WILL Young plays nightclub entertainer Emcee alongside Louise Redknapp in a new version of the show that debuted on Broadway in 1966. The play is set in Berlin, 1929, in a post-war economic depression and amid the rise of the Nazi party. Since winning reality talent show Pop Idol in 2002 Young has released six albums, the latest of which – 85% Proof – hit number one in the UK charts. He has also played numerous stage roles. Young tells EDWIN GILSON about his Cabaret role, quitting Strictly Come Dancing and why it’s important to be selfish.

You played Emcee in Cabaret before. What made you want to come back to it now?

I’d said goodbye to the role, which was sad, because it was quite a turning point in my life. It made me rediscover a love of pure theatre and pure performance and it also made me more political. I was wondering whether I wanted to do it again and then Bill Kenwright, the producer, got in touch and asked me. So I said, “yes, fantastic”.

How did the play make you more political?

Great cabaret is political. It dresses social commentary up with lightness and humour and fun. I always say Little Britain is an example of great modern cabaret. I think Cabaret is on the level of Shakespeare in musical form. It reminds me how important it is to look at what’s going on in society. Even though the play was written in the 1960s, the message is as relevant as it was then. You can see the persecution of minorities under Donald Trump.

And you’re acting alongside Louise Redknapp.

I’m so excited about performing with Louise. We’re friends from Strictly but I knew her before then. I think she’s going to be amazing. She is a fiercely determined performer and you’ve got to have that if you’ve been in a worldwide successful pop group [with Eternal] and then been a solo artist and then got to the final of Strictly. All this while also having raised a family. She’s a wonderful mixture of someone who is really pleasant and a fantastic performer.

I’ve heard that your character has a certain menace to him. How do you play a malevolent character?

I actually don’t know. I seem to be drawn towards people who are slightly psychopathic. I’ve been developing a role for two years, someone who is a complete psychopath. There’s something interesting about playing someone with no empathy, because I’m someone with a lot of empathy.

You probably need a lot of empathy to play someone without it.

Ha ha, you probably do actually. That’s right.

You said your latest album, 85% proof [released in 2015], was about “shaking off unhappiness” and accepting who you are. Was it cathartic to make?

No, I don’t think so. It was a very hard record to make. It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience. I was very ill during the making of it and touring of it. It wasn’t a huge pleasure – that’s just the way it was. I’m pleased that I did it but for the moment I’m going to take a break from music. I’m concentrating on acting, writing and my podcast, Homo Sapiens, which is doing very well.

You’ve spoken before about the post-traumatic stress disorder you suffer from. What mechanisms do you put in place to cope with it?

It’s a physical illness. My embodiment of it is that I have a very faulty nervous system. I didn’t look after it well, I pressurised myself too much. I thought, ‘you can’t stop doing this because people will forget about you’. If I looked back now I probably would do it differently. I was without a doubt not well enough to do the record or Strictly. I wish I’d listened more to my instincts and not to other people. Now I make sure I do things that put my physical health first and make me happy. That’s my new rule – it’s a lot easier.

You left Strictly because of the illness. At what point did you know you had to quit?

I couldn’t even get out of the car, it was hideous. People thought I left because of something a judge [Len Goodman] said, but I’ve had worse than that from my four year-old nephew. That didn’t matter. The moment I knew I was going to leave was when a friend of mine who was working in the crew said, “we need to see you more on camera”. He said, “if you’re not I’m worried people won’t vote for you”. I said, “I don’t want to be on camera” and that’s when I realised I should leave. So I left.

Did it annoy you that people thought you left for other reasons?

If I worried about what people said I’d be worrying for the rest of my life. None of us can control what people think or say about us. I don’t mean just the press, I mean everyone. That’s the way I approach life.

Is that how you dealt with the hysteria around Pop Idol?

I didn’t want to read anything at that point, I just wanted to get on with the show. It was quite exciting actually because it was so new to everyone in the show. We were all in it together and we were excited by it.

It seems rare for someone who won a reality TV programme to have a number one album 15 years later. How have you maintained your success?

It’s about personal choices and tastes. I think it’s about being true to oneself. Whatever you want to do, don’t do it for the money or because you want to impress others, do it for the love. I only live once so I’m just going to do what I love. To be honest it’s fairly selfish. You’ve got to be a bit selfish.

Theatre Royal Brighton, December 5 to 9, 7.45pm (2.30pm matinee on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday), 08448 717650