Gareth Gates doesn’t present many surprises.
He’s careful, polite and good at talking without really saying a lot.
Only 17 when he was runner-up to Will Young in 2001’s Pop Idol, he’s grown up in the public eye at a time when image is more important than ever and a wrong move can spell disaster.
Although he’s had his hiccups – not least the teenage affair with glamour model Katie “Jordan” Price that he vehemently denied until a few years ago – it’s not by accident that aged 28, he still maintains that early casting as Mr Nice.
Then there is the stammer he’s worked so hard to overcome but which still dictates the way he presents himself.
“You can’t be who you want to be, show people your true personality and that at times is quite tough.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve learned a new technique of speaking but I do struggle with things from time to time, particularly when I’m tired or stressed.”
So on the phone from a hotel in (he has to check) Northampton, we run through the customary pop star interview routine.
He praises his co-stars in Boogie Nights (pictured below), the 1970s musical he’s currently starring in; working with The Osmonds is, naturally, “a fantastic honour”.
Then we move on to his broader career in musical theatre – “Acting was something I never thought I could do having a stammer and I feel very lucky” – and his passion for music.
A chorister aged nine, he was studying at the Royal Northern College of Music when Pop Idol came along and changed his life.
While he admits he’s done a lot of growing up under the spotlight, he’s quick to enthuse about what a “fantastic experience” Pop Idol was.
“I liked the fact I was so young when I did it. I never questioned anything, just embraced it all and loved it.
Some of the older contestants questioned things more, I was just thankful to be there.”
But he struggled in the aftermath of the TV talent show; after three number one singles and a successful debut album, things started to trail off and in 2006, he was dropped from his record company.
Later that year (when he’d reached the grand old age of 22) he was the subject of TV documentary Whatever Happened To Gareth Gates?
“It wasn’t that it was a struggle,” he insists of that period. “But the nature of [Pop Idol], the fact it was so big, means everyone still recognises my face and there’s nowhere I can go where I’m not recognised.
“That’s fine – it’s part of the job – but it was such a huge show I’ll always have to deal with that.”
For the past few years, it’s seemed Gates had abandoned music for theatre and indeed, in 2009, when he was cast as the lead in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in the West End, he told one newspaper he had no intention of returning to the pop scene.
But the grass is always greener, he tells me. He’s started work on a new album this year and will showcase songs in some low-key gigs later this year.
“But I know as soon as I have an album out, I’ll want to get back to theatre. I’d like my professional life to be a mix of the two things.”
Gates comes across as a grafter. When he’s not making music, he’s on stage; when he’s not doing either, he’s working with a whole raft of charities.
He’s patron of HIV/Aids charity Body And Soul and the Bobby Moore Fund, which supports research into bowel cancer. He’s also a trained speech therapist who leads courses for those like him.
Although he has come a long way since his Pop Idol days, when interviews would fill him with abject terror, his speech problems are something he thinks he’ll always struggle with.
It’s one of the reasons music has always been so important, he tells me. He was only ever able to express himself through singing or playing instruments and he’s convinced his career would have centred on music even without the launch pad of Pop Idol.
It says something for his devotion that he has doggedly pursued a showbiz career in spite of his stammer and extreme shyness.
It stopped being about money a long time ago; Gates is now reported to be a millionaire.
“I’m fine on the finance side of things,” he demurs. “I’ve always been fortunate in having work. But I want to be the best at what I do.
“As soon as I started working in the theatre I wanted to do as many shows as I was able and as a pop star I want to have as many hit songs as I can.
That’s what drives me.”
Is he hard on himself?
“I have to be. As soon as you become complacent… there are lots of other people who can do what I do.”
He tells me he’s been touring almost solidly for ten years, which must place a strain on home life.
At the end of last year he split from his wife of four years, dancer Suzanne Moles, with whom he has a three-year-old daughter, Missy.
Gates told newspapers they had simply grown apart and denied that he was having an affair with a co-star on the musical Legally Blonde.
“Being on tour is hard and I do miss my family, especially my daughter Missy,” he says. “But that’s just life. I’ve been doing this for years and you get used to it.”
Now it’s Missy, he says, who’s the love of his life. “She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Fatherhood is nothing like I thought. You can’t describe this love but it changes your outlook on everything.
I’m not just living for myself now but for her.”
In the meantime, Gates has no intention of putting the brakes on his career.
“Successful people in general have fingers in lots of pies and you do have to keep working and making the most of opportunities.
“I’m still quite young and there are lots of things I want to do yet.
I certainly don’t want to be remembered for just one thing.”
*Gareth Gates stars in Boogie Nights at Brighton Centre tomorrow. For more details and tickets, call 0844 8471515