As the Culture Club star takes his seat in the iconic red chair to find the next big singing sensation on the new series of The Voice UK, he’s adamant he wants to win…
Why did you want to become a coach on this fifth series of The Voice UK?
“I’ve been approached by various shows in the past, but I think this is the most credible show because it’s about ‘The Voice’. As a kid, I was always told to stop talking, so I’ve always said that singing gave me a voice. It felt like the right thing to do and it’s been such a lot of fun.”
As the blind auditions begin, what’s it been like sitting in the big red chair with your back to the singers and hitting a buzzer to turn your chair for those you like the sound of?
“I’ve loved pushing the button – the studio audience goes mental, so you almost want to push it just to get a reaction! But, to be honest, you’re actually saying ‘No’ to most people, so after a while it gets a bit emotional because you feel like: ‘I wish I could take everyone’, but obviously you can’t.”
Did you find it really difficult not being able to see the singers?
“Absolutely! At times, the audience would go mad for an act, but none of the coaches turned. Then when you get to see them you think: ‘If only I’d seen you, I’d have turned’. As a singer, I’ve always reckoned that I’d be able to tell what the person’s like and, when I’ve watched the show at home, I’ve thought: ‘I can’t believe you didn’t turn for that one’. But now I’m in that situation and it isn’t as easy as you think!”
So, what kinds of singers did make you turn your chair?
“I feel I instinctively turned my chair for people who were right for me; singers I had an emotional connection with – I need to believe what someone’s singing, even if they hit a bum note. For me, it doesn’t matter who’s got the biggest or most powerful voice – I’m not looking for perfection, I’m just looking for true passion.”
What’s Team George like?
“I’ve got quite an interesting group of singers; there’s a few ‘dressy up’ people and there are some characters. All of the people on my team are really good singers, they’re all quite individual and all bring something different to the table.”
Did anyone at the auditions sing any of your songs?
“Yes, one guy sang Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? I was kind of dreading it, hoping that nobody sang one of my songs badly – fortunately his version was beautiful.”
What’s it been like working alongside returning coaches will.i.am and Ricky Wilson, and newbie Paloma Faith? How did you find pitching against them if more than one of you turned for a singer?
“Pitching for artists has been awful – although I’ve got years of experience, younger people don’t know me. I told one singer: ‘I’ve sung with Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick and James Brown’ – but boasting doesn’t feel natural, it’s not very British is it?”
So can we expect some healthy competition between the coaches?
“We all want to win! During the auditions, I kept calling Ricky ‘the doe-eyed killer’ because he flutters his eyelashes at the singers and they fall for it. Paloma’s tough and certainly no wallflower. We did have a little run-in, but it’s all just banter – or ‘banter-mime’ as we call it!
If you auditioned for The Voice yourself and had to pick one of your fellow coaches to work with, who would you choose?
“Probably Will.i.am because he’s so ‘new generation’ and I like to embrace new ways of doing things. When my group Culture Club came along in the 1980s, that whole New Romantic era was a reaction against the rock and roll music of the 1970s. Plus, Will’s so funny – he comes out with the most random things!”
Lots has been written about your life and career in the press. Do you hope being on The Voice UK will give people a chance to get to know the real George?
“You know what, my audience has always been very supportive towards me and people on the street have always been lovely to me. Often people can’t relate me now to who they think I was – people think you’ve stayed the same, but I’ve changed a lot in recent years.”
The Voice UK returns on Saturday, January 9 at 7.30pm on BBC1.