Currently, Olly is 30, or ‘29 plus one’. Plus two isn’t far away from the tour’s close. Despite being in the music industry for over six years, he’s never taken drugs in his life. He says he doesn’t need to. But performing live is the closest he’ll ever get to feeling wasted. ‘What I hear from other artists is that being onstage, in front of the big crowd, is like the high,’ he says. ‘It’s addictive. Nothing compares to walking out in front of 20,000 people and hearing that cheer, and feeling the excitement, that buzz.’
The first time he experienced this rush arrived with X Factor in 2009. After a week of ‘boot camp’ rehearsals with his mentor, Simon Cowell, Olly settled on singing the Elton John single ‘Your Song’. He was to perform in front of a live audience at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, where the programme was recorded.
Of all the things he’s done with his life so far – college, his previous job in an Essex call centre, playing football – performing live is the role that has given Olly the most confidence.
He knew it was a safe choice for his vocal range – Simon did, too. Then his performance was a bit duff. ‘I didn’t do that great, I didn’t sing well,’ he admits.
The crowd reaction gave him everything he needed, though. Affirmation and adulation. A little love.
‘I was feeding off them,’ he says. ‘They were shouting, they were screaming, they were whistling at me. I thought, Wow this is pretty awesome! I just naturally felt a connection with me being onstage, doing it as a job, and them being fans. I was like, I can do this full time!’
He’s relaxed now. His two hours of strenuous rehearsals are complete; it’s been a productive day. With just over a week until the first night in Sheffield – ‘D-Day approaching,’ as he describes it – Olly’s hitting his marks for showtime – ‘I’m making sure I’m prepared, so I can give the fans the best possible show.’
There’s always pressure on the eve of a big tour like this one, he says, but shutting out the stress is relatively easy. Besides, his aim isn’t to win over the army of hardcore fans – they’re already in the bag and he knows they’ll love the songs. It’s the doubters he’s keen to convince. The reluctant boyfriends in tow; the dads and friends of real fans along for a night out – ‘I want to prove them wrong.’
Of all the things he’s done with his life so far – college, his previous job in an Essex call centre, playing football – performing live is the role that has given Olly the most confidence. ‘No matter who’s in front of me, the press, the industry that are against me sometimes, if anyone comes to my show, I want them to walk away smiling, regardless. They’ve got to leave their ego at the door, though. They need to come in and have a good time and enjoy what I do. Don’t be worrying about where I came from. Have an open mind. It can be exhausting getting it right, but that’s our job, isn’t it?’
So you see this as a job, then?
He shrugs his shoulders. ‘I dunno. I don’t find touring a job. I find a lot of the other things a job. Like if I’m doing press interviews, red carpet events or stuff like that. I wouldn’t miss doing photoshoots. I’d go as far to say that even though there’s an excitement when I know I’ve written a great song in the studio, I wouldn’t miss that too much, either. But I come alive onstage.’ He seems to be replaying that freedom in his head, hearing the noise of his Pulp Fiction-inspired intro and seeing his crowd stretched out in front of him.
‘This show’s in your face,’ he says. ‘They’re gonna go bonkers. The fans are going to kick off, mate.’