Tyrone singer Janet Devlin on her sexuality, her lack of dates, beating her body image challenges and her sorrow at the death of her grandmother
As the second single from her new album Confessional is released the Tyrone girl who shot to fame on X Factor reveals to Claire O'Boyle that it's been the best and worst of years and how taking a career break back at home has paid dividends.
She was just 16 years old when an incredible X Factor audition transformed the course of her life. From quiet days in rural Co Tyrone, nervous schoolgirl Janet Devlin was catapulted in an instant into the limelight. And the singer has been through a lot since then.
Eight years on, and still just 25, Janet recently moved home from London to her parents' house in the village of Gortin for a break from the endless treadmill she's been on since 2011.
"At the start of this year I became aware I really hadn't stopped since I was 16," says Janet, in her first major interview for years.
"So I took a month off. I wanted to de-fray a little bit, so I jumped into every sort of relaxation and therapy I could get my hands on.
"I went to yoga, group therapy, one-on-one therapy, equestrian therapy.
"I went to see a psychiatrist and a psychologist, just to talk through loads of stuff and to get all my beautiful issues out there. It helped. I'm all for it. Everyone should go.
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"And not to sound like a Millennial, but I wanted to be comfortable and in a safe space for a while, so I came home in October."
Sadly for Northern Ireland though, it's not forever, and the singer plans to return to London in the spring.
With a huge following on social media - more than half a million subscribers on YouTube, 284,000 followers on Twitter, and 87,000 on Instagram - Janet has an incredibly close relationship with her online audience.
As well as sharing news of her work and music, she has opened up to them many times about her personal life and struggles.
"I have the most supportive fans ever," she says. "I can't express how much I'll get emotionally supportive tweets every day and this amazing community I've acquired really makes me feel so much love.
"It's like I have all these friends I haven't met. The hate comments are few and far between, for the most part."
Sharing such a strong bond with her followers, Janet chose to come out to them as bisexual earlier this year.
"The response I got was 90% very positive," she says. "But I lost some followers, definitely, including some people who had been hardcore fans. I got a lot of hate mail over it.
"But I felt like I'd been lying, without actually lying, and I didn't want people to create this idea of who I was that was wrong without correcting them."
She admits it wasn't an easy thing to do though.
"I was really nervous," says Janet. "I almost cried in the video, I was definitely very shaky and I do get some of the hate, I understand where people were coming from.
"They were asking why I was coming out as bisexual because they thought it's not a big deal, and in most places that's right, it's not. But when I did it earlier this year same-sex marriage still wasn't legal in Northern Ireland.
"It was fine everywhere else in the UK, but people forget that things in Northern Ireland can be very different. It was a personal video mainly, but there was that bit of a political thing too which shone a light on the issue."
And while she's open and happy with her sexuality, Janet jokes she's still not had much luck in her love life.
"My dating life is pretty pathetic all round," she laughs. "You'd think I'd have doubled my odds but I struggle to get anyone to be in a relationship with me.
"I actually have some dates lined up, my first with some men from Northern Ireland, so we'll see how they go. But I won't hold out much hope - I usually get ditched by the third date."
Unbelievably, Janet says she's been stood up loads of times too.
"Yes, so many times," she says. "Honestly as quick as the first date. They've just not showed up. It's mad.
"I'm on Tinder the whole time scrolling through looking for someone to go out with me, and I'm so jealous of the generations before us that didn't have to deal with this stuff!"
So could she see herself ending up with a woman?
"Of course," she says. "But honestly there really aren't a lot of gay or bi women on Tinder, especially here. The discrepancy is hilarious.
"All my gay guy friends are always on dates, but it's just not the same for gay or bi women. I think Northern Ireland is okay with gay men at this point, but I don't know if there's something left over that people are still a wee bit uncomfortable with gay women."
And while she did face some backlash over her decision to reveal her sexuality publicly, Janet said the positive response she'd had -especially from young women from Northern Ireland - meant a lot.
"The number of heartfelt messages I cried over was crazy," reveals Janet. "It was especially ones from young girls from Northern Ireland.
"In all the years I've been doing my social media stuff it was the first time I've ever had this big upsurge in messages from girls from home.
"In the first week I got loads and I had about 25 messages with proper conversations going on from girls who had moved to Australia or London because they didn't feel they'd be welcome at home."
Away from social media and back in the real world, Janet says her only hope of meeting a partner is at the gym.
"That's the only place I go outside my parents' house," she laughs.
Since returning to Northern Ireland earlier this year, the 5ft 7in singer has taken up Cross Fit, and says she's the strongest and healthiest she's ever been.
"I'm the heaviest I've ever been, too," she says. "This last couple of months has been like a project for me - I'm getting strong.
"I've talked about it before but I've got body dysmorphia where my perception of my body isn't what everyone else sees."
At her thinnest, in her late teens, Janet reveals her weight dropped to just 6st.
"I was always a bit of a tiny person," she says. "It's hard to explain but having body dysmorphia means I don't see myself the way other people do. I could be the skinniest girl ever but I just wouldn't see it.
"At my thinnest I was working 18-hour days, I wasn't eating enough and was just burning the candle at both ends. I never took my eyes off the prize workwise, and I just wasn't all that happy.
"I wasn't taking care of myself at all, and a picture appeared of me in my pyjamas, which worried everyone. My family, everyone. Since I was a teenager I was always a size four and I'd gone down to 6st. It wasn't good. I'd been so constantly on the go I hadn't realised."
Since she started training at the gym earlier this year, Janet stopped looking at the scales.
"Then one day recently I looked and it was hilarious because I realised I was heavier than I'd ever been," she says.
"And the best thing is I'm happy with it, because my whole outlook and acceptance is changing.
"My parents can't believe how much I eat and how much I'm costing them in groceries. I definitely feel good for it.
"The act of going to the gym or Cross Fit is me taking that hour to take care of myself every day and there's a real sense of achievement with it. I'm surprising myself, and my trainers too, that for a small girl how heavy I've been able to lift so quickly.
"I always had a number in my head of the weight I looked best at on camera, but I'm a fully-grown, healthy woman and I'm 110% healthy at the weight I am now. I'm an adult woman.
"If people want to call me chubby, which they have, that's fine. My self-love journey has been a really long one, so there's very little they can say that can bother me at this stage."
Janet, who recently dyed her famous red hair back to her natural blonde, says 2019 has been full-on.
"I feel like it was the best and worst year of my life," she says. "My nan passed away and we were really very close. She was my biggest cheerleader. I was living with her at the time I went in to X Factor and realistically she's the reason I do music.
"It hit me really hard, but her passing was another reminder of why I do what I'm doing."
The singer's health hasn't been great either and she's been hit by whooping cough, something she's had now for five long months.
"It's annoying but I've had it that long I'm almost used to it and I know it'll go eventually," she says. "I get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) too, which makes winters really hard for me, but I've done a lot of positive stuff while I've been home.
"For one thing, there's been the gym and Cross Fit and I've also just got my provisional licence to start driving lessons.
"I've always wanted to learn to drive but I've been flat out since I was 16, so we'll see how it goes."
Taking a break from London was a priority too, says Janet.
"By the time I came home, London just wasn't there for me anymore. I needed a break. But I miss it too and I'll be glad to get back next year," she explains.
And while she's been at home, Janet, whose single Saint of the Sinners was released earlier this month, has continued to work on her music, travelling one week a month to London to catch up on stuff she can't do at home.
"I don't really see my mates when I'm in London at the minute," she says. "My schedule is so busy. It's everything from online gigs and things like merchandise, making YouTube videos, meeting project managers.
"All sorts. There's so much lined up for when I'm back, it's exciting.
"But the music industry is different now from how it was. Even from when I started out in X Factor, social media has transformed it all. Ordinary people with talent have a way better chance of being an artist than they used to.
"They can do it with a studio from their bedroom. They can record a track in three hours and put it out.
"All the traditional things like contracts with a big label aren't as much of a barrier for people as they used to be.
"I'm independent. We basically put my whole album out through a tiny label and my team is very small.
"There's no big boss a way up on high somewhere telling me how I need to look or sound, and it feels like artists have so much more control than they used to."
Which is probably an especially good thing in Janet's case, because as an artist, she's incredibly creative and determined to do her own thing.
Working alongside respected producer Jonathan Quarmby for her latest record, Confessional, Janet also wrote a book to accompany the album as well as artwork to illustrate each of its tracks.
"The book is called My Confessional," she says. "Each chapter sort of lays out the story behind each of the tracks, from my point of view.
"But every one of them is a metaphor and I want people to have their own interpretation of them too.
"Working with Jonathan Quarmby was amazing. He's an actual genius and he really helped me find the sound for the record.
"We did loads and loads of photoshoots for the artwork to go with the album too and they're all sort of clues to what each of the songs is about. It was a great experience."
And with her life and her confidence in her work now a world away from where she started as a fledging singer on X Factor, would Janet go back and change her route in to the industry?
"It's kind of a distant memory if I'm honest," she says. "I sometimes forget that people remember me back then, but it's chill.
"It was great because it got me out of school and it got me into the industry. Although I'd say in some ways I've had to work harder for people to like me, but what it gave me was amazing.
"It sometimes catches me off guard now when people know who I am, especially because it's usually when I'm all sweaty and gross coming out of the gym and people want a picture. But that's fine, I'm just like, yeah, I'm a mess, but let's get a photo."
Like more and more young people, Janet takes self-care very seriously, watching what she eats and keeping a pretty strict routine.
"Now I'm pretty much boring. I'm in bed at 8.30pm and up at 6am so I can get to the gym," she says. "My job has absolutely zero routine so I have to sort of organise it for myself, and that time in the morning or in bed reading or watching something on YouTube before I go to sleep is time for me to relax."
And while she's got a huge following herself, Janet is pretty strict with who she follows online, keeping the numbers low on all her channels.
"I don't follow many people," she says. "On Instagram it's about 50, and only people who are going to make me happy. I don't want to be looking at all these girls with better bums than me, making me feel rubbish. I'm very selective and I only follow positive accounts."
After her experience this year with therapy, and taking time to write her autobiography, Janet says she feels stronger than she ever has - and she'd recommend everyone takes more time for self-care.
"I honestly think everyone needs a therapist," she says. "I've always had that support from my family, my mum especially, who has been so understanding of mental health.
"She's so cool with all that, talking about your life and getting it all out there. I have no shame with it, and no shame talking about it.
"I am who I am and even though I'm still young I've made so much progress with it all.
"I'm so good at self-care, at last. If I have a rough, horrible day now I know what to do, I can cope.
"I'll hang out with my little Italian greyhound Bean, who looks like an alien. I'll stick some comedy on, I'll eat some sweets and I just accept it for what it is.
"A bad day doesn't mean a bad life. And I'll move on."
Saint Of The Sinners is Janet's new single and is taken from her hotly-anticipated concept album Confessional, set for release in spring 2020 alongside her new book My Confessional