Bad Boys Inc hunk Matthew James looks back at the 90s and reveals what really went on behind the scenes in Bad Boys Inc….
This week, former Bad Boys Inc star Matthew James will perform on Eurovision: You Decide in the hope that he can represent the UK in Sweden in May!
In part one of our interview, gorgeous Matthew chatted all things Eurovision, but now we take a step back in time and revisit those heady days of the 90s when he was a member of Bad Boys Inc.
Here, a refreshingly honest Matthew opens up about the highs and lows of being a boyband star, how he was told to stay in the closet, how he dabbled in drugs for the first time and many more SHOCKING revelations!
We know you best of course from Bad Boys Inc. What was the dream?
I told my careers officer at school that I wanted to perform in someway. I’d been acting from an early age and had performed in the West End alongside the incredible Dame Maggie Smith and Stephen Fry. I went to a local drama school part time and that’s where I felt at home. I hated senior school, every second. But knew in my heart that some sort of performance was how I would make a living and a career. Joining Bad Boys Inc was a dream come true for me. I’d seen Take That performing at the Limelight when they were just starting out and thought I’d love to do something like that. Not long after I was singing Careless Whisper down the phone to producer Ian Levine and the rest is history! It was a whirlwind of a time and of course we would have loved greater success, but the journey has set me up for the man I am today and I wouldn’t be here now with the potential of performing to over 200 million people in Stockholm in May! Life’s great that way.
What had you been promised?
You get promised the world! We weren’t even signed when I joined the band. I joined the band on 3rd May 1993 and by 13th May I was signed to A&M Records. Everything happened so fast. Being the lead singer, I had to record 23 songs for the album (plus b-sides etc). I was given a cassette tape of three songs the night before and would head to the studio every day to literally sing through them line by line. I hated the experience. It’s good to get comfortable with a song and everything was written incredibly high. There was a point when we were promoting our third single Walking On Air and I got a call to say that I was going to fly out to New York to record a duet with Donna Summer produced by Clivilles & Cole! But because we were signed to Ian Levine and then to A&M, this got shelved! It would have been amazing. We were also awarded a Smash Hits best newcomer award that got taken away from us because someone said said that Take That wouldn’t perform on the live TV show if we won a Smash Hits award. Stuff like that hurts, when all you want is to be successful and do the best you can. It was like constantly swimming upstream.
What was the reality of being in a boyband?
The reality was bloody hard work slogging around the country living off Ginsters pasties. But we were young and it was a lot of fun. We got to film amazing pop videos around the world with some of the best directors, stylists and creative teams. So from Radio 1 tours in Northern Ireland staying in B&B’s we ended up shooting our last two videos in Hawaii staying in luxury hotels. It was most certainly a journey.
When did you know it wasn’t going right?
There was so much going on politically that was out of our control that just made everything really difficult. We weren’t happy with the direction of music. We had fans in the fan club who’d never bought a single. We were liked as a band by fans and the media alike, but wanted to really push for amazing pop records that would blow people away and also get far more involved creatively as a band and individually too. After we came back from our video shoots in Hawaii, the politics really kicked in and things really got tough. It was two steps forward and 86 steps back. That eventually drains you completely and you can’t keep focused.
Were you and your band mates all agreed it was doomed?
It was our decision as a band not to carry on. We had been dropped by A&M because our management team wanted to move Dina Carroll to Mercury records and we were used as pawns in a political game. Move Dina and we’ll drop Bad Boys Inc. It was as simple as that. We were offered other deals but we’d lost heart and hope and all wanted to call it a day. We were earning bugger all!
Did you have any say in the music?
I got to co-write one track with David just before the album release that we wrote in Old Compton’s cafe watching the world go by. We’d worked as a band in the studio with some writers from Warner Chappell but it always felt like the management were just trying to make us feel we were involved creatively. They just wanted the publishing advance money!
What was working with Ian Levine like?
He has an amazing track record and a huge part of the Northern soul scene in the UK, but is also notoriously difficult. It’s his way or nothing.
Was being in the band frustrating?
OMG yes! Ridiculously. Watching the greedy cats around you scared of losing control and not letting you have any input was so frustrating. You have to let artists grow and develop and we all had great ideas and needed input for that feeling of self worth as a band.
Every boyband looks back and say they enjoyed a debauched pop life – was it all sex and drugs for you?
It was my first dabble in drugs that’s for sure. It’s around you, it’s available. It did nothing for me! As for sex, that was bloody scarce! Most offers of sex were from curly scrunch permed 13 years olds from Hull…strangely not my bag!
Did you smooch any gay celebs?
Were you out at this point. Were u told to keep quiet?
I had come out to friends and family and people at college. I was comfortable with who I was, but was told that I’d have to go back in the closet and throw away the key for the foreseeable future. It seems so backwards now looking at it and I wasn’t comfortable with it either.
David was gay too – were you both tearaways?
David was a little reticent at accepting me into the band when I first joined. The original lead singer Richard Traviss had left the band, hence me being brought in. But after Richard’s departure David started to record lead vocals on the tracks. I think he felt inadequate and rejected when Ian decided that I was to take lead. We soon bonded and had many a drunken hotel room party together recreating In Bed With Madonna moments with towels on our heads…in the butchest way possible of course.
Had you had an easy time acknowledging you were gay?
I knew I was gay at a very early age but thought as a youngster that I would never tell a soul and that it was looked at as wrong. It was scary at the time. My mum actually asked me as I had a ‘friend’ staying over at my parents house and she said ‘I know a little boy who loves another little boy’. I can remember it as clear as day. My family and friends are so incredibly cool with me being gay. It’s not an issue for me or for them and of course it shouldn’t be. I’ve been very lucky in that respect.
How did the band come to an end?
It was early 1995 and I was having secret meetings with Ian Levine and one of the heads at A&M, trying to get Ian to at least let half of the 2nd album be produced outside of his control. I was secretly flown to New York to work with producer Ric Wake who’d worked with legends like Whitney, Celine and Mariah! That was an incredible experience. The song was great and A&M wanted to release it instead of Change Your Mind (which was set up to be our next and last single). I must dig it out and post it on the world wide web…it’s great and I’m proud to have sung it.
CHECK OUT CHANGE YOUR MIND BY BAD BOYS INC
How furious were you Change Your Mind was given to doomed boyband Upside Down?
It was New Years Day and I was in the car in a blustery car park in Cornwall after staying in a house with friends for NYE and this song came on the radio. I was gobsmacked and thought WTF? The intro to Change Your Mind is so distinctive as we had been at the recording of the live strings. I think I actually burst into tears! The song meant a lot to us as a band and it made me realise how disposable we really were. I still prefer our version and sexy video shot by the amazing Gregg Masuak (He had directed Take That’s awesome Pray video).
AND THEN LISTEN TO UPSIDE DOWN’S VERSION OF CHANGE YOUR MIND
What was life like post band? Was it hard To get back to normal?
I remember it being really bizarre. We literally went from doing some final commitments, including promoting a single we knew would never see the light of day, to absolutely nothing! I remember being sat in the bath one day and it was grey and gloomy outside and I started to shake. It was really hard to get back into normal life. A girl ran up to me in our local shopping centre and said to her mate ‘nah it’s not him, he’s too fat’. Not the nicest time in my life but it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
Was it easy to pick yourself up and get going again?
I got offered Joseph taking over from Darren Day just after BBI split, but I was still tied to managerial and publishing contracts. Both of which I wanted to get out of. So I played stupid and laid low until finally I was released from everything.
You sing in a party band called Madhen now. You’re fantastic!
After learning my craft as a songwriter and travelling around the world getting offers of deals and various things, I started working with a producer called Aron Friedman who’s wife was in a party band. Jeanne got me involved in the band and I started to enjoy singing again. I was working as a builder with my uncle and brother, teaching at the Academy of Contemporary Music and had a radio show on London’s Liberty radio too. I had four jobs on the go, loads of money but it was exhausting! I met Helen, who’s also part of Madhen, on one such gig and she said that herself and three friends had formed an 80’s tribute and that I’d be great as part of it. Helen and I got on like a house on fire. She looks like Debbie Harry and is one of the funniest, most wonderful people I know. From starting out as an 80’s tribute band we developed various tributes and then finally created a party band who just keep going from strength to strength. It’s been so organic in it’s growth and development and we’ve played some incredible gigs around the world. It’s like being in a signed band without all the pressure and the crap! Who wouldn’t enjoy performing in front of royals and rugby players for Zara Phillip’s wedding to Mike Tindall. It was an incredible party!
As you’ve got older have your priorities changed?
Of course. I love that I can make a good living doing something that I love. All the heartache and battles of what life throws at you can only help you to mature and blossom as both a human being and a performer. I know my purpose, I live in the moment. I try and enjoy every experience along the way and learn from good and bad. Laughter is my biggest love. Whether it’s the ability to laugh at yourself or situations in life…I really think that’s what keeps me going. I enjoy being older and living in the now. Far too many friends have been taken from this world at an early age. they’ve all taught me that life really is too short.
You look better than ever – is it even important to keep looking good?
(blushes) I like to look good and keep healthy. I’m blessed with good genes. I’m not obsessed with my looks. I’m as happy sat at home in my underwear with my hair all over the place watching a movie with my two dogs as I am donning a tux and heading into London for a night out! I can look rough in the mornings.
Has it been hard to maintain?
It’s harder to stay fit and trim as you get older for sure. I’m not sure I’d make so much effort at the gym if I wasn’t performing. Being healthy is what’s most important. Gin helps LOL.
How do you deal with setbacks now your a bit older?
I take each day as it comes and take everything on the chin. I’m very good at staying pretty laid back in difficult situations and excepting what is. Deal with stuff and move on…don’t dwell in the past! I think I’d be a blubbering mess if I hadn’t been able to move on. You won’t find me saying “Why me?” whilst crying into my pillow!
Are you single?
I’m not. I’m very much loved up to a wonderful man. He allows me to be myself and is proud of who I am and what I do. We both have mutual respect for each other and allow each other to breathe. We’re honest with each other and work through things together as a team. We’re getting married this year in September. I can’t bloody wait.
Wow that’s amazing. Do you feel that over the years you have seen changes in gay acceptance?
Massively. Kids are coming out much younger and people are much more accepting. I think it’s down to exposure to people, cultures, creed and diversity. We’re all different. Being gay does not define who I am. It’s a part of me that I’m very proud of. I have a wonderful partner, friends and family. From the petrified kid who thought he’d never come out to anyone, it’s so amazing that I can be so open and not care what people really think about me. I’m not here to please everyone and there will always be bigotry, homophobia and so on. But surround yourself with like minded individuals and show each other some love. Love really does make the world go round. It’s the core message in my song A Better Man finding someone who makes you feel that you can be the best person you can be. A positive message for both the world and most definitely for Eurovision.
David Ross has become a director, Ally is a sports presenter – are u all still mates.
I spoke to both Ally and David in the last few days, so yes we’re still mates. I haven’t spoken to Tony in a long time. I don’t have his number, he’s not on social media but I’ve seen him popping up on TV and in ad campaigns and hope that he’s happy. We all split amicably from Bad Boys Inc. It wasn’t easy at the time but we’ve remained in contact and are all proud of what each of us has achieved individually. David said that Bad Boys Inc was just a stepping stone to Eurovision and I get what he means. Mr Begg couldn’t be prouder of me and my current Eurovision excitement.
READ MORE FROM MATTHEW FROM THE FIRST PART OF OUR INTERVIEW IN WHICH HE CHATS EUROVISION
The six songs are available to listen to at bbc.co.uk/eurovision from today.
Hosted by Mel Giedroyc, BBC Music presents the 90 minute UK Selection show to be broadcast live on BBC Four at 7.30pm from The O2 Forum Kentish Town on Friday 26th February featuring performances by the six competing acts before the voting lines open and the public are invited to choose the song and act that will represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2016 in Sweden.voting lines open and the public are invited to choose the song and act that will represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2016 in Sweden.