McFly’s Tom Fletcher looks back: “People threw things at us in the street. Nowadays they just want to say something nice’

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. Styling: Andie Redman. Grooming: Sadaf Ahmad. Stock photo: courtesy of Tom Fletcher

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

This photograph is me performing in the house I grew up in, in Harrow. I think the guitar was a new Christmas present, so I must have just started learning to play. I must have been four.

My dad’s legs and his pair of uncharacteristically bold socks are in the corner. He was a big Rolling Stones fan and mum was obsessed with Bryan Adams, so it’s likely that I played a song by one of those artists, or Dr Hook, who I loved, even though his lyrics are very inappropriate for a child. Dad worked in a Kodak factory and was in bands, playing pubs and working men’s clubs, while Mom 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.

As I said, I was a very emotional child. Very invested in movies, but watching horrible movies stayed with me for a long time – I couldn’t handle any violence, and the kind of nasty videos shared when you’re young would have a lasting impact. I also had a strong attachment to objects. I would assign personalities to items of clothing; it was real heartbreak if I tore something. I remember dropping a scarf once and thinking it was the end of the world. I guess looking back I can see that I had little mental issues as a child.

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 completely defined me as a person. I would compare it to Hogwarts, but instead of magic, you do music. I hadn’t had a great time in primary school – I was the odd one out for loving performing while everyone else was doing football – so it was great to finally fit in.

That school was crucial to me not only musically, but it was also the place I met my wife. One September I sat in the congregation and we were told that there were “new children who came to 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 dumped her at the end of the week. It was on and off for a few years until it was shut down – and I was heartbroken. After bombarding her with cheesy ballads I’d written—there was one called Anything that went, “I’d do anything for you”—she took me back. Ten years of marriage and three children later, it was worth it!

After theater school, I auditioned to be in many boy bands and it wore me out, so much so that I almost didn’t go to the Busted audition. Finally my mother convinced me. I came in, but a few days later they called and said they wanted it to be a trio. So I was out. Having that opportunity taken away from me was totally devastating and embarrassing, but it made me realize how much 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 farewell birthday party at my parents’ house, then Danny and I piled into my Fiat Punto and drove to our new place. The McFly house was disgusting. Harry was the worst – he still is. We got about a year and a half and our management realized we needed a cleaner and someone to feed us – I put on three stones in the first year of eating crap and we had cockroaches, maggots and ants all over the floor. That’s what happens when you get four guys who had never lived away from home before trying to fend for themselves.

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

Things took off pretty quickly for us, and as the main songwriter, there were certain expectations, especially after we’d broken the Beatles’ record for being the youngest band to top the album charts. We didn’t get much time off: in 2004 we only got one afternoon where we had three hours off. Although it was relentless, I loved it too. I’m mildly bipolar so the pressure to keep creating really matched the manic side of my personality – the excitement and need to be creative feeds the mania. At the time I wasn’t aware of my condition, but now I can see that the periods of creativity would end in terrible depressions on the other side, often in line with our life cycle in the band: writing, recording, touring, marketing, then a crash. One of the scary things about being bipolar is trying to manage your condition without losing your creativity.

Thankfully my life is so much more stable now. It’s not just that I write books, but having children 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 children.

It’s much easier to walk on the road too. There was a weird shift a few years ago where I started going out and getting the most beautiful comments from people. Strangers came up to me and shook my hand. When it first started happening, I was so on edge, paranoid that they might say something mean or do something to me. But nowadays people just want to say something nice. Having the bad experiences makes it all that much sweeter.

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