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Old 08-Sep-2011
Man on a mission

UNP ImageJames Morrison is one of Britain's lowest profile but biggest music success stories of the past few years, selling 4.5 million copies of his two albums Undiscovered and Songs For You, Truths For Me.

He broke through in 2006 with the top five single You Give Me Something and cemented his ability to write a classic tune two years later with Broken Strings, his duet with Nelly Furtado, which reached No two.

Beneath the relaxed exterior is a man on a mission. I once witnessed his perfectionism at the recording of a TV show. He couldn't get his vocal performance right and to the frustration of everyone insisted on doing it four or five times before he was happy.

He's about as charming and unaffected as a rock star can be. He grew up always looking out for others, but was brought up not by his father — who left his wife and three children when James was four — nor by his stressed-out mother, but mostly by himself and his siblings, older sister Hayley and younger brother Laurie. By seven years old, Morrison was ironing his own clothes and the siblings would cook, shop and tidy the house.

"Everyone else's problems overtook mine," he says. "We had to grow up quick. Everyone around us was falling apart — we had to figure out how not to do that."

As an adult, and now multi-millionaire rock star, he looks after his relatives — buying houses for his brother, sister and mother.

"I'm the godfather of the family," he says.

But Morrison couldn't help everyone. Despite offering his father, Paul Catchpole (Morrison is James's stage name) every inducement to beat his alcoholism, he resisted.

He even asked his father to move into his Gloucestershire mansion. "I'd phone him regularly to check he was alive. He wasn't great as a dad, but I wanted him to be around more.

"The last time I spoke to him, I said: ‘You've got to be the person you should have been all those years ago. You've still got time. You can be a grandad [to James's daughter Elsie] and be around a lot more.' But he'd just say: ‘I don't need any help.'"

When his father died last August, Morrison was inconsolable. ‘A month before, I said: ‘If you don't deal with this soon you are going to die.' When he died, I became depressed, crying in bed all day, feeling numb."

In the middle of this, Morrison was in a crisis of his own, struggling to write his third album. But out of his grief, came the aptly titled The Awakening and the song Six Weeks, where he compares his feelings to the sky "full of tears waiting to cry".

Difficult time

His father's death came during a difficult time with his girlfriend, Gill, and their adjustment to being parents to their daughter, who will be three this month.

"Gill wanted to be a mum all her life and when it happened it was a shock," he explains. "I don't have a nine-to-five job, so it makes things harder for her.

"Yes, she could come on tour, but I need to separate my work from my home life. I could never be like Peter Andre and Jordan, selling your story and all that stuff. The more I keep it private, the more I have got control."

Yet he is remarkably open about aspects of his personal life.

There's a song on the album called Right By Your Side about Gill. He wrote about another difficult patch in a song called The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore on his first album.

So how are things now between James, 27, and Gill, who is four years his senior? "We're good. I've been with her for 10 years. We're best friends and lovers and then worst enemies, as well. She's a strong Northern girl with good family values."

The relationship he is hesitant to talk about is the one with his mother, Suzy, who was hurt by the open way he's talked about her in the past.

She moved her growing family around, before settling in Porth, Cornwall, when Morrison was 14 and there was always a dire lack of money.

He's called his mother "a hippy", though she was a qualified nurse, and said he would never know with what mood she would greet him each day. Is he still close to her?

"Umm," he mutters, "underneath it all, I'm close to my mum. I don't think she was intentionally nasty, she just couldn't cope.

"But I don't hold any resentment against her. I can relive my youth through my daughter and be the silly, fun-loving person that I needed to be around when I was a kid." After such a humble upbringing, it took Morrison a while to embrace the wealth his music career brought.

"I felt guilty about having a rock star lifestyle. I was still shopping at Tesco and living in a semi in Hove.

"But after my dad died, I thought: ‘Life's too short. What have I got to show for all my sacrifices being away on tour so much?' I want a banging house. So I bought a 1900s country gentleman's residence in a small village. I may get a jacuzzi and a swimming pool. Why not? I justify it by saying I'll have enough room for all my family to come and stay.

"It's not about lording it up in a big house, it's about me being able to provide a lifestyle for my family."

There you are. He's not quite able to embrace the selfish inner-rock star.

That would go against his character.

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