McFly’s Tom Fletcher looks back: ‘People threw things at us in the street. These days, they just want to say something nice’

The songwriter turned children’s author recreates an old photo and talks about the calm after his wild boyband days

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Tom Fletcher in 1989 and 2022. Later portrait: Pål Hansen. Styling: Andie Redman. Grooming: Sadaf Ahmad. Archive image: courtesy of Tom Fletcher

Born in 1985, Tom Fletcher is a hit songwriter turned bestselling children’s author. After missing out on a place in Busted in 2001, he got a record deal with pop-punk four-piece McFly, one of the decade’s most successful groups with tracks such as Obviously, Five Colours in Her Hair and All About You. Fletcher has penned 10 UK No 1 singles and 21 top-10s, writing for One Direction, Busted and 5 Seconds of Summer among others. His latest book, Space Band, which is accompanied by an album performed by McFly, is out now. He lives with his wife, TV personality Giovanna Fletcher, and their three children.

This photograph is me performing in the house I grew up in, in Harrow. I reckon that guitar was a recent Christmas present, so I’d probably just started learning to play. I must have been four.

My dad’s legs and his pair of uncharacteristically bold socks are in the corner. He was a massive Rolling Stones fan and mum was obsessed with Bryan Adams, so it’s likely I was playing a song by either of those artists, or Dr Hook, whom I loved, even though his lyrics are very inappropriate for a child. Dad worked in a Kodak factory and was in bands, playing in pubs and working men’s clubs, while mum was a dinner lady and a teaching assistant. We had a small house and not much money but they still managed to give me the most magical childhood.

That being said, I was a highly emotional child. Very invested in films, but seeing horrible footage stayed with me for a long time – I couldn’t handle any violence, and the type of nasty videos that get shared when you’re young would have a lasting impact. I also had a strong attachment to objects. I would assign personalities to pieces of clothing; there was genuine heartbreak if I tore something. I remember losing a scarf once and thought it was the end of the world. I guess, looking back, I can see that I had slight mental health issues as a child.

My parents never pushed me in any direction, but they were keen to invest in my passions. I started at Sylvia Young theatre school when I was nine – an amazing experience that totally defined me as a person. I’d compare it to Hogwarts, but instead of magic you do music. I hadn’t had a great time at primary school – I was the odd one out for loving performing while everyone else did football – so to fit in finally was great.

That school was pivotal for me not just musically, but it was also the place I met my wife. One September, I was sitting in assembly and we were told that there were “new kids joining us”. Giovanna walked in and I nudged my friend and said, “Cor, she’s well fit,” as you do when you’re 13. As our last names both began with F she came over and sat next to me. I said: “Hi, my name’s Tom but you can call me T”; a few hours later I asked her to be my girlfriend. She said yes then I dumped her at the end of the week. It was off and on for a few years until it was off – and I was heartbroken. After bombarding her with cheesy ballads I’d written – there was one called Anything that went, “I would do anything for youuuu” – she took me back. Ten years of marriage and three kids later, it was worth it!

After theatre school I was auditioning to be in a lot of boybands and it was wearing me out, so much so that I nearly didn’t go to the Busted audition. In the end, my mum convinced me. I got in, but a few days later they called to say they wanted it to be a trio. So I was out. Having that opportunity taken away from me was totally devastating and embarrassing, but it made me realise how much I wanted to be in a band.

I moved in with Danny [Jones], Harry [Judd] and Dougie [Poynter] the weekend after my 18th. I had a birthday slash farewell party at my parent’s house, then Danny and I got into my Fiat Punto and drove to our new place. The McFly house was disgusting. Harry was the worst – he still is. We got about a year and a half in and our management realised we needed a cleaner and someone to feed us – I put on three stone in the first year from eating crap, and we had cockroaches, maggots and ants all over the floor. That’s what happens when you get four guys who had never lived away from home before trying to look after themselves.

Fame was tricky at 18. Of course it’s exciting, but suddenly realising you don’t have privacy any more was a tough adjustment. People would throw things at us walking down the street or shout at us. The bands that we loved and looked up to had a very different demographic from McFly, so if we wanted to see the Used or Blink-182 we would get the shit kicked out of us by pissed 20-year-olds at their gigs. We had to start taking security with us, but I felt really lame going to Brixton Academy with a big guy standing near me the whole time, so I accepted that I wouldn’t go to concerts any more. My world got smaller; I became a complete recluse. Luckily, I was still with Giovanna and would drive to her tiny flat in Sidcup at midnight after being with the band. It became my escape – a place to hide where I wouldn’t have to see or talk to anyone. The next day she would go to college and I’d stay inside or put a hat on and try to go to Bluewater [shopping centre].

Things took off pretty fast for us, and as the main songwriter there were certain expectations, especially after we’d broken the Beatles’ record for being the youngest band to top the album charts. We didn’t get much time off: in 2004, we were given just one afternoon where we had three hours off. While it was relentless, I loved it, too. I’m mildly bipolar so the pressure to keep creating really tallied with the manic side of my personality – the excitement and need to be creative feeds the mania. Back then, I wasn’t aware of my condition, but now I can see that the periods of creativity would fall into horrific depressions on the other side, often lining up perfectly with the cycle of our life in the band: writing, recording, touring, promoting and then a crash. One of the scary things about being bipolar is trying to manage your condition when you don’t want to lose your creativity.

Thankfully, my life is so much more stable now. It’s not just that I am writing books, but having kids changed my life. Now I’m eating better, exercising and sleeping more. I need to look after myself so I can look after my kids.

It’s a lot easier walking down the road, too. There was a weird shift a few years ago where I started going out and getting the loveliest comments from people. Strangers would come up to me and shake my hand. When it first started happening I was so on edge, paranoid they might say something mean or do something to me. But these days people just want to say something nice. Having those bad experiences makes it all so much sweeter.

Contributor

Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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