Football was my life. It was all I knew because I didn't study very hard in school. I was with Everton from 13 to nearly my 16th birthday. I came through Everton with players like Michael Branch, Danny Cadamarteri and Francis Jeffers. I used to play against Michael Owen and I can remember marking him once. We lost 4-0 and he scored all four. He hammered me.
When it came to the crunch time when I left school, some guy came up to me from Everton and went, "you're not going to be good enough for Everton, you're actually too small". Ironically I'm 6" 2'. They said I wasn't going to be physically strong enough and straight after I got offered professional forms at Chester, Wrexham and Crewe. But I just didn't want to know - I lost my heart and my confidence in football.
You're at that age, the age of 15 is a very big time for you - especially when you've just left school because that's your path in life. And when somebody takes away that thing that you think you're going to be great at then you're up the creek. I thought, "if I'm never going to make it at Everton, I'm never going to be good enough". I actually went to Chester for a week but I didn't want to know about football. And for the next six months I drank a lot of bitter in the pub with me mates. Drank bitter, put loads of weight on and sort of rebelled.
I used to go to the pub and make everybody laugh and do karaoke. Then one day somebody just went, "why don't you do this?" And I gave me self a kick up the arse. It was literally, "right get your arse together, get your head together and get yourself motivated because if not you're going to be stuck in this pub for the rest of your life".
All I knew was that I could sing and make people laugh. So my Dad went to Blackpool and said, "you've got to see my son sing" as every Dad would. So I went up and sang a couple of songs and they said, "you're great, but there's nothing we can do for you. We haven't got any shows". Two weeks later I got a phone call saying that one of the singers had dropped out and they needed someone who could do the show for the rest of the season. I'm 17 and I'm now getting £250 a week. I've got my own digs for free and I'm living with 40 girl dancers. I'm in heaven; my hormones are flying. That same year I won the Cameron Mackintosh Young Entertainer of the Year competition. And the season after when I got back to Blackpool they told me they wanted to make me the youngest person in Blackpool history to have his own show.
People say sometimes, "do you get a bit embarrassed about Blackpool?" And I'm like, "well no, that's why I can sing live". I used to sing 29 songs a night, six nights a week for six months, the same bloody songs every night and try to make them believable. That's what you've got to do. I used to hang around with - and I'm not ashamed to say it - The Grumbleweeds, Chubby Brown and Frank Carson. They've worked the toughest audiences in the world and I used to watch them. When you go to Blackpool the audiences are tough because they pay to come and watch a show. Westlife could sing 'Ugly Duckling' and girls would still scream, but these guys have got to be funny 24 hours a day. I love getting an audience in the palm of my hand and I suppose I learnt how to do it for three years in Blackpool.
Was Blackpool grim? Oh yeah, but the best times of my life. I would never be ashamed to talk about it. Blackpool brought me back in a way - I've always been a confident lad but Blackpool was the biggest confidence thing. The grannies used to love me, used to come and bake me cakes. I used to have this little old woman who'd say "Jonathan are you coming around for your tea?" And I used to go around and she'd cook me steak on a Friday. That was her treat and she loved it. I got really quite a big name in Blackpool: I was on a tram once with Schnorbitz and Danny La Rue!
Somebody had watched me in Blackpool and he came up to me after the show and went, "you'd be great presenting on TV". So I did that for seven months for the BBC - I hadn't got a clue, just got thrown in at the deep end. The funniest thing is that I'm dyslexic and they used to have autocues and I'd be like "I can’t read that!" I'm only mildly dyslexic - I get things mixed up - but I used to make words up and the producer would be like "what's he saying?" It was fun and I met some great people. In a way it set me in good stead because it got me used to the camera. I was interviewing people but I always wanted to be sat where the performer was. I was interviewing them thinking "well, I'd answer that different". I was presenting in the day and at night I was working in the studio with different writers on my songs.
I'd been writing music with people and I got myself about four or five demos together. This was December '99 and in January and February I was going to the record companies to get myself a deal. I went to see four record companies and at the end of that I had five offers on the table and all of a sudden there was this rat race to sign me. In April I signed to Virgin and here I am now.
The album's done; hopefully it will be out in May. Well, between May and August - maybe June or July! I take every day at comes. I'm putting this front on being confident but deep down I'm nervous, I'm excited, I'm frustrated, I'm anxious. Throw all of them up in the air and you've got me at the minute. I can only do what I do and do it to the best of my ability and I'm going to definitely enjoy myself along the way. Sat here talking is exciting for me. I'm in Dublin, doing an interview, doing what I want to do. I did a regional radio tour last week and I did 75 interviews in two weeks. Everybody wants to know a bit about me, it's great – I never knew talking about myself could be so boring!
Jonathan Wilkes was in conversation with Harry Guerin
His debut single "Just another day" is out now.