Last New Year’s Eve, when the clock struck midnight, Olly Alexander was alone.
“I went up to the roof of my building and watched the fireworks,” says the 31-year-old. “It was nice, but I was alone, so it was pretty sad.”
Tonight, at that very moment, he will be seen by about 10 million people.
The Years & Years singer and star of one of the biggest television hits of the year, It’s A Sin, has been chosen to follow the first musical steps of Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow and Craig David to perform the BBC One concert shown on Both Sides. midnight.
The moment he indulges in Big Ben’s bongs is traditionally one of the highest TV ratings of the year.
Speaking next to the stage during rehearsals at the Riverside Studios in London’s Hammersmith, with the entire light show being tested behind him and a bunch of his own face masks at his side, Alexander explained how much it meant to him to be asked. .
Every response he gives is accompanied by swinging his arms and swaying from side to side, such is his enthusiasm.
“I feel very lucky to be doing it,” he says. “It is a great honor to bring in the New Year with all the spectators. I feel very privileged and excited.”
There is a pause. Look down and up before adding. “I’m actually quite nervous.”
He has a reason to be. Last year, American soul singer Alicia Keys was cast for the slot and it was not well received. Viewers voted with her remotes, with many choosing to watch Squeeze and Rick Wakeman in Jools Holland on BBC Two.
The newspaper i summed it up the next day, asking: “An American singer performing in Los Angeles. How the heck does anyone [in the UK] want a New Years Eve?”
The BBC ended up releasing a statement to defend the election. “Both shows have a different feel and bring something different to the schedule and our audience members are free to select the show that seems most preferable to them,” the corporation said.
This year, Jools Holland’s lineup includes Ed Sheeran, Lulu and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. There is no doubt that Shape of You, Shout and Human are songs far more popular than the greatest hits of Years & Years, King, Shine and If You’re Over Me.
Perhaps wisely, Alexander has recruited reinforcements from pop royalty in the form of Kylie Minogue and the Pet Shop Boys.
“The Kylie Minogue,” he smiles. “Superstar. Legend. I first met her in 2015 when we supported her show. Over the years, I’ve coaxed myself into coming in, so I’m actually her friend. We did our A Second To Midnight collaboration, which is just perfect for New Years. We’ll do it just before midnight. “
Released in October as the lead single from an expanded version of Kylie’s Disco album, A Second To Midnight didn’t make the charts, but Alexander is fully confident that viewers who are more interested in New Years Eve than in Years & Years will not feel left out.
“Oh don’t worry, you can sing and dance to every song.”
Surely that should be the case when she is joined by the Pet Shop Boys on stage.
“Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, OMG, two legends,” she says. “I first met them a few years ago when we did a song called Dreamland. The stories they have about people they have worked with over the years and just being able to call me one of those people is very, very cool.” .
The Pet Shop Boys will team up with Alexander to perform his 1987 number one single, It’s A Sin, providing their year with some cute bookends. It was in January that she played Ritchie, the main protagonist of the Channel 4 series named after the song.
The drama about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s became one of the most acclaimed television shows of the year, across the board. The Guardian named It’s A Sin their number one show of the year, calling it “a devastating delight.”
The Radio Times also placed it at number one, describing it as “heartbreaking, hilarious and important,” while The Spectator included it in their top 10, adding: “If you’re not gay, it will make you wish you were gay – or at least that you had been gay in those wild and lustful years before AIDS came. “
Alexander’s performance has been especially acclaimed. He’s been nominated for his performance at two major American awards ceremonies: the Critics’ Choice and the Independent Spirit Awards, but the show has changed his life in other ways.
“We filmed it almost two years ago, but doing it was very profound,” he says. “I loved the story so much and just being able to play that character was amazing, because I’m a gay man. Somehow I was able to get a link to my past, playing something that was developed in the 80s.
“The AIDS crisis affects me directly today and many of us. Since the show came out, I’ve had all these conversations about HIV / AIDS and testing and what PrEP is and helping spread that awareness has been just amazing. I’m very happy to move on if I can. “
Alexander sums up 2021 as a “wild ride” that left him feeling “living in an alternate reality.”
“Change has been the word of the year for me,” he explains. In March, his group Years & Years, over the last decade, transformed from a trio into Alexander as a soloist.
“It was complicated. For us as a band it had definitely been in the cards for a while,” he explains. “We had talked about it for a long time. But doing the actual public announcement and doing it alone was a challenge as it’s a change and it’s hard to adjust, but it’s also great because I have more freedom.
“But I love Years & Years. I love the songs and can still perform them. We are still friends. Mikey (Goldsworthy), our bass player, is on stage with us tonight.”
Now that it’s a solo act, Alexander says he’s even more grateful for his continued friendships with seasoned artists in the industry, including his special guests.
“I really appreciate the conversations I’ve had with the Pet Shop Boys and Kylie. I still get very nervous and my confidence takes a hit. I have those days and so do they. Kylie told me how she feels this way sometimes. And Neil. It’s encouraging. to know that they are still like this. They are human beings and we are all the same. We still feel insecure, we get nervous and we are not sure of ourselves, so that has been a very good lesson to learn. “
As New Years Eve approaches midnight, it is very likely that many BBC One viewers are not entirely sure who this person they are seeing in concert is and will write “Years & Years” or “Olly Alexander” on it. Internet search. engines.
One person who hasn’t done that for the past 12 months is Alexander himself.
“My New Years resolution last year was not to look up my name on the internet. I managed for a whole year, so I’m going to continue with that one,” he laughs, before clapping his hands, saying goodbye and returning to the stage and a spotlight that expects it.
The big New Years and New Years Eve party airs on BBC One from 11:25 PM on December 31, except in Scotland, where viewers can watch Hogmanay starting at 11:30 PM, with performances by Texas and Emeli Sandé.