George Shelley

24 September 2018

Images and interview by Cecilie Harris
Fashion by Nathan Henry
Grooming by Rino Riccio

Some boys shine in all the colours, and British singer-songwriter George Shelley can finally do this. There are so many chapters to his story, and after experiencing a string of successes both on stage and on-screen, the stories suddenly took a different turn.

There’s the one about him leaving the band, the one about him coming out, the one about losing his job, the one about losing his sister, and the one about suffering from depression and locking himself away in his bedroom for a long period. You may have heard some of them before, but this time it comes straight from the heart and from a heartbreakingly honest place. When George was ready to see brighter lights again, I knew I needed to share his story. We can all connect in some way; we all experience loss. We are all human. What do we do when the universe decides to hand us too much at once?

To sit down and talk about these experiences and look at how we use them to build ourselves up again, how it can help us move forward and perhaps even bring some light and colour back into the world, can be quite exciting. When everything comes crashing down, it’s how we deal with this that defines us. So on a very rainy Sunday, George and I sat down for a good, long chat. To share something so personal as loss and grief with the rest of the world and hope they don’t judge is brave. But it’s from this place we grow, and knowing that there is colour after the dark makes it worth sharing.

It has been five years since we last met. He gives me the biggest hug. The kind you lose yourself in a little bit as it is so genuine and lasts for a lifetime. It’s a very different George - he is in a very different space. And throughout his maturity and recent grief, he still has that kid within: “Do you feel you’re photographing a kid today?”, he laughs. His emotions range from this utter joy of welcoming the rain to his skin, to the quiet moments when he talks about his pain and has to pause for a while to be able to continue. It feels like a rollercoaster, but the genuineness of his presence is apparent and encourages you too to want to live this honestly. It rains throughout our whole shoot, of course, and George - even if he already has a cold, just wants to get out there. He wants to face the rain. To let it soak him - to look it right the eye and smile at it.

George is tired of wearing masks. After feeling suffocated by wearing too many, he decided to lose them all. Now he breathes freely. And although the last few years have been dark, George can now see in colour again. In technicolour in fact. Having recently released his solo single Technicolour, there is more to come on the music front. He has a whole lot of windows into his world prepared for us to look into and experience through music. He also has a BBC documentary coming out, where you can follow his journey.

We play with imagery and I want to catch these different shades of who I see in front of me. I’m drawn to the silent moments as much as I am the cheerful ones. We break into laughter more times than I can count. “I haven’t smiled in a while, I really love these”, he says, as he dishes out another hug. His heart is warm like that. Stylist Nathan Henry dresses him in colour and patterns to match George’s moods. He basically wants to keep practically everything: “This Maison Kitsune jumper feels amazing!”

He has the most infectious soul; when George giggles, you want to giggle as well, and when George cries, you want to cry too. This is a George that wears the truth proudly: we bond over how music can be healing, the wonders of yellow, and why everyone needs a friend called Emily.

"I feel like I've just woken up in the middle of Sunday and my heart is cosy. I haven't had much of a life outside my bedroom. I switched everything off the last year and a half and completely disconnected myself from reality - to a point where when I now go outside I feel a bit odd. It's going to take some adjusting still. This is one of the first things I've done since last year in terms of a photoshoot or similar, but my flatmate Emily has the last issue of Boys by Girls, so I've seen that. I touched the pages, as I feel like the whole magazine has that good feeling and you want to almost eat it. Do you know what I mean? You want a copy and you want to be able to hold it - it's worth it."

That's a very lovely compliment. Thank you, George! It’s so good to have you back - you were one of the first musicians we originally featured in Boys by Girls in issue five when you were in a band. I recently came across one of your Instagram posts and it really resonated with me, so I knew I needed to bring you back as I was really curious to hear your story and wanted to share it with our readers.
It was the windows, wasn't it?

Yes, it was.
There is a lot of story behind that and a reason behind why I did them. Each one of the windows has a purpose and links to people I'm proud of. It also links to Pride and ‘Technicolour’ - to share that I'm coming back, but with a little twist. The first one is about my relationship with my dad, but I wanted it to be subtle...

George goes quiet for a while.
This is a part of what my brain does. When I start thinking about something traumatic, my brain tries to close it off and I'll stop halfway through sentences.

A lot of the negative judgement we put on ourselves comes from this negative inner chatter. My inner chatter was so loud and I couldn't figure out what to do - I thought I had already peaked in my life. I did X Factor, then into the Jungle, and then Capital Breakfast for a year. I got up at 4 am every day - my social life was over and I didn't see my family. Then a lot of things happened very sudden: my dad had an accident and paralysed his left arm, I lost my job at Capital, I lost my sister, I lost my boyfriend - everything collapsed at once. And I thought: 'this is it - this is my life now'. I don't even recognise the person I used to be. I look at photos and videos from before and I don't recognise myself, 'cause I was hiding so much of myself from everybody - including my sexuality and what music meant to me.

Coming back to the windows; having that creative outlet, for me, was a massive life saver without a shadow of a doubt - it was a way to be able to put down on paper what was going on inside my head. A lot of people didn't make much sense of it to being with, because it is quite confusing - I was simply pouring everything out. By the end of it, these six windows emerged, and each of them you can go deeper into. Also, if you take a step back and look at them all together - and play them all at the same time - it sounds kind of what my head was like in my darkest moments. It was the closest way that I could show people what was going on in my head - almost like a virtual reality experience of what it was like to suffer from grief and anxiety.

When I was in that place I started writing on my laptop. Almost like a book - it’s not quite a book, but it’s my story from start to finish. I wanted to share my truth; to talk about my musical background coming from my family, how much my mum influenced me, and how much my dad’s relationship influenced my sexuality and my life. Not having a father figure, that always interests me - I’m wondering if not having a father figure in your life contribute to your sexuality? I don’t know, it has always been a question in my mind. My dad left my mum when I was two years old. I have a relationship with my dad now, but what the first window was about, was that I used to hold a lot of grudges for my dad leaving and questioning why he did that - I always had a hard time battling with it. I looked at my dad’s life; he was at the rock bottom and he went and became a barrister because my grandad said to him: "you’re never doing to do anything with your life”. So he went to university and became a barrister, and it was that whole ‘go get' attitude. He was absolutely amazing at his job, moved to London, moved to Nottingham, started another family, and then he had his bike accident last year, and he is completely written off now from doing any more work. I look at my dad and I’m like, 'I can see now as a man the things that you have influenced me and the things that I just naturally got from you', it’s that ‘going and getting it’ attitude. I know what I want now, I know what I am, who I am and what I want to do. And it’s to write music and perform as a musician, but at the same time, entertain on TV and present, if I can.

You’ve become quite poetic as well.
Have I?

The words on your Instagram for the windows.
Oh yeah, of course. That’s just not wanting to be too literate or direct with what I’m saying - I want people to really be able to get into the depths of what’s going on. I'm trying to take the bad experiences I’ve had and help other people relate to it in the way that it has helped me. When I was at my lowest, wondering what I was going to do, I simply wished I could give people a window into my mind. The idea of doing six stories emerged - six things that had influenced me that I was proud of. There is my dad, my mum, my uncle, myself, my roots and my nan’s brother. Growing up, my nan lost her brother - I lost my sister, and I’ve grown up watching my nan grieve her brother. And there is one about my uncle and his rock band, which I grew up watching - he taught me how to produce music. I grew up watching him and sat by his side in the studio using Pro Tools and Logic.

I lost my mother when I was 23, so I can very much relate.
Did you? I guess you don’t fully understand it at a young age. These six things stories, or windows into my mind that make me who I am. Each one is very personal. The windows are literally what I was seeing from my bedroom, they are the exact shape as the ones you see on Instagram. I wished people could look into my world and see how bad this is because you feel like no-one really understands how you feel. How could I explain to people what I was doing and why I was doing it? The George that went on X Factor, I’m a Celebrity and Capital Breakfast, they’re all show business, celebrity type things - but that’s not really me. I'm from a very musical background. I went into X Factor with my guitar, just seeing how it would go, and then I went into the boy band. It wasn't my perfect, ideal music experience, but it was fun and enjoyed it, so I went with the flow. I've always gone with the flow of my life, whatever feels right, and I always felt that journey was never ‘it'. I thought there was more, and I was always looking forward to what was to come from my career. So when I first sent what I had written around this window format it to my manager and a few other people, their first reaction was, are you ok? Because what I had done was to pour my heart out into this, and it does seem like it's a lot of information when you're reading it as it is so personal. I've been very honest and real in my emotions in it. It was a lot for people.

Especially you coming from a very happy, on the surface background of how we all used to see you.
My sister had moved in with me, so obviously when I lost her and my career and everything stopped - the dreams and hopes I had turned into nightmares. I couldn't think of a way of going forward. People used to see me as the young, happy, positive guy and overnight I was the complete opposite of that. I got into a really dark place, physically and mentally, I spent two months inside my bedroom not wanting to leave, not having any direction or knowing what to do next. Everything changed. I lost my mum when I lost my sister as well. Not physically, but a part of my mum, 'cause that's what happens when you lose a child. So it's been incredibly tough, and during that time hiding seemed like the solution. In that darkness and in that comfort is actually where I found myself, as I had some time to disconnect from being in a band, disconnect from being the celebrity George that everybody wanted me to be, the one that was straight and sold singles to a young female fanbase. That wasn't who I wanted to be, but I thought that was how you did this. I've learned so much over the last few years.

So who is George?
I’m way more erratic and creatively eccentric than I’ve maybe lead on.

Do you feel like you haven’t been able to express yourself fully yet?
Massively. It’s the sexuality thing. I was in a band where I knew I was gay before I went in, I’ve known for a very long time. I’ve always been terrified of it, and it’s something I’ve been scared of telling my mum and everyone else. But because I’m so true to myself I couldn’t hide it, and it got to a point where people started seeing me kissing boys on nights out, and I was like: 'I can’t hide this'. And not only do I not want to, I just physically can’t. It’s not fair. Why should I torture myself? For me, telling people and letting people know was scary, but when I went on X Factor, that was when all of a sudden I realised I wouldn’t just need to tell my mum, I had to tell everybody at the same time. I was already nervous about what people’s opinions would be, but I had to just strip that back, be proud of myself and confident in who I am.

When did you come out?
I came out whilst I was on Capital Breakfast, two years ago, very late into my career.

I think it’s sad that coming out still can be a difficult thing to do in today’s society where we are really moving forward. It shouldn’t need to be a big deal still. I look forward to when it no longer needs to cause anyone any worry to tell people. How was that experience for you when you finally made that choice?
It was confusing still, and I thought it would clear everything. It made things a little bit more confusing because of the way I came out. I didn’t say I was gay, I didn’t say I was bi - I just said: 'I’ve been with girls and I’ve been with boys'. I was still working it out. I’m probably working it out less now than what I was then, but at the time I was still scared of showing who I was. The hard thing for me was dealing with the labels that the press put on me. Like: “George Shelley comes out as gay” and “George Shelley comes out as bi”. They were all different - nobody had the straight story, and nobody got the message in the video of: 'I’m just me, can you all just stop'. The reason I did it was that I saw people online questioning my sexuality and asking me about it. I also heard people saying "Union Gay", and I was scared. I didn’t want to be Union Gay - this was my boyband, these were my mates - we were enjoying it and loving life, and I thought that it for some reason would be detrimental to the band’s career. Not because what people were saying, but also my own paranoia and own torment - that negative chatter that’s in your head. It’s there constantly and that’s where mental health is a slippery slope, 'cause if you start listening too much and paying attention to the negative chatter, it can completely take over your headspace. That’s when it gets bad.

But now it’s different for you.
Yes, it is different for me now, because I’m just putting everything out on the line and being honest with it all.

What is it like when you finally can simply let things be as they are?
It’s just a massive breath of fresh air and life is more fun, I’m enjoying myself more. Do you know what? My relationships with my friends, my mum and everybody in my life are stronger, 'cause people see a part of me that they didn’t see before or just saw a glimmer of. Now I’m comfortable being that person like: 'George is here!'.

You’ve been on a real journey since we met last time. Going from teen to your mid-twenties, what have you learned?
I feel like those years are really important in your life - they pave the way for your future. My journey has been such a whirlwind of huge ups and huge downs, and that honestly fucks with your head so much. One minute you have everything and one minute you have nothing. You go from being promised everything to told you’re never going to have anything again. And you wonder, 'what’s going on?'. I find it so bizarre, 'cause it’s all recorded, it’s all there - online. I can literally track from when I went on X Factor, I was so young. I was very family orientated, had few friends, and was basically a virgin, haha! Seriously, I was always so scared and timid. I watch it back, and it’s really interesting to see the dramatic change in my confidence levels. I’m not scared anymore of what people think and what people are going to say. It genuinely is a fear that I’ve been able to control much more. There is that saying that a photograph captures a part of your soul, if you have loads of photos taken of you, apparently that diminishes your soul - and you can see in some of the photos from my early twenties that I’m quite tormented. There are a couple of video interviews where I’m being asked questions about girls and you can see that I’m really uncomfortable. I feel really privileged to have had the experiences I have had, but at the same time there is an element of: 'what would my life have been like if I hadn’t had this?'

I don’t think you would be who you are now if you didn’t go through what you did.
That’s the thing, I moved from the small town of Clevedon to London to being in a band with the first gay person I basically ever met. There was one person in my town that was gay - that’s how small Clevedon is, everybody knew the gay guy. If I didn’t go to London, would I still be scared? So I’m really thankful for the journey I’ve been on. And it’s not over - every single, bloody day I go to bed thinking: 'What could I have done better?'. I tend to go through my days punishing myself mentally for things when I don’t need to. I recently did a documentary about my journey, which was really hard to record, as it's mainly about everything I've had to go through - especially with my sister, that was the hardest part of it all. It’s also a story about grief and mental health. This documentary goes through everything and it dug up a lot of trauma, so I’ve had to be careful to make sure I don’t slip because it’s really easy to just drop a ball. It’s easy to forget. Part of the grieving process is to block it off and lock it away. It’s why it’s so difficult to watch it back as well, as it’s a reminder of what happened. Doing this documentary really reminded me of what my life has been like and helped get me out of that dark place. Eventually, it’s become a bit easier. I was worried if I was ready to do it. It’s something I’ll be able to watch forever, it has parts of my life in it that I don’t want to remember forever. The fact that I’m sharing these things if it helps other people. And it’s forcing me to talk about it. When I started I couldn’t really say my sister’s name, I couldn’t even say the fact that she had died in a sentence, that was really difficult, and I still struggle with it. But I’m lucky that I’ve got people that I love and trust around me. Coming to this today a couple of hours, I forgot. it’s nice to forget and to have fresh faces and have a laugh. Cause thinking about it all the time it takes up 99% of my headspace.

It’s ongoing work, nothing is ever completely done - nothing is ever over.
Exactly, and that’s what it was. I was seeing a therapist after I lost my sister for a year, and then I stopped seeing him. When I started recording the documentary I wanted to start seeing him again, 'cause you talk about all this stuff, and you go home at night and sit in bed, and that’s when your mind starts going over and over and you start thinking about things. I was having really bad sleeping problems, which also contributed to the creative stuff, as I do everything at night. Everything creative I do at night. The windows were windows into my mind - to be able to give people a little bit of an idea. They’re not obvious.

What will happen to the windows?
I’m going to carry on the design idea and some songs are linked to the windows. I’ve even got a song called Window into Mind. I had an idea of wanting to do a massive exhibition and having screens like the massive windows. Imagine it being pitch black and having them all with loads of different sounds and speakers everywhere - if you played them all at once, whilst you are in the centre, it would be a massive head-fuck. It would be amazing to see people’s reactions.

I can visualise that!
I’ve designed the album cover and it’s all ready to go.

I’ve been reading what you say on your Instagram, and it sounds like it comes from a very honest place. How have people reacted to you being so honest?
Mixed. A lot of people don’t know what to do with it. It’s like: 'ah, emotions, this is too real'. There is so much fakeness out there and I don’t like that - I never liked it. That’s what my life was for a long time, as I had to behave like I was straight. That changes everything: the language you are using, the way you hold yourself, and the way you converse with people or hold eye contact. Not feeling comfortable because you are scared people are going to see a part of you that you don’t want them to see. I thought that if I was going to go back release something again, I didn’t want to have to hide anything - I wanted to feel comfortable with everything I was doing and talk from my heart. That’s why I’m so happy and proud to be talking about my music.

The first song I wrote after I started coming out of my bad period, around Christmas time. My sister’s birthday is on Christmas day, so that was a really tough period. I wrote a song and I was just crying - it was like a therapy session, I can’t really explain it. The producer I worked with, Chris Lewis, who worked with me and Union J back in the day, when he heard the news about my sister, he texted me and he was like: “If you ever need anyone to talk to you can come to the studio and just chill”. That was a really nice thing to hear, so I went to his studio and it was a therapy session. We sat down and spoke for ages - he lost someone close to him and I had just lost my sister, so we reconnected. That power of emotion, so high and strong and so fresh and raw, that’s when Lose to Find came, and I’ve never been so proud of a song, even if it’s so painful for me to hear still - because it was written in the darkest point. It’s interesting because I went back into the studio to do another version of it, and we ended up using the original version, as I was right in the midst of it all then and you can hear the pain in my voice. I still find it difficult to listen to it. I left that original session and felt like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders, then I went into my studio the next day and started writing song after song. I would tell my best friend, Emily - she lives with me, she is my rock: 'I can’t do this', and she’d tell me to go back in there. She also made sure I was eating and made sure I was okay in general. Had Emily not have been there…. I was a state before she moved in.

There were some words I wanted to read that you wrote: “I’m fed up looking out the window into a world that breaks our hearts again and again and again.” When you’ve been to that place, how do you get out of it?
I wouldn’t even say I’m out of it yet. I don’t think you ever get out of it. It’s just about making it comfy enough to be able to put up with for the rest of my life. My mum describes it as if we’ve been thrown in a pit - and this is just the grief side of it - not looking at my career and lifestyle. We’ve been throw in a dark pit where the walls are too high and we can’t get out. It’s all about making it as comfy and cosy - and with as much life, happiness and light - as you can. Accepting that it will always be there. Then simply looking after yourself, making sure you take enough time for yourself.

Do you meditate?
I moved out of my old bedroom, as I had spent a lot of time grieving there and in a dark place, and I re-decorated my new bedroom. I’ve got plants trees in there - it’s basically a rainforest. I love it! And my studio is cosy and I feel safe in there. I’ve got soundproofing boards on the walls, because of the studio, so it kind of looks like padding. I do my meditation in there. It’s the atmosphere in the room that works for me. It’s nice to focus and wind down from what’s going on. I’ve always been quite spiritual. I’m from near Glastonbury, and most weekends we’d go to Glastonbury town. Obviously, they have the festival there, but there is a part of Glastonbury that feels very Harry Potter - they've got wand shops and it’s really cool, haha. You can also buy essential oils, crystals, and things for my bedroom. I have all of the above! I think a lot of people turn to spirituality when they experience grief.

You seem much most honest with who you are now compared to when I met you last time. It’s really beautiful to see.
I would like the truth to be out there, 'cause it’s hard to put so much emotion with the George that people already know. I felt like every job I previously had I needed to put a different mask on, and I was covering a different part of me - that was exhausting mentally and physically. Every day, having to overthink things. I haven’t got the energy or the mental capacity to be like that now.

Let’s talk a bit about you going into a solo career. How does it feel to do your thing?
This is much more emotionally led and everything I’m doing feels more natural and real, rather than worrying about the perception of things and having to be that person with that mask - that George. Music means so much to me is because of the emotion of it, and without being honest and true it’s never going to connect. I wouldn’t want to go into the music industry again being a product, I wouldn’t have the patience for that now. In five years time, when I’m doing this again with you again, haha, I want to look back and be able to say that I have stayed true to who I am now.

It’s all a journey and you’re still just at the beginning of it.
Yeah, and even though I’m a solo artist, I never feel like I’m on my own. I have my team and the people that I work with, we are so tight - I love it. If I was feeling alone, I don’t think I’d be able to do it. I also have so much support my mum, Emily, my team and the BBC - they’ve been absolutely incredible with this documentary.

Tell me a bit more about the documentary, as that’s coming out soon.
I’m absolutely shitting myself. I’m in such a weird place with it at the moment, as it’s been a massive thing for me, and I’ve been wondering what the benefits of it would be for me. I just went in for a meeting and all they said was: “How are you?”. And I started pouring it out and I was like, 'I’m not alright'. I wasn’t in a good place and I couldn’t pretend, so I told them my story and they listened. Then they said, “Let’s talk about it. Let’s take the viewer on your journey from the beginning to where you are now. Show them all of the ups, show them all of the downs." It’s a really confusing thing to watch for me because there are parts where I laughed my heart out and parts where I cried my eyes out. My mum and dad are both in it, and it’s so real. I’m proud of it and excited, but at the same time, I'm so scared that people are going to be people and judge. It’s so private, and I’m telling the truth from beginning to end in what I have gone through.

It’s very brave.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to follow through with filming at one point because it was so heavy, and I could feel myself going back down - at which point the support came and I was helped up again. I was so thankful for everyone I had around me because I genuinely wouldn’t have been able to do this without them. I learned so much through making it. Just like music, it’s been therapy for me. Without one, the other one wouldn’t have happened. At the end of the day I would go home and write more songs - it was like a cycle.

If you face something head-on, like you are doing, eventually it lessens.
Yes. And there is another side to it as well, 'cause I really want my mum to be okay. For her to lose her daughter was the worst thing that could have happened and I obviously worry about my mum a lot. Doing the documentary and writing new music, my mum seeing me getting better, is doing her good too. So it’s another reason for me to keep healing. After Pride, my mum said it was the first real joy she had felt for years. That meant so much to me. It wasn’t about Technicolour and the next song, all of my music isn’t about having interviews on radio stations and doing press - this is music that has helped me get through this stage in my life. I’m starting to see this.

You released Technicolour already, tell me more.
I was actually supposed to perform it last year at Pride, but obviously, things went tits up in my life and everything took a back seat, but it was very much going to be my first single in my next venture in music. The songs connected with me because of what it is about. When I first got the first demo of it, it was a very different song than it is now. I wanted it to be believable for me to sing. So we made a few changes, and I love it because of the way it makes me feel. Going back to the window thing - I woke up one morning and saw the sunrise coming through the window, and in the centre of it was a picture of my dad and me. That’s where it all originated from. This really vibrant blue photo frame, the oranges from the sun coming through, the beautiful blue sky, and I was thinking how intense it was. The colour. So when I was in the studio again, going through old songs, Technicolour jumped out at me. The words related to me even more than before. I wasn’t even comfortable with my sexuality when I recorded the song and you can kind of hear the hesitance in the lyrics. So I re-recorded it, and I just wanted to get it out there because of what it had done for me. The colour therapy that I started doing and the visuals I did for it was part of my colour therapy.

Why is yellow your favourite colour?
It is at the moment. Since I filmed the documentary, I injured my leg on my birthday, and then I’ve been ill since. So I’ve been in a bit of a bad place again - yellow is the colour of joy and happiness. Everything was green before for new beginnings. I was trying to bring in the colours that would influence my future, like oranges and reds, which influences your sexuality and creativity. I was harnessing all the powers of these colours whilst working on Technicolour, and my life suddenly became really vibrant. Now I sort of cycle colours - at the moment it’s yellow.

You performed the song at Pride this year. What was that like?
Nuts! I had looked forward to it for so long and I hope that people would like it. I was having a little dip during that period as well, so it was quite confusing to work everything out and get back into the swing of things. I spent so long talking to Emily. It was crazy when Ian McKellen finally introduced me on stage, he is one of my heroes, and getting back up on stage and performing Technicolour after everything I had been through - it was mad.

What’s coming next?
The music is there, it’s all written - so it’s simply about working out which stories I want to share - which parts of me I am happy for everybody to know. I’m very honest in the new music, sometimes a bit too much. The next release will be the first song I wrote, it’s called Lose to Find. I guess it’s not just about loosing, and I don’t want people to think it’s about me writing a song about a loved one - it’s much more than that. It’s about losing my life; my family, my career - everything changed. You almost have to lose it to realise what you had. I’ve learned a lot over the last two years of how much I appreciate what’s around me, and how much the people around me mean to me. I want to take care of myself a bit more for my mum’s sake as well. All of those heavy nights out aren’t a thing for me any more. I don’t want to put myself at risk. My sister was just out on a night out, innocent. I can’t enjoy it. Maybe it’s part of the grieving process and I’ll get past that soon. Maybe I will want to go out and have an explosion one day, but at the moment I’m just focusing on the things that are making me feel better, which is music and telling my story. Things feel much more real this time. I don’t feel drawn to being part of the celebrity culture any more, so I want to be cautious of my life not being so wrapped up in that. I simply want to share the music I have written, and be able to simply be ‘ e' and not be scared any more. I’m really proud of it.

This leads me to my next question. What is happiness?
I think it’s contagious and it’s an outwards emotion. I don’t think you can get happiness just like that - it’s something that comes from the inside and you have to be happy with yourself to be able to feel true happiness. Happiness isn’t about receiving happiness, it’s also about making other people happy, receiving their happiness, and feeling it back. People set out to be happy and receive happiness. Connecting happiness with numbers on an Instagram picture, how many abs you’ve got, the thickness of your chest, or how skinny your waste is - that’s not happiness. Happiness is life and what’s around us and the emotions that we feel. It isn’t aesthetic and that’s hard to come to terms with in a world where 90% of the population assume this is what happiness is.

I was in a boy band and I thought my life was sorted - then everything crashed, and at that moment you question what is happening. I’m still trying to remember when the last time I felt true happiness was, and hearing people’s reaction to new music I have written and watching their reactions - that is happiness for me, to be able to connect my emotions with art. Once I can see if people are connecting with what I was feeling and what I put into it - that makes me happy. And I’m happy because they are connecting to it because there is a part of it where they can see themselves in it as well. That’s true happiness to me. It’s a circle. It made me really happy to sing a song that really meant something to me to an audience, it was a different feeling. Although it’s a bittersweet feeling, there is a new kind of happiness within that.

I’ve really enjoyed today, getting out and having a laugh, as I’ve not been this energetic in a while.

You’ve been very energetic today - in the rain even!
Yeah, I know! I’ve enjoyed it - I needed to get out and really needed this.

Our new print issue is coming out soon, and although this is an exclusive online feature I wanted to ask you a question that relates to it. It’s titled The Dreamers, so I wanted to ask if you are a dreamer, George?
I’m a daydreamer and a night dreamer. I dream about everything and I dream everywhere. I’m always inside my head, thinking of the future and different scenarios. Although sometimes it’s really easy for the dreams to become nightmares in my head and I think that’s part of what it is to be dealing with anxiety and depression. It comes and goes, and you can’t predict when it’s going to be a dream day or a nightmare day. Either way, I’m usually on another planet and in the clouds. Even when I’m sleeping, the majority of them are colourful, bright, happy dreams - and you just have to remember when you wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare that tomorrow is another day and it might be a nice dream again that is colourful and light. That’s just how life is - you can't predict your dreams and you don’t know where you’re going to be when you sleep. I feel like I keep waking up in life, and I look around a bit and it’s crazy, then I go back to sleep for a bit in my head. I never know what I will wake up to. I trust the universe and feel prepared for whatever life has to throw at me, 'cause the last two years has been the biggest test emotionally that I’ve had.

I have a dream book as well, I write all my lyrics in there. There’s a tree on the front. I guess the dream is to be able to turn the nightmares into dreams, which is what I’m trying to do at the moment, 'cause it’s been a fucking nightmare. Now I’m trying to turn that around.

is out now and you can watch his documentary on BBC iPlayer from 30 September 2018!


Above: Jacket by ETRO, Top by SUNSPEL and Trousers by HOMME PLISSE ISSEY MIYAKE.


Above left: Jacket, Top and Trousers by SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO.


Above: Shirt by PHOEBE ENGLISH.

Web_Small_George Shelley


Web_Large_George Shelley

Above: Jumper by MAISON KITSUNE.


Above left: Outfit as before.
Above right: Jumper by MAISON KITSUNE, Trousers by KENZO and Shoes by WOOD WOOD.

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