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Tom's Swift rise to fame


Tom Odell will be performing at the Brits nominations launch party

Tom Odell will be performing at the Brits nominations launch party

Tom Odell will be performing at the Brits nominations launch party

Is Tom Odell ready for fame? He's certainly undergoing a fiery baptism. In February, the 22-year-old went for a drink with Taylor Swift, having got on well with her at the Brit Awards. Exiting a boozer in Hackney, they were ambushed by a red-carpet-load of paps.

In the photos, she smiles knowingly, a pro breezing through a mildly awkward situation. He, however, looks like a tiny bunny caught in the brights of a monster truck.

"It was very Notting Hill," says Odell, referring to the 1999 rom-com in which Hugh Grant's bungling bookstore owner hooks up with Hollywood star Julia Roberts.

"It is weird . . . all those tabloid rumors. I don't know. I have to be careful what I say.

"I have said nothing about that, for good reason. Anything I say will be misprinted and misquoted. It will be about her, it won't be about me. I don't want to have stuff written about her. I had a really nice evening. Hopefully I'll see her again sometime."

Pretty and, on the surface, preternaturally laid back, Odell is just off a flight from Zurich and trying hard to project rock star insouciance.

Watching him squirm as he discusses, or doesn't, Taylor Swift, it is nonetheless obvious how new he is to all this.

He asks me to leave Swift out of the article, which is a bit like Tom Cruise expecting you not to refer to that whole Scientology thing (I insist I'll be fair and won't stitch him up). And he visibly bristles at the mention of a recent UK interview in which, not to put too fine a point on it, he came off a slavering ladies' man.

"I wish I'd never done that," he sighs, angrily stirring his peppermint tea."

A lot was taken out of the context. He [the journalist] was reeling off all these names and it was made out like I was criticising them. Half that stuff, I never said."

The thrust of the piece was that, with his heartfelt tunes and puppy eyes, Odell consciously plays to the caricature of little boy lost, in the process making himself irresistible to the young ladies who comprise a significant wedge of his fast-growing following.

There's some truth to that, he allows – in so far as break-up ballads performed on piano will inevitably appeal to a female fan-base.

"There are always girls at the shows. Come on, I write love songs. You aren't going to get a load of 18-year-old guys at the front. It is kind of understandable."

Odell is from Chichester on the English south coast, 54 miles from London. His father is an airline pilot, his mother a teacher. He spent several years in New Zealand, where his dad moved for work, and attended the fee-paying Seaford College in West Sussex. Having started writing in his bedroom at 13, he got his break two years ago when Lily Allen attended one of his gigs in London.

"We met up and she said she was starting an imprint. I said I was keen to make a record. She is a great label boss. She is so cool and full of life – and a big music fan."

He's anxious to canvass for opinion about his debut album. Have I listened to it? Did I like it?

In fact, Long Way Down is a perfectly fine collection of drippy dirges. Singing in a sand-paper croon, Odell doesn't hold back as he sifts through the ashes of several doomed love affairs. Musically he is grown-up and sophisticated – a prodigy almost.

But he is a somewhat of a bumbling young man too; the honesty and awkwardness he expresses will ring true to anyone who has been in their early 20s and quite rubbish at holding onto girlfriends.

"I am not good at relationships," says Odell, running a hand through his hair. "I can never make them work, I don't know why that is."

The cover of one of his early EPs featured a grainy photograph of a recent squeeze. Leafing through old snaps he was struck by the picture. Now you can buy the image emblazoned on Tom Odell T-shirts.

What does his ex think about being immortalised as promotional swag?

"I haven't seen her much,. I don't know," he says. "I had just split up with her. I was going through a load of photographs. That seemed like the right one [for the EP sleeve]. A few of the tracks on the album are about her. On this record, I am really, really honest.

"I hope people can see that. I'm not hiding. Lyrically, I intend to be brutal. It is about the end of a relationship, the desperation of trying to keep it together."

The music industry is in a fair old tizzy over Odell. He is photogenic, writes exceedingly lovely songs and, crucially, is a male operating in the otherwise all-girl zone of confessional balladry. In the UK, there are knee-jerk comparisons to Coldplay's Chris Martin – both are blond and enjoy a good bleat – but the truth is that his record label is pitching him as this season's Adele or Emeli Sandé.

"It's coincidence isn't it?" he says.

"People say 'oh, you won the Brits Critics Choice award, and so did Emeli Sandé'. If you think about it, there are loads of guys coming through – Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran, Ben Howard.

"The Chris Martin thing is down the fact I'm a white kid who plays piano. Chris Martin is a brilliant singer. I wouldn't say I sound particularly like him."

Fresh-faced enough to still suffer the occasional acne flare-up, as a musician Odell has nonetheless been around the block.

In his teens, he passed through a succession of groups. Two years ago, he managed the impressive feat of getting chucked out of his own band after a pal drafted in to help staged a hostile takeover. If anything is responsible for his current trajectory, it was that incident.

"I invited my friend to join. He had a bit of excitement and I lost that band. It was at that point I realised I wanted to do this on my own."

Anyone who caught the Brits will have noted Odell's discomfort in the spotlight.

Sitting at a piano, he is a natural showman. Take his instrument away and he could be any 22-year-old, outwardly cocky, beneath it rather unsure of himself.

"The first time you do an event like that, you are going to be uncomfortable," he says.

"It's a different world, that whole celebrity thing. I wouldn't want to do it all the time. It's show business. I don't do music because I love show business, I do it because I love music."

The single Hold Me is out now. Long Way Down is released in June

Irish Independent