Singer Darius Campbell rose to fame on Popstars, the 2001 talent show which formed Hear’Say.
After performing a misjudged cover of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” during one of the show’s audition stages, he was kicked out. A year later, he entered Pop Idol and ended up being voted third, after Will Young and Gareth Gates. A platinum selling album, world tours and a career in musical theatre followed. Here, he shares some of the lessons reality television taught him.
1. Your parents probably won’t understand why you want to be famous.
“I entered Popstars when I was 19,” Darius told me. “Back then there was no precedent. It was the dawn of reality TV. My parents thought I was going to be a lawyer. They didn’t understand this new world.”
2. Editing footage changes the story.
“Popstars was pre-recorded,” Darius said.
“Me telling the judges they were wrong and that I would have a platinum album was part of a two hour conversation. I was basically just asking for the opportunity to play an instrument or sing an original song.”
3. Contestants are sent on an emotional roller coaster, simply because it makes good TV.
“They get you to talk down a long, narrow corridor with lights and cameras, sit you down, tell you you’re amazing and then, after ten minutes of bolstering, tell you you’re not right for the band.
“All they want is a reaction.”
4. Newspaper headlines really hurt.
“My, now infamous, performance of “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, paired with criticising the Popstars judges for only wanting “pop puppets” led to headlines including, ‘Pop Flop Darius Claims He’s Going To Have A Number One But Doesn’t Evem Have A Record Deal’.”
5. Fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“When I went back to university, before entering Pop Idol, I popped into Tescos,” Darius says. “Kids recognised me. They ran ahead, bought a crate of tomatoes and pelted me as I left.
“I was famous. But it was for all the wrong reasons.”
6. The public can be incredibly cruel.
“After Popstars I was invited to a nightclub in London,” Darius explained.
“When I turned up, the DJ announced that I was going to sing this Britney Spears song. I had no idea that they’d set me up to do it, so I said no.
“One guy said, ‘Oh you think you’re too good for us?”, pinned me down, stamped on my arm and broke it.”
7. You soon learn who your friends are.
“Back at university, I went to a Halloween party full of people dressed up as me, with my goatee and my ponytail. I lost everyone. I went from being a popular guy at Edinburgh to the guy no one would even talk to.”
8. And you’ll find support where you least expect it.
“After the show Nigel told me, ‘Darius, I feel really bad about what happened. We didn’t know how big this show was going to be. I didn’t think the editing was going to have such a drastic effect.’ He was really supportive. He turned out to be a great friend and mentor.”
9. You don’t get press training.
“After those shows, there was so subsequent press training or support,” Darius said. “I studied English Lit and Philosophy at Edinburgh. I’ve never had any training.”
10. When you’re in the public eye, nothing you do will be forgotten.
“I sang the Britney song in rebellion to the judges because they wouldn’t let me sing original music,” Darius explained. “But it went wrong. That performance is not the sum of my parts. It’s not who I am.”
11. Not everyone can hack it.
“I really feel for Gareth,” Darius told me. “I was there when he met Jordan. I said to him, ‘Gareth, don’t go anywhere near her because people will find out. You can’t get involved with a woman who is eight months pregnant.’
“He was 17. He was a young, wide-eyed kid that everything was coming to. Smash Hits magazine would sell 20% more copies every time they put his face on the cover.
“And when it came out that he not only had an affair with an 8-month pregnant Jordan, but had lied about it to everyone including his family, all his teenage fans turned against him. And his label dropped him.”
12. It’s not in the interest of reality TV producers to look after you.
“It’s an amazing opportunity and you get a lot of training, but ultimately it’s a brand that serves itself and works on a year’s cycle,” Darius explained.
“It’s not in the interest of the brand for any other brand to come out of it that’s bigger than the brand itself.
“That’s the harsh reality that people don’t consider when they’re auditioning. They’re just looking at the immediate result.
“But it’s never about that. It’s always about the long term.”