'My voice completely went when I was performing in front of 3,000 people... as I walked off the stage I was terrified I'd lost it forever'
Gabrielle Fagan speaks to Gareth Gates about life after Pop Idol, his battle with stammering, the fear that he would never sing again, and the joy of being a dad
Bradford-born singer Gareth Gates found fame as a spiky-haired 16-year-old who, despite a stammer, bravely competed in TV talent show Pop Idol. Against the odds he finished as runner-up to Will Young and went on to become a fully-fledged pop star with five No 1 singles and a string of sell out tours.
He's forged a successful second career in musical theatre appearing in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Les Miserables and Legally Blonde. But three years ago, Gareth was left devastated when his voice started to fail.
The 33-year-old, who's dating Coronation Street actress Faye Brookes, and has an eight-year-old daughter, Missy, from a previous relationship, tells how almost losing his voice led to depression, and why he's now feeling more confident than ever.
What's been your biggest turning point?
"Starting to lose my voice three years ago was a huge wake-up call which made me totally change my lifestyle. I'd just turned 30 when I started having problems with my voice and finally it completely went when I was performing at a gig in front of around 3,000 people. As I walked away from the stage I was terrified I'd lost my voice forever.
"Although my speech is affected by my stammer, when I sing I'm free from it, so singing is my release and how I express myself and having it let me down was devastating.
"After treatment (an injection to a vocal chord under general anaesthetic) I took six weeks off to recover.
"For nearly two years after that, every time I opened my mouth to sing, I was worried. I'd signed big musical theatre contracts so I had to keep performing, but in between I'd spend all day not speaking to rest my voice.
"For a while I didn't really have a life. It was hell and the worst time of my life.
"The whole experience really shook me up and I was quite depressed for a while afterwards, but I'm so thankful that my voice is now fully recovered and stronger than ever. It's made me more driven."
How do you look after your health?
"The injury was caused by a mixture of things - overwork and too much partying. I was burning the candle at both ends. Since then I've totally overhauled my health and lifestyle because I thought, if I'm going to be able to go on singing, I need to change things.
"Nowadays, I go to the gym every day. My body's totally changed and I have way more energy. Instead of carbs I eat healthy protein-heavy foods like chicken, steak, eggs and vegetables. I suffer debilitating migraines - coffee is a trigger - so I only drink herbal teas. That inspired me to create my own teas using coconut.
"Last year I had a hair transplant because my hair had started to thin and I was self-conscious about it.
"It's been another boost for my confidence. Maybe I'll go back to my trademark spiky hair in time."
How is your stammer now?
"My speech is still a constant battle. If I'm stressed or low it's bad and speaking to strangers is my hardest challenge. Thankfully, as soon as I'm on stage and in character, I walk and breathe in a different way and I don't have to worry about my speech. It's very liberating. I've done a lot of work using a specialist method of breathing exercises, which has really helped.
"In a way, my stammer has made me the person I am, because having to face difficult times has made me stronger. On Pop Idol, the stammer helped me get noticed and made me stand out from the crowd - it was the first time it had a positive influence on my life.
"My struggle's made me determined to help children who stammer. You can feel very lonely and isolated when you're young and have this problem - as I well know. That's why I've set up the Gareth Gates Stammer School. I'll be there with speech and language therapists and hope to show kids you can cope with a stammer, improve your speech and succeed in life."
How important is Faye in your life?
"Very important. We've been together for five years. We live together and are very happy. We met when we both appeared in Legally Blonde and, to be honest, I was a bit intimidated by her at first. Then we became friends and it went from there.
"We have so much in common - she's a fitness fanatic so we both live a very clean lifestyle. I'm so proud of her, she's smashing it on Corrie and she's as busy as me, so when we get time together it's very special. It's too soon for marriage, but our future is together."
What does fatherhood mean to you?
"It alters your whole perspective on life. Every decision I make is based on the wellbeing of Missy. I think it's why I'm so driven, because ultimately I'm not just making a future for myself; I'm making one for her. She's absolutely incredible and doesn't have a trace of a stammer, which is a great relief. This year I'm taking a break from touring so I can spend more time being a dad."
The first two-day Gareth Gates Stammer School course takes place on January 27 and 28. For more information on the school visit garethgatesstammerschool.com