The country was split between the Pop Idol finalists, remembers Will superfan Bella Younger.
Back in 2002, before anyone was Leave or Remain, the country was divided. Then, the issue wasn’t the EU but which Pop Idol contestant you had pledged your allegiance to. In the climax of its first season, battle lines were drawn between Team Will and Team Gareth.
This was the start of the golden era of TV talent shows – when Simon Cowell was revered as a tastemaker and winning guaranteed more than a trip to the I’m a Celebrity… jungle.
Pop Idol’s frontrunners were two normal lads who just loved to sing: 23-year-old Will Young, a politics student from Berkshire, and 17-year-old Gareth Gates, a spiky haired A level student from Bradford.
My school was down the road from Will’s family so geographical loyalty immediately bound me and my friends to his team. We wanted him to win more than we’d ever wanted anything and, in our eyes, baby-faced Gareth – favourite of the bookies and Simon Cowell – had the edge. A squeaky-clean Christian who could only overcome a debilitating stammer when he sang, it was clear that mums everywhere loved him. But as far as I was concerned, Will was the music lover’s choice (and he looked great in a vest).
Will was not just one of our own, he was the underdog. A week before the final, the pair took to the streets in ‘battle buses’, met with adoring fans and released tongue-in-cheek manifestos.
With the risk of a Gareth victory looming large (Will was 0.5 per cent behind Gareth in a previous public vote), my friends and I took matters into our own hands. We headed to the school art block, armed with paint and card, and snuck out into the nearby village to canvass the area. Every time a car beeped when they saw our Vote For Will posters, we convinced ourselves it was his eternally grateful mum. When Will won with just 53.1 per cent of the vote, we cried for hours. Almost as much as when he came out as gay a month after winning.
Also that month…
- Comedian Spike Milligan (above) died. His headstone has an Irish translation of his quip ‘I told you I was ill’.
- Ocean’s Eleven was released in the UK.
- The BBC launched two new children’s channels: CBeebies and CBBC.
- The funeral of Princess Margaret was held at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
- Great Britain’s women’s curling team won the country’s first Winter Olympics gold medal for 18 years at Salt Lake City.