cover songs a lot and had no original music. I was young - 18 years old - but I didn't look the part and the product wasn't right.

"So, I came back and started doing gigs around Ireland, trying to make as much money as I could to try and salvage something from it. I made a good bit of money, but I spent it all.

"I had no management and I was running around nightclubs trying to meet girls. It was a pretty dire time. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

"If you are someone who doesn't write your own songs and you want to make a go of it, go for it (Britain's Got Talent). But if you are writing songs and you're young and you have a really good talent, I wouldn't waste it on those talent shows - I feel that they just chew you up and spit you out."

Jordan's mental health took a battering during and after the show. He found himself crippled with anxiety, which led to depression and his suicide attempt.

"My mental health started to get bad during the show and not long after I came back," he says. "I remember before the semi-final I had severe anxiety. That night I had put myself under so much pressure. When I finished the song, I walked off the stage and I just burst into tears.

Jordan with actress Courteney Cox
Jordan with actress Courteney Cox

"All the emotion just burst out in that way after I performed. All day during rehearsals people were saying that I wasn't putting enough emotion into the song, then I tried to put emotion into it and they said that was overdoing it and it was fake. I tried my best. I was being pulled here and pulled there and didn't know what way to turn... it was tough.

"After the final, when I came home, it got really bad. I would think about something and wonder, 'Why am I thinking that?'. I'd try and shift the thought by talking to people, but they wouldn't understand and it just made me feel worse because I'd mentioned it to them.

"I would speak to people and then I would think afterwards, 'Does that person like me?'. I was constantly thinking and overthinking. It was anxiety and a bit of depression. There were days that I didn't want to get out of my bed. I just wanted to sit and eat cold pizza. I struggled a lot."

Jordan tried to numb his pain by drinking - and things escalated so much that he attempted suicide.

"I turned to alcohol and I did stupid things," he admits. "It got to a stage when I wasn't gigging as much and I was back playing in bars. I just thought, 'The dream is over... it's done'. I had no confidence in myself at all and I was drinking nearly every night of the week.

"My mum and dad were oblivious to it all because I hid it. I was living in an apartment by myself. One night everything came to a head. I had drunk so much and was so far gone that I thought someone was sitting in the room with me telling me to take my own life.

With Ed Sheeran
With Ed Sheeran

"And I did try to. Luckily enough, I had left my kitchen window open and my dad called around. He saw me lying there, climbed in the kitchen window, scooped me up and got me help. I never went back to that house. That was my lowest ebb. It was very, very bad."

The next few years were a struggle for Jordan. He tried to get back into music full-time and managed to secure a record deal, but it fell through at the beginning of 2017, plunging him back into another dangerous bout of depression.

"I started writing songs again and working," he says. "I signed to a record deal with Warner Music's subsidiary label East West Records. Things were taking off, but then it just all fell apart again. It was really stressful, and that is when I started drinking again.

"It was bad, really bad. I found myself back in that dark place again. I stopped doing music - I couldn't be bothered to do anything. Everything was just a mess."

His family were a constant source of support during those difficult days.

"Thank God, they really helped me," Jordan says. "I came back stronger. I started writing songs. I got involved with the right type of people who knew about marketing, and I am now releasing my first single, called Perfect For Me.

With Olly Murrs
With Olly Murrs

"It's a song about an everyday relationship. One of the lines is, 'You're common as muck and you drink way too much, but I know you're perfect for me'.

"I wrote it with a guy called Jon Maguire. He is a talented man. He writes for Kodaline and Calum Scott. We wanted to produce a folky love song talking about all your imperfections but still being perfect for the one who loves you.

"We are going to do an album down the line but, for now, we are just doing it single by single. I have written a song about my dark days, but I don't think I'll perform it. It is just too personal and too raw."

Jordan's worst moments made him stronger, and he really appreciates the happiness he has in his life now with his Brazilian fiancee, Myllena, and his stepson, Enrique.

"When you reach real lows with really bad days, you basically hit rock bottom - that is the best foundation on which to build a better future," he says.

"It has made me stronger. When you get that low, you really appreciate what happiness is and what you really do have. A year on from rock bottom, I've reignited my music dream. I have a single coming out, I am engaged and I am getting married next year to the love of my life.

"My life is back on track. Everything is brilliant and I have a fire in my belly about the future. I'm happy to be doing music again - I'm really buzzing about it and I'm really excited. I'm releasing this single independently and am in control.

"I've picked myself up again and I'm going back out on the road. I'm hoping to do the festival circuit and just enjoy being on the stage again on my own terms.

"I'm confident, I have my own music and I'm determined to keep pushing. I can't wait."

Perfect for Me is out tomorrow. You can keep up to date with Jordan's music on his Facebook page. Search for Jordan O'Keefe

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 8000

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