Olly Alexander: From Years and Years to ‘It’s a Sin’ to Eurovision 2024

A pop star, actor and LGBT+ activist, Olly Alexander is now set to be the UK’s next hope in the Eurovision Song Contest, which will take place in Malmö, Sweden, in May.

Aged 33, Alexander is no stranger to the stage, being better known to music fans as the frontman of pop band Years & Years, as well as a star of hit TV shows including Channel 4’s critically acclaimed drama, It’s a Sin.

Here’s everything we know about him:

Early life

Born in Harrogate, north Yorkshire, then raised in Blackpool, Alexander developed a love of music from a young age. His mum, Vicki Thornton, co-founded the Coleford Music Festival in the Forest of Dean – where the family moved when Alexander was in his teens – and told the BBC that her son honed his performing skills there.

Alexander dropped out of college after landing early acting roles in shows such as Skins, as well as a small part in the Oscar-nominated film Bright Star, opposite Ben Whishaw.

Career beginnings

He joined Years & Years, formed by Mikey Goldsworthy, Emre Turkmen and Noel Leeman, after Goldsworthy heard him singing in the shower after a mutual friend’s party; Turkmen, Goldsworthy and Alexander signed a record deal as a trio in 2013.

That year, Alexander also appeared onstage with Whishaw and Judi Dench at the Noel Coward Theatre, in a production of Peter and Alice. In 2014, he starred alongside Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth and Max Irons in Riot Club, a film about a fictional, exclusive all-male dining club at Oxford University.

Years & Years fame

Years & Years gained traction with early singles including “Desire”, which peaked at No 22 on the UK Singles Chart. In March 2015, the band released their first album Communion, which debuted at the top of the charts, two months after they were crowned as the winners of the BBC’s Sound of 2015 Poll. They followed the record’s release with further hit singles including “Shine” and “Eyes Shut”.

Alexander cited R&B acts such as TLC and Aaliyah as influences in a 2015 interview withThe Guardian: “They wrote sad songs – [TLC’s hit] ‘Waterfalls’ is really sad.

Years & Years: Mikey Goldsworthy, Olly Alexander and Emre Turkmen on the red carpet at the 2015 Brit Awards (AFP via Getty Images)
Years & Years: Mikey Goldsworthy, Olly Alexander and Emre Turkmen on the red carpet at the 2015 Brit Awards (AFP via Getty Images)

“I get nostalgic for that when I’m writing for Years & Years, and maybe [the sadness] gets into our songs by osmosis.”

LGBT+ activism

Olly Alexander presented the BBC documentary ‘Growing Up Gay’ (PA)
Olly Alexander presented the BBC documentary ‘Growing Up Gay’ (PA)

Since becoming a public figure, Alexander, who is gay, has been a vocal campaigner for LGBT+ rights as well as those struggling with mental health issues. He fronted the 2017 BBC documentary, Growing Up Gay, in which he addressed the issues still faced by the LGBT+ community, and spoke about his own experiences of bullying and homophobic abuse.

“There’s entrenched homophobia behind the scenes at all levels of the music industry,” he told The Independent in an interview in 2018, around the release of Years & Years’s second album, Palo Santo.

“It’s got so much better, but I think it’s gonna take a radical shift before these men who are in control of the funds and the labels and the radio stations are gonna be OK with overt queerness. They see it as turning off part of the audience.”

Olly Alexander: ‘There’s entrenched homophobia behind the scenes at all levels of the music industry’ (via REUTERS)
Olly Alexander: ‘There’s entrenched homophobia behind the scenes at all levels of the music industry’ (via REUTERS)

A year later, he delivered an impassioned speech at Glastonbury Festival during Years & Years’s performance, shortly after the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

“I talk about being gay – you might have already noticed some of the subtle messaging on stage – but I’m gay and I talk about being gay kind of a lot,” Alexander said.

“I’m sure some people wish I would shut up about it sometimes, but I have my reasons and some of them are personal, because I spent such a long time wishing I wasn’t gay, being ashamed of that, so now it’s like I’m making up for lost time, you know?”

Years & Years (Turkmen, Goldsworthy and Alexander) at the Brit Awards in 2019 (PA)
Years & Years (Turkmen, Goldsworthy and Alexander) at the Brit Awards in 2019 (PA)

He continued: “The only reason I’m even able to be up here talking about my gay self is because of all the people that have came before me that fought for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“Sometimes we are referred to as the acronym LBGT, sometimes LGBTQ+, I personally like to use the word queer, but lots of people don’t like that word, and that’s because the word has a complicated and painful history. And whether we like it or not, history really matters.”

Acting and TV career

Nathaniel Curtis and Olly Alexander in ‘It’s a Sin’ (Channel 4)
Nathaniel Curtis and Olly Alexander in ‘It’s a Sin’ (Channel 4)

Alexander went on to star in the 2021 drama It’s a Sin. Written and created by Russell T Davies, the five-part Channel 4 series followed a group of gay men in London at the start of the Aids epidemic.

The show and its cast received near-unanimous praise, with Alexander nominated for Best Actor at the Baftas and Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance as Ritchie.

He has also appeared in shows including the seventh series of Channel 4’s teen drama Skins as Jakob the friend/stalker of main character Cassie, and films including Bright Star, about the romantic relationship between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, and The Riot Club, about a group of privileged students in a fictional exclusive, all-male dining club at the University of Oxford.

He has also appeared as himself on shows including Celebrity Gogglebox and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

The cast of ‘The Riot Club’ featuring Olly Alexander (far left)
The cast of ‘The Riot Club’ featuring Olly Alexander (far left)

Years & Years split

In March that year, Years & Years shared an announcement to Instagram that their forthcoming third album, Night Call, would be a solo project by Alexander released under the band name.

Goldsworthy continued to tour with Alexander, while Turkmen works as a writer and producer with other artists. He also has his own band, Exit Kid.

“Bands are like marriages,” Alexander toldThe Guardian in a 2022 interview. “Any separation is difficult, and I think it went as well as it could, with us.”

Eurovision Song Contest 2024

Olly Alexander says his Eurovision song is ‘something you can dance to’ (Getty Images)
Olly Alexander says his Eurovision song is ‘something you can dance to’ (Getty Images)

Alexander was announced as the UK’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 in December last year, during the live final of BBC show Strictly Come Dancing.

Speaking to host Claudia Winkleman, the singer said: “I love Eurovision so much, it’s a dream come true. I’m just so, so excited.”

Written by Alexander and Danny L Harle (producer for artists including Dua Lipa, Chic and Charli XCX), Alexander’s song “Dizzy” was previewed on the pop star’s social media on Wednesday evening (7 February). It will be officially released on 1 March.

Delivered over an uplifting, electronic beat, the song includes the lyrics: “Time has frozen, all memories lost/ So won’t you make me dizzy for your kisses/ Will you take my hand and steer me/ Round and round until the moment never ends.”

“Hello!” Alexander wrote on X/Twitter, alongside a clip of him performing the song from a balcony. “Here’s the first tease of my [Eurovision] song ‘Dizzy’! Oh I’m so excited!!!! I love you!!”

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