McFly’s Tom Fletcher looks back: “People were throwing things at us on the street. Nowadays they just want to say something nice’ | family

Tom Fletcher as a child wearing his pajamas while playing guitar in front of a microphone, recreating the same image in 2022
Tom Fletcher 1989 and 2022. Later portrait: Pål Hansen. Style: Andie Redman. Nursing: Sadaf Ahmad. Archive image: courtesy of Tom Fletcher

Born in 1985, Tom Fletcher is a hit songwriter turned bestselling author of children’s books. After missing out on a spot on Busted in 2001, he landed a record deal with pop-punk foursome McFly, one of the biggest hit groups of the decade with tracks like Obvious, Five Colors in Her Hair and All About You. Fletcher has written 10 UK No.1 singles and 21 Top 10 hits, and has written for the likes of One Direction, Busted and 5 Seconds of Summer. His latest book, Space Band, accompanied by an album performed by McFly, is available now. He lives with his wife, TV personality Giovanna Fletcher, and their three children.

In this photograph, I’m performing at the house in Harrow where I grew up. I guess the guitar was a recent Christmas present so I was probably just starting to learn to play it. I must have been four.

In the corner are my father’s legs and his pair of unusually fat socks. He was a huge Rolling Stones fan and my mom was obsessed with Bryan Adams so I probably played a song by one of those artists or by 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, played in pubs and workmen’s clubs while Mum was a dinner lady and 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 very emotional kid. I was very into films, but seeing horrible footage stayed with me for a long time – I couldn’t deal with violence and the kind of nasty videos shared when you’re young would leave a lasting impression. I also had a strong attachment to objects. I would assign personalities to clothes; It was real heartbreak when I ripped something. I remember once losing a scarf and thinking it was the end of the world. I think if I look back I can see that I had mild mental health issues as a kid.

My parents never pushed me in any direction but they were keen to invest in my passions. I started at the Sylvia Young Theater School when I was nine – an amazing experience that totally defined me as a person. I would compare it to Hogwarts, but instead of magic, you make music. I hadn’t had a great time in elementary school – I was the oddball because I loved performing while everyone else was playing soccer – so it was great to finally fit in.

This school was not only crucial for me musically, but also the place where I met my wife. One September I was sitting in a meeting and we were told that “new children are joining us.” Giovanna walked in and I nudged my friend and said, “Cor, she’s fit,” like you do when you’re 13. Since our last names both started with F, she came over and sat next to me. I said “Hi, my name is Tom but you can call me T”; A few hours later I asked her to be my girlfriend. She said yes, then I left her at the end of the week. It was back and forth for a few years before it went away — and I was heartbroken. After I bombarded her with cheesy ballads I’d written—there was one called Anything that said, “I’d do anything for you, uuu”—she took me back. Ten years of marriage and three children later, it was worth it!

After theater school I auditioned for many boy bands and it drained me, so much so that I almost didn’t go to the Busted audition. In the end, my mother convinced me. I got in but a few days later they called and said they wanted it to be a trio. So I was outside. Taking this opportunity was totally devastating and embarrassing, but it made me realize how badly 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 party at my parents house, then Danny and I got into my Fiat Punto and drove to our new apartment. The McFly house was gross. Harry was the worst – he still is. We were about a year and a half and our management realized we needed a cleaner and someone to feed us – I gained seven pounds in the first year from eating crap and we had roaches, maggots and ants all over the floor . That’s what happens when you get four guys who have never lived away from home before trying to fend for themselves.

Fame was difficult at 18. Of course it’s exciting, but suddenly realizing that you no longer have privacy was a tough transition. People threw things at us as we walked down the street or yelled at us. The bands we loved and looked up to had a very different demographic than McFly, so if we wanted to see the Used or Blink-182, we’d get the shit out of us from pissed-off 20-year-olds at their gigs. We had to start bringing in security, but I felt really lame going to Brixton Academy with a big guy next to me all the time, so I accepted that I wasn’t going to concerts anymore. My world got smaller; I became a complete recluse. Luckily I was still with Giovanna and drove to her tiny apartment in Sidcup after the band at midnight. It became my escape – a place to hide, where I didn’t have to see or talk to anyone. The next day she would go to college and I would stay indoors or put on a hat and try to go to Bluewater [shopping centre].

It was pretty quick for us and as principal songwriters there were certain expectations, especially after we broke the Beatles’ record of being the youngest band to top the albums chart. We weren’t given much free time: in 2004 we were only given one afternoon where we had three hours off. While it was relentless, I also loved it. I’m mildly bipolar, so the pressure to keep being creative really resonated with the manic side of my personality — the excitement and need to be creative feeds the mania. I wasn’t aware of my condition at the time, but now I see that the creative periods on the other hand plummeted into terrible depressions that often lined up perfectly with the cycle of our lives in the band: writing, recording, touring, promoting and then on crash. One of the scary things about being bipolar is trying to manage your condition when you don’t want to lose your creativity.

Luckily my life is so much more stable now. It’s not just that I write books, but having children has changed my life. Now I eat better, exercise and sleep more. I have to take care of myself so I can take care of my kids.

It’s also a lot easier to walk down the street. There was a weird shift a few years ago when I started going out and getting the loveliest comments from people. Strangers came up to me and shook my hand. When it first happened I was so nervous, paranoid that they might say something mean or do something to me. But these days, people just want to say something nice. Those bad experiences make everything so much sweeter.

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