Ben Haenow: ‘I’d still be in my van shouting at people out the window without The X Factor’

As this year’s finalists head to Wembley Arena for The X Factor final this weekend, reigning champion Ben Haenow thinks back to his big night…

What’s life been like for you since winning The X Factor?
“It’s been incredible for me. I was lucky enough to go out LA, where I wrote my debut album, I filmed a video out in Nashville and duetted with Kelly Clarkson. So I’ve been a lucky, lucky boy.”

When you turned up for your first X Factor audition, how did you fancy your chances?
“I didn’t honestly think I’d have much of a chance at all. There were so many amazing pop-sounding singers – and then there was my voice, which was a bit raspy and croaking, so I thought: ‘I don’t know if I’ve got a shot here’. I’d just always wanted to sing.”

Once you made it to the live shows, did you have a strategy for getting through the competition each week?
“No, not really. I just didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ that cried on telly – unfortunately, I didn’t stick to that! It’s amazing how much the emotion of being on the show gets to you.”

Have you been watching this year’s X Factor? Have you had any favourites?
“I have and I think, vocally, they’ve all been fantastic. I think Lauren Murray came across really well – she’s got a fantastic voice and she seems really down to earth.”

This weekend, the three remaining singers will take to the stage at Wembley Arena for this year’s X Factor final. Thinking back to last year’s final, what was the atmosphere like on the night?
“It was electric! You can feel the tension, the energy of the crowd and everyone’s excitement. After singing your heart out week after week, you know it all comes down to that final night. It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life.”

Among the standout moments of any X Factor final are the superstar duets. Was that a real highlight for you? What advice would you give this year’s final three going into the final?
“Absolutely! It was a dream to share the stage with Ed Sheeran. The finalists should keep focused, but it’s important to really take in those moments and try to enjoy it. People will ask you months down the line: ‘How was that?’ and you’ll say: ‘I didn’t even think about it, I was too busy panicking!'”

How does it feel to finally have released your self-titled debut album last month? And was it important to take the time to record it?
“I’m on top of the world! It was hard graft getting everything together but amazing. To be involved in the writing and the creative side of the album was something I felt really strongly about at the beginning and I think that is, in some respects, why we took a bit longer to make it. I just wanted to make sure everything was right – we definitely didn’t just want to rush something out, with an album of covers or songs other people had written.”

And does taking the time allow you to really stand on your own as ‘Ben Haenow’ rather than being known as ‘Ben Haenow from The X Factor’?
“Yeah, I’d like to think so. I would never want to disassociate myself from the show… for me it’s not a bad memory, it’s an incredible thing and I owe everything to the show. But, if I can, I’d definitely like to take that step and move away and become an artist in my own right.”

How excited are you about doing your first UK tour next year?
“I’m so excited, I literally can’t speak about it without swearing – I can’t wait. That’s what it’s all about for me… getting out there and singing live.”

You recently returned to The X Factor as a guest to perform your first single off the album, Second Hand Heart. What was that like?
“I felt just like a contestant again, going back onto the stage in front of the judges – all those same nerves came back. Luckily, I got through again that week!”

Simon Cowell was your mentor on the show last year – has he been really supportive since?
“He’s been great. Simon’s got an empire to run, so he can’t just look after one or two of us. So he’s been busy with that and busy with the show, but we’ve kept in touch and he gave me lots of feedback about the songs on the album, so he’s been heavily involved.”

This year’s X Factor has attracted some negative press attention, with many saying the show may have had its day. What would you say to that?
“It’s a tough one… you’ll get people watching it who’ll say they need to change things up because it’s boring but, when they do change something, it’s those same people who then say they don’t like it! People can criticise it all they want, but there are still millions of people tuning in to watch it.”

So, you’re still glad you took part in The X Factor?
“Oh, 100 per cent! I’d still be driving around in my van, shouting at people out of the window, if I hadn’t auditioned for the show. I’d advise anyone who has a dream of working in the music industry to go for The X Factor – it’s completely changed my life!”

The X Factor Final 2015 screens this Saturday and Sunday on ITV. Ben will be performing his new single on Saturday night.

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