EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – Lancaster X Factor star Paul Akister comes home

Paul Akister with his family at The Study Room.

Paul Akister with his family at The Study Room.

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Cheering crowds gave Paul Akister a hero’s welcome on his return to Lancaster from The X Factor.

Now the 25-year-old singer has confirmed he will appear again in front of local fans at the Lancaster Christmas lights switch-on next Sunday (November 23).

Paul Akister signs a fan's t-shirt at The Study Room.

Paul Akister signs a fan's t-shirt at The Study Room.

Paul was speaking ahead of a special ‘welcome home’ party at The Study Room bar in Lancaster city centre on Thursday afternoon, filmed for X Factor spin-off show The Xtra Factor.

“I want to do the Lancaster Christmas lights switch on, I’m free that night,” said Paul. “It’s number one priority.”

The switch-on in Market Square, which starts at 3pm, will be headlined by Matt Cardle, who won The X Factor in 2010.

Although Paul’s diary is now run by X Factor bosses, he was determined to appear at the event to thank local people who supported him in the ITV talent show.

The former Ripley school pupil has had a whirlwind week since he was voted off last Sunday.

“I had 10 press interviews on Monday, one after the other, and The Xtra Factor were following me filming me for a documentary,” said Paul, speaking at his home on Thursday.

“I got back home Monday at midnight and I’m having a few days with family and friends.

“Then Friday night I’m in Brighton for a gig, then I’m doing the St Helens Christmas lights switch-on on Friday, then on Saturday night I’m down in London doing G.A.Y. (nightclub) which is going to be hilarious, I reckon, then from there I’m flying up to Glasgow, then back down to London for a meeting, then a couple more gigs, than a break, then we’ll see what goes on from there.

“Then hopefully I’ll get on the X Factor tour. It’s not set in stone, but it would be amazing.”

Paul also revealed he has a new girlfriend, Lisa, who works at The Study Room.

The shy Lancastrian said coming home to the house in Bowerham he shares with mum Bev, dad Dave, sister Charlotte and his beloved Scottie dog Casper has been quite a change from the past five weeks of TV fame.

“It’s good to be back but weird, because when you’re there you’re surrounded by hundreds of people every hour of the day and then you come back here and it’s quiet.

“But the support I’ve had from my family is amazing. They came down to London every single weekend, and it costs a lot of money to stay over two nights and the travel. Not a lot of families did it every weekend.

“I’ve missed Casper. He’s 10, but he looks a lot younger, doesn’t he? When I sing and I’m rehearsing in the house, he sings along.”

Born and bred in Lancaster, Paul went to primary school at Moorside. After leaving Ripley St Thomas school at 16 he went to Lancaster and Morecambe College on an apprenticeship, hoping to become a welder and fabricator like his dad.

But then he won a singing competition and never looked back.

“I went to the class and they were handing out apprenticeships, I handed it back and said I’m going to leave, I’m going to be a singer. I did gigs from 17.

“Charlotte is a singer too, she’s ridiculously good, with a really powerful voice. She used to do competitions and I used to watch her.”

Paul also revealed he first auditioned for The X Factor aged 16 and didn’t even get to the TV stages.

“I got through the first round, then got into the second round and I was singing ‘Lately’ by Stevie Wonder.

“I remember clearly, I sang one word and (the woman in the audition room) told me to get out! She didn’t even let me try.

“Then I auditioned a couple of years after that, then last year and this year.”

After his elimination at the Judges’ Houses stage in 2013, Paul returned to the programme this year a changed man after shedding three stones on a rigorous workout plan, and with a new hairstyle and clothes.

“I used to look in the mirror and hated looking at myself, so for girls to like me now, it’s crazy.

“But I do have more confidence now and I look in the mirror and think yeah, I look all right.

“The hardest thing (about The X Factor) has been not having time to go to the gym. You’re getting dragged everywhere and the things you’re eating as well, in the studio canteen because you’re rushing about, you’re eating rubbish food. Now I have time to stop eating carbs!

“How long does it take to do my hair? It depends how I want it on the day but it doesn’t really take me that long. Wax, blow dry, hair spray, done. I use Prestige hairdresser’s in Lancaster, they are amazing and I’m close with them, I tweet about them to show my appreciation. If they’re busy they fit me in, which is nice.”

The new Paul’s powerful soul vocals and cooler image won over celebrity judges Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and Mel Brown, and he made it through to the final 16.

In the first three weeks on the live Saturday night X Factor shows, Paul sang ‘Ghost’ by Ella Henderson (his favourite performance on the Saturday nights), ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ by Simply Red and ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ by Otis Redding. The shy Lancastrian received great feedback from the judges and sailed through the public vote to the next stage each week.

Things began to go wrong in Week Four of the live shows when Paul was given ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ by Meat Loaf, a song he admits he hates. His complaints were aired on TV, Simon Cowell told him to “lighten up” and he thinks this may have turned the public against him.

“That was the only time I complained. Everybody has moaned about the songs but mine was picked up on.

“Watching it back, I didn’t mind the performance, I tried to put my own stamp on it and I think I did.”

With critics unfairly labelling nice guy Paul “a diva”, his popularity plummeted after he survived the Week Four vote and he became bookies’ favourite to be eliminated on Week Five, when he was given ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen. Once again, this was a song Paul says “I would never normally do”.

Paul performed it well but he still ended up in the bottom two in the public vote, alongside Welsh crooner Jay James. He delivered a fantastic rendition of ‘Clown’ by Emeli Sande in the sing-off, clearly superior to James’ ‘Tears in Heaven’ by Eric Clapton. It was then down to the judges to save him, but Louis Walsh’s vote for James ensured the panel was split 2-2 and so a distraught Akister was eliminated due to having the lowest number of public votes – to an outpouring of outrage on social media.

Although Paul is now relaxed and philosophical about what happened on Sunday, he admits he was staring holes through Walsh as he made his decision.

“I thought ‘I know what you’re going to do, mate’,” he said.

“If I was sitting there, I would have voted for who I wanted to be saved, whether it was me or Jay.

“The songs weren’ t stretching enough and because they were so fast paced it wasn’t allowing me to show my vocal ability. It was eating me alive because it wasn’t showing what I could bring to the table.

“That’s why I’m glad I went out on a high with ‘Clown’. I watched it back and I was happy with it.

“I knew I was going, in the morning. I said to everyone, I’m off tonight. You get a negative vibe. It does hurt that you’ve got the lowest votes from the public, but for me I take it that people thought I was safe.

“I’m just glad that all the way through, I was me. If I’d have changed I would have been annoyed with myself, if I’d pranced around and stuff. You don’t have to go out there and do cartwheels. You have to be yourself as a person.”

He also said that he will never sing ‘Bat Out of Hell’ or ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ again!

Paul says fellow contestants Andrea Faustini, Mikey from Only the Young and James Graham from Stereo Kicks are the ones he most keeps in touch with.

And had he survived last weekend’s sing-off, he revealed he’d have wanted to sing James Bond theme ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ on ‘Big Band Week’ this Saturday.

Paul left the final word for his fans, who mobbed him on Thursday as he signed autographs and posed for photos at The Study Room.

“Thanks for all the support, and it’s not over yet. I’m only 25 and I’ve got the exposure I needed, hopefully I can give back to them what they gave to me.

“It’s helped, looking on Facebook and seeing all the support. I wanted to reply to all the messages but didn’t have time.

“I’ve seen a banner supporting me at Bowerham Chippy. I might go down there and thank them and get myself some chips. I might do it right now!”