X Factor winner Joe McElderry has publicly announced that he is gay, following rumours on the social networking site Twitter.

The 19-year-old – who triumphed in the 2009 series of the show – said that he only realised his true feelings a few weeks ago after hackers broke into his account and “outed” him as a joke.

One post read “It’s been difficult living a lie for so many years” – but Joe told The Sun despite his initial reaction to the posts they gave him food for thought.

“I was really angry at first – thinking, ‘How dare they hack me’?” he said.

“But after a while I looked at the message and thought, ‘Well, they’re not that far from the truth’.

“I think the Twitter thing was the point when I realised I was gay. I just looked at it and thought, ‘Should I be more bothered about this’?

“Because I wasn’t, that’s when it clicked and I thought maybe I was. It was a turning point, definitely.”

In an interview with the Mirror, meanwhile, Joe revealed that he was comfortable with his decision to reveal his sexuality publicly.

“I’m so happy,” he admitted. “It’s all been so recent to be honest. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had time to think and come to realise who I am. I have grown up a lot.”

And despite having denied the rumours in the past, he insisted he had not been lying. “Every time I was asked I gave honest answers,” he said.

“I wasn’t attracted to anyone anyway, male or female. It never really entered my head I was gay.

“I’m single, I’ve not had a ­relationship with a boy, but I just know. It’s how I feel. The Twitter thing ­actually helped because I ­realised I wasn’t that ­bothered, and the penny dropped.”

He added that he only told his mum the news last week, while they were on a train.

“She was fine, great even,” Joe said. “She said, ‘I don’t care if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend’. My family have been so supportive.

He also said that Simon Cowell had been in touch to offer his own support. Simon was 100% supportive. I’ve spoken to Cheryl but with her being ill, it’s not really been a priority to tell her.

“But I guess she’ll read this and she’ll be really happy for me.”

Joe, whose debut single The Climb was denied the Christmas Number One spot by Rage Against The Machine last year, is currently recording his debut album.