After almost four years in the pop wilderness Gareth Gates is back.The Bradford choirboy - who stuttered his way into the hearts of teenage girls across the nation when he came second on 'Pop Idol' in 2002 - had seemed destined for the reality show scrap-heap in April 2003, when his single 'Say It Isn't So' only made it to number four in the charts.The chart position was perceived as "disappointing" and it proved to be Gareth's last single before he disappeared into pop oblivion. What had begun so promising, with a platinum-selling debut album, 'What My Heart Wants To Say', and a string of number one hits, suddenly came to an abrupt end and in 2006 he was officially dropped from his record label Sony BMG.But Gareth refused to believe the hype around his own 'demise', and used his break from the showbiz world to grow as a person and pour his heart and soul into his comeback album 'Pictures of the Other Side'.He also used the time to train as a speech coach and course instructor with the McGuire Programme, which was instrumental in his battle to control his own stammer.Now five years older than when he shot to fame aged just 17 on 'Pop Idol', and with a new record contract, Gareth is doing it his way.

Out is the manufactured pop sheen, and in is a more heartfelt, sincere and honest approach. Gareth, now 22, has even held his hands up to his fling with glamour model Jordan, something he had always denied in the past.

However, Gareth knows not everyone will accept that he has changed, saying: "I know some people might just hear my name and throw the CD out of the nearest window, but I hope they give it a chance and judge it on hearing it, not on pre-conceptions".

Here he talks about his new single 'Changes', his relationship with 'Pop Idol' judge and mentor Simon Cowell and reveals all about his romance with that busty pin-up.

Q. Hi Gareth, are you glad to get to be back?

A. I'm very pleased to be back thank you.

Q. You're new track 'Changes' is about the relationships you have had in your life. Is it primarily about your life during your three years in the pop wilderness?

A. 'Changes' is a song that pretty much sums up the past three years, in that you lose some relationships and friendships and you gain others. The people that surround yourself with have a positive or negative influence on the person that you are.

Q. Are you confident the new single will be a success?

A. I'm so passionate about my music this time round. I'm finally making records that I want to make. If for whatever reason it doesn't work then at least I can look back and not think, 'Oh I wish I had done it this way.' Or, 'I wish I had done it that way.' I have every faith in 'Changes', and believe I have a great album with the tracks to back it up.

Q. Are you looking forward to going out on tour?

A. The music on the record does very much lend itself to being played live, and to me being with a band. So we're going to try and get out there and play it as much as possible. I just want to get there and perform it for as many people as possible. I'm not exactly sure when I will be hitting the road. I have a few TV appearances lined up then things will hot up from there.

Q. Would you be interested in playing at one the festivals?

A. Yeah, I would love to do that. I think the first thing I need to do is get on the road and prove myself. But hopefully I will get the call. I'm planning on having a busy summer.

Q. You've recorded the album with people who have worked with James Morrison and James Blunt. Would you be interested in doing a collaboration with either of these artists?

A. Not necessarily a duet. But I was very fortunate to work with guys like Sacha Skarbek, who has worked with James Blunt, who I wrote 'Changes' with.

I also worked with the same guy who produced James Morrison's album, and he very much wanted everything to be live.

Every song is more or less one live take and that's the way I thought all records were made. It wasn't until after 'Pop Idol' that I was making my first record that I realised that very few people make albums like that. In most cases, you know, the artist turns up for an hour goes in the studio puts his vocals on the track and that's your involvement.

Q. You were quite happy to use your 'Pop Idol' fame after the show had finished. Do you wish you had distanced yourself from the programme?

A. When 'Pop Idol' had finished I was only 17-years-old. I didn't know anything about the industry I was going into. I didn't even know what I wanted to do as an artist or what music I wanted to make. I was just happy to go along with what was being said to me."

Q. How do you feel about being dropped by Sony BMG?

A. There were lots of people who said my last album was a disaster. The last single that I had, I think, went in at number four. I do understand where they the guys at the record company were coming from. I mean, everyone was used to number one after number one. So compared to that run of success it wasn't a hit.

Q. Are you pleased to no longer be working with Simon Cowell?

A. I wouldn't say pleased, but I've never been passionate about anything I've released in the past. It's not that I regret anything it's just that the record label would hand me my single and say, 'There you go Gareth. There's your next single.' I was never able to be that passionate about what I was saying. This time I have written most of the album and been involved in the recording process and nearly every aspect of it. I'm very passionate about it.

Q. Are you still in contact with Simon now?

A. I don't really speak to him often. I'm moved on. We've all kind of gone our separate ways, which has worked out for the best. I've just signed a deal with Universal. I am glad to be out of that mould to be honest. This has given me the creative freedom that I never had before.

Q. Now Louis Walsh has been sacked from 'X Factor' would you consider being a judge if Simon gave you a call?

A. I don't know about being a judge, I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Maybe when I'm a bit older.

Q. What about working with the hopefuls?

A. I would be up for going on the show and getting the guys to sing my songs, if they would have me. That would be cool. We'll have to wait and see.

Q. Do you still keep in contact with Will Young?

A. Me and Will speak on the phone and text each other quite a lot. We hook up for a beer every now and then, and try to spend time with each other when we can. We're good friends. I'm really pleased for him.

He's doing really well and he deserves it, he's a great singer. I admire him because he always knew what sort of artist he wanted to be whereas I'm only just realising what I want to do now.

Q. You've done a lot of work with the McGuire Programme trying to conquer your stammer, with great success I must say. Is that something you're still involved in?

A. I'm now an instructor on the McGuire Programme and I get so much fulfilment from giving something back. I'm certainly not cured of my problem, it's actually been quite crap recently! But I know I have done well and what pleases me more than anything is that I'm now able to give interviews which is something I've never been able to do. Before, there was always Gareth Gates the artist but people never got to know the personality, hopefully now they will get to see both. But I still haven't conquered it completely.

Q. How did you overcome your speech impediment?

A. On the McGuire programme we treat speech like a sport. We're athletes getting good at the sport of speaking, and like any athlete if he doesn't train for a few weeks the next time he goes out on the track he's rusty.

Q. The children you work with must look to you as an inspiration?

A. They do. It's a really great feeling to be able to give something back and to be able to bring something like stammering into the public eye and heighten the awareness of a problem that lots of people, especially kids, have to deal with. You know, I was bullied at school because of it and there is nothing worse for a child.

I've had a lot of success in the past but if there is something that I'm most proud of then it's raising the awareness of speech problems.

Q. You're still with your girlfriend Suzanne Mole. Are their wedding bells on the horizon in 2007?

A. Well, if that was to happen she'd be the first to know! We haven't really discussed it. We're happy as we are. We'll just have to wait and see.

Q. How do you feel about what happened with Jordan now?

A. I'm not sure really. My thoughts on the whole Jordan thing are that I don't regret the relationship. The only thing I do regret is the way that I handled it. It became a much bigger story than it ever would have been then if I'd just been honest about it from the start and not denied it.

She is a lovely girl, especially when you get to know her over a period of time, like I was lucky enough to.

Q. I think for a lot of your male fans you fulfilled one of their fantasies!

A. Well, I don't know about that.

By Philip Hamilton.

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