When Sir Tom Jones and his late wife Linda were having a blazing row once, she told him that if he couldn’t sing he wouldn’t have a friend in the world. Then she ran out of the room because she knew that would cut to the quick and hurt him deeply.
‘Linda was my biggest critic and my biggest fan and she knew just how important my voice is to me,’ says Tom.
‘What she said was true to a certain extent because when you’re successful at something it changes you, it spills into the rest of your life. It gives you confidence, and without my voice I wouldn’t be as confident.’
Alongside Tom are his regular co-coaches – Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and singers Olly Murs and Anne-Marie, whose job it is to critique singers’ performances, choose contestants to mentor and guide their selected artists through the series in the hope of winning the competition.
Sir Tom Jones pictured with Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and singers Olly Murs and Anne-Marie
The show’s unique selling point is the blind auditions where the coaches sit with their backs to the contestants and decide whether they want to represent them based on their voice alone.
If a coach is impressed, they press a button and their chair swivels round to face the contestant. If other coaches are interested, it’s up to the contestant to decide who to go with.
The twist this year is that groups and bands can compete for the first time, alongside the solo artists and duos.
But the most shocking news is that Olly has been dropped from next year’s series before this one has even started. ‘I’m gutted,’ he said last month. ‘I got the call to say I won’t be back and it’s a bit of a shock. Did I want to leave? No.’
Today he’s more stoic. ‘I’m sad to be leaving but so happy to have been a part of the show. When I started I never imagined I’d be here for seven years, and I hope this series will be the best one yet,’ says Olly, 39.
He says one of the biggest bonuses of his time on the show has been developing a bond with Tom.
‘My fondest memories include sitting with him and hearing his stories. We’ve had so many laughs over the years. We’ve both experienced highs and lows in our careers but we’ve learned from it. Having confidence in your own voice is vital. When I was on The X Factor in 2009 I didn’t think I was anything but Simon Cowell gave me that belief.’
After The X Factor Olly went on to forge a successful career, with five No 1 albums and four chart-topping singles including Dance With Me Tonight. Tom, meanwhile, has sold over 100 million records during a 60-year career.
But both of them know only too well that confidence can be paper thin and they’ve both had professional help to get themselves back on track.
After The X Factor Olly went on to forge a successful career, with five No 1 albums and four chart-topping singles including Dance With Me Tonight. Tom, meanwhile, has sold over 100 million records during a 60-year career
‘When my wife died I didn’t think I’d be able to sing with the same feeling. You can’t cry and sing at the same time,’ recalls Sir Tom, 83. ‘Before she died of lung cancer in 2016 I was sitting with her in hospital and she said, ‘You can’t crumble. You’ve got to get that emotion into your music.’
‘And that’s the advice I give the singers on The Voice now. When they say their father or mother just died I say, ‘Think about how proud they’d be of you, you need to channel it.’ I went to see a professional for support and she said to me, ‘What would be the song you’d be most scared of singing?’ and I said it was a Bob Dylan song, What Good Am I?. And when I did it in my first show afterwards, I bared my soul and the audience lifted me up.’
Olly may be one of pop’s most upbeat personalities but he also suffered with anxiety after a live TV blunder in 2015. He was hosting The X Factor when he mixed up the judges’ scores and prematurely revealed who was to be eliminated. Then a panic attack made him forget his lyrics while performing live on The Graham Norton Show in 2019.
‘I couldn’t understand why my heart was pumping through my chest,’ he recalls. ‘I got support and I’m not afraid to admit it. You have to push through if you’re going to make it. That’s why we’re coaches. One finalist had so much self-doubt, so I told her about the disappointments I’ve had and how I overcame them, and she’s radiant now.’
Anne-Marie too has been on a journey of self-discovery after years of struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and OCD. ‘Growing up was difficult for me, so I felt I always had to excel to fit in,’ she says. ‘I’ve struggled with worrying too much about what people think, but the moment I actually began to like myself it all changed.’
Anne-Marie, 32, shot to fame collaborating on hits with Clean Bandit and Rudimental and has released three hit albums. She joined The Voice in 2021 and says it was a turning point.
‘When I was asked to do the show I was in a rough patch so I was confused about why they’d want me,’ she recalls. ‘But it’s helped me get out of that space in my head because I realised I know a lot that I can share with other people.’
It was being unable to sing in the studio and tour during lockdown that led to Anne-Marie undertaking therapy and writing her self-help book You Deserve Better. ‘I had depression to the point where I wondered whether I should stop my music career. I thought I was rubbish. Then I started therapy and learnt that the problems were in my brain, not in my career.’
Music has been will.i.am’s salvation too. It was growing up in a Los Angeles ghetto that gave him the motivation to change his life. ‘I grew up in a pretty poor neighbourhood where gangs were always fighting. A lot of my friends died of gang violence, so music was my safe place,’ says the producer of superstars such as Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
‘The point at which I gained confidence was junior high school aged 16 when I was encouraged by my peers to believe I had something special with my creativity. That’s what kicked it off for me. Music was my escape. It was also my identity so my uniqueness saved my life really, because if I’d followed the crowd do you realise how hardcore I’d be now?’
Like the other coaches, music has been key to his mental health. ‘The remedy for good mental health is creating – using music as a tool to let out what’s going on inside. Rinsing out my pain, rinsing out my emotions, rinsing out what’s bothering me… music is that perfect remedy,’ says Will, 48. He is delighted The Voice has groups this year. ‘Even though solo success massages your ego, I like being in a group. When I toured by myself I whined and moaned because I missed it.’
Each coach brings a different element to the show. ‘Olly listens for energy, Tom goes for the more classic voice, I go for a more current tone and Will goes for aliens,’ laughs Anne-Marie. ‘But I think me and Will have the most similar taste so we’re often giving each other the eye.’
Will agrees. ‘Out of all the coaches we’ve had – Kylie, Jessie J, Rita Ora, Jennifer Hudson, even Paloma Faith – I align more taste-wise with Anne-Marie. But I’m there with my producer’s hat on, not as a vocal coach.’
He thinks that the singers are getting better every year, and he believes that if he doesn’t swivel that red chair for someone it’s not the end for them. ‘Anne-Marie has obvious chair-turn qualities but if no one had turned for her she’d still have pushed along. Sometimes not turning your chair for someone empowers them to drive on more to prove us wrong.’
The Voice UK starts on 4 November at 8pm on ITV1 and ITVX.