The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 31)

Time as always to turn back the clock to the sights, sounds and hits of the UK charts as we continue The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: our third Pop Idol star of the series makes his debut – and what a story he has to tell…

UPDATE: Tuesday 16th August 2022, 18:30pm

In light of the sad news that Darius has passed away today at the age of 41, this post is now in his memory and the legacy he left behind on British pop twenty years ago. All thoughts and love to his family, friends and fans at this sad time.

DARIUS CAMPBELL-DANESH: 1980 – 2022

  • Artist: Darius
  • Song: Colourblind
  • Released: 29/07/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Darius Campbell-Danesh / Pete Glenister / Deni Lew / Steve Lillywhite
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 19

Earlier on this series, when we revisited Liberty X’s “Just A Little”, we touched on how they introduced the concept of the far less “luckier” losers turning into the real winners long term from reality TV pop shows. But that was also true of someone who was on the same series of Popstars that they were – in fact, we’d argue that this week’s featured artist is the dictionary definition of “the underdog”. Because he had quite the journey to get there.

Born in Glasgow in the summer of 1980 to a Scottish mother and an Iranian father, Darius Campbell-Danesh – or Darius as he came to be mononymly known – was bought up around the music of The Beatles, George Michael, Simon and Garfunkel and Alanis Morissette.

Learning to play guitar from the age of 9, he wrote his first song at 13, and by the age of 16, he was in a band he’d formed at school called Jade. Fast forward a couple of years, and the 6 ft 3 Scot had taken himself off to the University of Edinburgh to study English Literature, with hopes of being able to set up a home studio of sorts to make demos that he could pitch to record labels for a deal.

It was in the autumn of 2000, however, that he found himself at the auditions for that first series of Popstars. Even though he had his sights on solo glory, he looked at Robbie Williams, and seen what a springboard being in Take That had been for him, as he was, at that moment, the biggest British male solo star.

Perhaps it was viewing the chance to get into the winning band as a stepping stone that was his fatal flaw of sorts. It was something Darius quickly cottoned onto regardless, as he came up against the continued apathy and in many cases, irritation of “Nasty” Nigel Lythgoe, Nicki Chapman and Paul Adam throughout the auditions, at one time being dubbed “a rebel without a cause”.

The catalyst for him finally being booted off the show and missing out on a place in Hear’Say, was when he sang his version of Britney Spears‘ “…Baby One More Time”, that could be best described as… different. Watching it again for writing this blog, we had an unintentional chuckle, of the kind one does in awkward situations. After being ejected, he vowed to the judges that he’d have both a number one single and a platinum album by the time he was 35.

Of course, saying all this on camera, and reality TV being as new as it was then, immediately meant Darius was good TV – but not in the way he expected. As Hear’Say began their grand and dizzyingly fast rise to fame, his beard and ponytail and that rendition of Britney turned him into a figure of public ridicule, most of the time to disproportionate levels of vitriol, particularly in the tabloid press and wider media, for almost a year.

By the time he’d been whipped and flogged at almost every turn, having coins and beer chucked at him at gigs and PAs, he had been turned down for several label deals, had lost management representation, and was £12k in debt. Around the same time, having lost his passion for music and songwriting at the height of Popstars mania, he found the spark to begin again, after hearing The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” on the radio.

Inspired, he began writing songs again. Writing in his 2003 autobiography Sink or Swim, he said “I thought, I want to write songs that make me feel good. I want to write songs that touch people … I found myself jotting down some ideas, snapshots of the different feelings I’d had in my relationships with girls. I related each feeling to a colour.” Little did he know what this song was to eventually do for his career.

Before that though, came a second bite of the reality TV cherry, entering Pop Idol. Initially a source of residual mockery from Popstars (even Ant and Dec were not particularly kind to him at first), he dialled things down, got rid of the goatee and ponytail for a slicker image, and focussed on just delivering solid performances free of the more misunderstood “artistic” frippery that had seen him be dubbed a cocky, self absorbed loser during Popstars.

When the final 50 stages of the competition happened, Darius initially missed out on a place in the final 10. But after Rik Waller pulled out the show for good due to a throat infection, as third placed finalist in Rik’s week of the final 50 heats, he was back in the running. The comeback kid was surprising everyone.

He eventually continued on to the end of the show, just missing out on a place in the final but still finishing a respectable third, during which time he turned in memorable renditions of Tom Jones‘ “It’s Not Unusual” amongst others. Now he had aspirations to try and secure a record deal of his own – but it would have to wait until the national Pop Idol tour was finished and he was free to pursue his own path musically.

Simon Fuller, who was now managing him under the 19 Management stable, understood this, and eventually scouted him out to Steve Lillywhite, the superstar producer who had albums for U2 and Travis to his credit, and had just been made managing director of Mercury Records. A demo of that song that Darius had written when he was finding his love for music and songwriting again was sent across to Steve – and with the bright and breezy guitar pop of “Colourblind”, he was signed pretty much on the spot.

But he also knew that he wanted to wait before getting the single out there, so it didn’t get crowded out by other releases off the back of Pop Idol. Of this decision, he said “If I wanted my music to stand apart from the hype of the programme, I would have to wait. I was willing to take that risk.” Fortunately, it was a risk that more than paid off handsomely, as he was to be vindicated.

After a round of intense promotions and solid radio play and TV play for the smouldering desert set promo video – a far cry from the widespread mockery and derision he’d been subject to a year earlier – “Colourblind” was finally released on Monday, 29th July 2002. A week later, it knocked Darius’ fellow Pop Idol finalist Gareth Gates off the top to become his first UK number one single, all told shifting just over 160,000 copies in its first fortnight on sale, spending two weeks at the summit and going onto be one of the top 20 biggest selling singles of 2002.

It thus made Darius the third finalist from the series to claim a number one hit, but also crucially, he was the first to do so with a self penned song. Want another twist to the tale? The same week it debuted at the top, Britney Spears herself was a new entry in the chart, but her single – “Boys” with Pharrell Williams – could only peak at #7. Now that certainly wouldn’t have been on anyone’s Popstars bingo card back in 2001.

And Darius did ultimately go onto silence every single one of his critics; his debut album Dive In went platinum, just as he’d asserted to those Popstars judges, and more hits and a second album followed over the next two years. He then made the leap to theatre work, and was the youngest person to be cast as Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago in the West End, at the age of 25 in 2006.

Not only was all the success well deserved, but “Colourblind” has, you may be surprised to hear, given where Darius started in the public consciousness, matured beautifully and still holds up incredibly well two decades on. In fact, we’ll just be honest here: it’s a solid gold 00s bop, and completely illustrates why, even with the odds against him as they were, he was right to keep pushing to achieve success on his own terms. His story and career is also proof of that old adage; fall down twice, get back up victorious.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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