Tom Rickels on using music to combat homophobia and landing a place on The Voice 2016

© BBC

The 23-year-old performer stole the judges and our hearts during his blind audition last week. We caught up with the openly gay fishmonger from Clifton to discuss The Voice, his love for 1D and how music helped him escape homophobia at school.

Will.i.am, Boy George and Ricky Wilson all turned around for you. What made you decide to join Will’s team? I wanted to pick someone who shared the similar music style I want to put out as an artists going forward. I guess we’re similar in that respect, so he was the obvious choice.

It’s a big jump from fishmonger to The Voice. What or who made you want to audition? Definitely my mum. We watch the show every year, and every time she’ll sit there with me and say that it’ll be me up there one day. I’d say her faith in me more or less gave me the confidence to audition. I’m so amazed by how calm I was and how well it actually came together. I thought I’d be a nervous wreck, but then thought fuck it! This is a once in a lifetime, LET’S DO IT! [Laughs]

Why did you choose to perform a mash-up of Want To Want Me / Love Me Like You Do? Since I’m a massive Top 40s fan, I usually love to play around with anything that’s playing in the radio or in the charts. Mash-ups also are a brilliant way of making songs sound original and more true to you.

Did you keep your audition a secret beforehand or did you get all your families support? No one, actually! I never really put myself musically out there before, and I honestly never thought I’d be good enough to impress anyone of that caliber. I feared that if I wouldn’t get through, the whole anticipation would have left me even more gutted or even embarrassed. It was also nice because it was my own little secret.

What was the reaction at work when you finally revealed your secret? I told them a few weeks before my audition aired and they were massively shocked. They did say however that they wondered why I was so happy to be cutting fish at like seven in the morning. [Laughs]

© BBC

© BBC

Apart from Will.i.am, who has influenced you musically the most? Jack Garratt, James Bay and Sam Smith are kind of my inspirations. I’m weirdly a big fan of One Direction and love their DVDs. There’s energy about them and they’re always happy to be there. I guess I wanted that to be who I was when performing.

Some have even suggested that you look a little like Harry Styles… [Laughs] It’s a lovely complement but I just don’t see it.

You’ve been writing songs since the early age of seven. Was there anyone in particular that inspired you to be creative? Definitely Eva Cassidy! I remember singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and being absolutely mortified when my mum found me singing away in the backroom of our old house. Her tone, the way she performed and how pure it all was is really inspirational. My ultimate dream job would be songwriting – it’s what makes me the happiest, actually.

Do you have any other hidden talents? I would’ve said juggling, but apparently I’m not doing it properly. Oh, I can fillet a fish pretty damn well. I can also make a lot of fish puns, but I don’t really know if that’s considered a talent.

How did you get into the whole fishermonger business? It was my job at university and, I know this might sound really sad, but I actually generally loved it. Plus, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my degree so it was an obvious move for me. [Laughs]

You’ve also been very honest about you experiences as a gay teen in school. When did things start to change for you? It was a combination of finally growing up and realising that school, and that moment, were only temporary. When you get to the end of a journey, you start seeing the finishing line. That just made me think  I only have to be with these people and in this situation for a few more years.

I can choose to fill my life with love, light and happiness. So, let’s just do me!

Music, and any form of creative expression, helped me along the way. It’s such a relief; you can put anything that you’re feeling – whether it be heartbreak or pain or happiness – on a page. There’s just something magical about creating a form of music that people can hopefully use to their benefit.

Do you have any advice for other student who might be going through the same school experience? As horrible as it feels in the moment, it’s only temporary and there are so many people, regardless of what you think, who love you for who you are. So, don’t try to be anyone different and it will work out.

We heard you performed at the National Student Pride in London this February. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Oh it was SO cool! After my audition aired, I received an email from the event organisers asking me if I wanted to perform. I’d never been to a student pride and thought this would be amazing. There were all these stalls and I was in the middle of them. It was great for me because a lot of people – excuse my language – didn’t give a shit, which is great and obviously it didn’t bother me at all. I was just happy to be there and felt at home on stage. It was a great gig and experience.

Do you have anything other live performances coming up? I’m going to Bristol Pride in July, and then I’ve got a lot of small gigs around Bristol and the London area, too. It’s not very massive but I came into this process with nothing and am now slowly building up my schedule. I am very happy! I’m also thinking about uploading a Rihanna mash-up on YouTube, featuring Kiss it Better and Work.

And finally – what can we expect to see you from on The Voice coming up? I would say I’m keeping it spicy, and you’ll see a lot of shimmying! [Laughs] You might see some dance moves on Saturday – horrendous ones that is. The ones you would expect to see a dad do in a nightclub…. [Laughs]

Words: Florence Breitstadt


Follow Tom Rickels on Twitter here. Get all the latest updates from The Voice UK here.

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