Olly Murs on being single ahead of gig at Thetford Forest with Louisa Johnson

Olly Murs visits Thetford Forest. Photo: Contributed

Olly Murs visits Thetford Forest. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Ahead of summer gigs in Thetford and Newmarket, Olly Murs talks about being single again, taking pride in his work, and why he's still just the same down-to-earth cheeky Essex chap that he always was. Simon Parkin reports.

Louisa Johnson wil be joining Olly Murs at Thetford Forest. Picture Chris J. Ratcliffe/PA Wire

Louisa Johnson wil be joining Olly Murs at Thetford Forest. Picture Chris J. Ratcliffe/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Ever since Olly Murs first appeared on The X Factor, singing Stevie Wonder's Superstition and dancing away, he's become a sort of cheeky crown prince.

Even a gaffe-prone stint presenting the show that made him a star couldn't dent his career, and, from the outside at least, he's barely changed since that fateful night in 2009, when he first took to the stage.

He is much more successful, however, and while he didn't win the talent show, his career has outshone those of victorious Joe McElderry and fellow runner-up Stacey Solomon.

MORE: Olly Murs spotted on night out in Norwich after football match in Diss'I'd like to think I am still like that,' says Murs today. 'I'd like to think people's perception of me is accurate. I know I'm a pop star - and I hate that word but that's what I am - but I am just a normal guy, down-to-earth.'

The Essex singer is currently in the midst of playing a series of outdoor summer shows, which brings him to Thetford Forest this weekend and to Newmarket Nights next month.

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Born in Witham, and having gone to Notley High School in Braintree, he has a twin brother, Ben, and a sister, Fay, family links means he is no stranger to this part of the world and has already played a near homecoming show in Colchester.

Despite playing sell-out gigs UK-wide, he insists he doesn't lead the rock'n'roll lifestyle.

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'I still live in Essex with my family, go to watch football with my mates, go out on the weekend and do all those normal things. I might not do all that if I had a girlfriend.

'Now that I'm single, I'm still that cheeky chappie people saw all those years ago,' he adds, 'and anyone that met me on a night out would think that. I'm just a normal guy that goes out with his mates, I've not been swallowed up by this lifestyle and work that I do.'

Murs mentions several times that he's now single. It might be that he's still cut-up about splitting with his long-term girlfriend, Francesca Thomas, towards the end of 2015. The subject matter certainly informed the songs on his most-recent album, 24 Hrs, released late last year. While the songs are largely as upbeat and danceable as much of his back catalogue, there's plenty of heartbreak if you delve below the melody.

'We'd just broken up when I started writing 24 Hrs. I wasn't up for talking about it, but I did want to write about that,' the 32-year-old admits.

'I didn't feel like I had happy, fun songs in me. I wanted people to hear my anger, sadness and loneliness. Eventually, that went, but I was still writing, so that's when the fun songs started coming out again.'

MORE: Olly Murs is second singer to confirm Thetford Forest concert date in 2017

Though headline summer shows are inevitably big productions, he'll stop short of any gimmicks that detract from the songs. He will be joined at Thetford by fellow Essex X-Factor alumnus Louisa Johnson, with whom he recently released the single Unpredictable.

'It is all about the music for me. I'm in a lucky position now that I've had five albums, and there are hits on all of them. It's hard to put that in one set, to get all the hits and the songs that fans love into one gig.'

When 24 Hrs was released, it became Murs' fourth album to go to number one in the charts, beating off competition from Emeli Sande and Cliff Richard.

Murs says: 'I won't lie, I wanted it to go to number one. We all want that, and that's why I make albums, to make something that's worthy of that number one spot, but with those artists releasing around the same time as me, that near Christmas, I knew it was going to be tough. But we did it.'

Given his success - he has album sales of more than 11 million - you might think Murs would have been a shoo-in for a Brit or two this year. Things looked good for him when he was scheduled to perform at the nominations event, but days before, he pulled out.

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'Everyone else on the bill was nominated, and I wasn't,' he says. 'I don't think I deserved a nomination, but everyone else performing had one, so it felt wrong and that's why I didn't do it. There's no doubt I was disappointed not to get the nomination, I am 100% disappointed, but congratulations to everyone else,' Murs admits. 'I'm not guaranteed anything, so I'll just keep trying harder.'

• Olly Murs plays Thetford Forest on June 30, gates 6pm, returns only, 03000 680400, boxoffice.forestry.gov.uk

• He will also be headlining Newmarket Nights at Newmarket Racecourse on August 18, ticket details and booking at newmarket.thejockeyclub.co.uk

MORE: Wayne Savage's 2016 chat with Olly Murs

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