"Pop Idol was the most incredible experience that changed the course of my life forever."
She won the hearts of the nation back in 2003 after following in the footsteps of Will Young by winning the second and eventual final series of Pop Idol. After an iconic winner's single (All This Time) and a top 3 debut album in the UK she went on to host The Hour in Scotland, performed for Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit and since 2013 has been performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
As she returns to reprise her third solo show Pop Goes the Idol, Michelle spoke to me about how the live shows first came about, her Pop Idol experience and her feelings towards the TV talent shows of today.
How did the one-woman show come about in the first place?
The honest truth is that behind every decision in my life has been alcohol. In April 2013 I was in this beautiful bar in Edinburgh called New Town Bar doing a fundraiser for Waverley Care with my best mate Bruce Devlin who's a wonderful comedian and I was just singing songs.
None of us took any money because it was a charity night and we all stayed afterwards having a couple of drinks and the guy that owned the venue got a phone call and was like "Oh my God, we've been selected as a venue at this year's Edinburgh Festival." because they've got a little basement bar downstairs. It was like venue number 816 or something and everyone was cheering and as the drinks flowed he realised that he didn't have any acts.
Then he turned to me and said "Would you do something?" and I said "Yeah, sure..." not even knowing what or what I was agreeing and a couple of weeks later he phoned me to say that he was putting the listings in the brochure.
Then Bruce said "Why don't we do this really exaggerated character. This woman whose 15 minutes are up but she just doesn't know it. She still thinks she's as famous as she once was all those years ago. We'll base it loosely on you and it'll be very deprecating." and I said yes.
That's how it started and we didn't think it would last one night but someone came to see it on the first night, gave us five stars and we sold out for the rest of the week. Then The Stand came to see it and wanted us to bring it back the following year to one of their venues.
We then wrote a follow-up and then we wrote the third show and it got to the end in 2016 and The Stand said "You have to go back to the beginning now because there are so mane people that still haven't seen the first two parts."
So now we've come full circle and this year we're performing the final instalment again this year, Pop Goes The Idol and this will definitely be the last time we perform these three shows. They've changed my life and have been the happiest mistake to have ever happened. But the time has come to write something fresh for next year, probably about Michelle McManus turning 40... because I do sadly!
What can people expect from the show?
Pop Goes The Idol is honestly just a Carry On. It's comedy cabaret and it's me playing a character where I completely and utterly take the piss out of myself but in a really gentle friendly way. She's an out of shape showgirl who never made it. I don't swear in any of my shows which is quite old-school and people comment on that which I find weird.
I think if you want a great singalong and you like a good story, this is the show for you! But look, the show isn't for everyone. It's not the most profound thing you'll ever see at the festival but I would hate to think people were leaving my show going "That was horrendous. That was terrible". It is what it is, it's just a wee bit of fun, lots of singing, lots of stories that people will relate too and my audience never need to worry about being picked on, that's not what we do at all.
It's all about me and the joke is always on me in hopefully a very endearing way. All the stories are real, they really did happen to me but some of them have been wildly embellished by Bruce and I. If I was ever going to be an outrageous diva, then that's everything I would want to be.
How closely do you and Bruce Devlin work on putting the show together?
I couldn't have done it without Bruce Devlin, we co-write it together. I can come up with an idea but Bruce is like my little Tinkerbell, he gives it a fairy dusting over the top and we are an absolute partnership. I could never do it without him.
I'm not one of these people who thinks they can do it on their own now. I couldn't because he gets me and I get him and it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous in a way but the more outrageous the funnier people find it I think.
It must be nice that almost 16 years on from Pop Idol to still be getting audiences wanting to come and see you?
Listen, if I ever do anything down south I'm sure people would just come along to see if I'm still alive!
In Scotland I've been so lucky since Pop Idol, I did the opening of the Commonwealth Games when they were in Glasgow with Lulu, I've done all the Hogmanay New Year's Eve shows, I've sang with Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle, I've got my own series on BBC Radio Scotland.
I'm at that stage now in Scotland where people are so lovely and I've been around for so long that I'm a safe pair of hands if we're doing live telly or radio. In terms of broadcast I'm very lucky that I'm one of the first people they'll go to for things.
The character in the show is actually based on someone I'd seen a few years ago who had had her fleeting moment of fame but it never quite worked out for her. Almost like my story, I had that moment on Pop Idol but things just didn't work out for me and you've got two options - you can be really bitter or you can go down the road I chose to go down which is "Oh my God how lucky am I? What an amazing platform I was given which I'm going to use to keep working as much as I can."
This other person that I saw came out to speak to the audience and she was saying "You're so lucky I'm here. I'm usually travelling all over the world performing at garden parties" and I'm thinking "No you're not!" and she was being so serious with the crowd that I thought there's something in that - someone who can't let go of that fame they once had.
I could more than let go of it. I didn't really have it for very long anyway! I never really wanted to be famous.
Looking back on Pop Idol, how did you find the experience?
No one really knew what to expect. In Pop Idol we were never promised anything more than a single and an album which is what I got. Pop Idol was the most incredible experience that changed the course of my life forever.
We were in people's living rooms every week for twelve weeks and back then there was no Facebook or Twitter and it was huge. You had to sit down on a Saturday night to watch it, it didn't spill over into the Sunday, everything happened on that Saturday night, there was a big build up every week and the press were going mad for it because it was so much in its infancy.
I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to sing. But I never wanted to be famous, that's never something that I craved. Fame back then was still rare, everybody can be famous now. So I didn't ever aspire to that but I wouldn't change anything. My life has been incredible and I've been so lucky.
If you could go back and give 24-year-old Michelle pre-Pop Idol any advice, what would it be?
To just bloody love it. I genuinely don't think I ever expected anything from it. I knew I was overweight and back then it was a big deal so I never thought I'd win and even when I did win Pete Waterman ripped his microphone off and walked off so I kind of knew it was over before it began.
I had an absolute ball and I would just go back and tell my 24-year-old self, "It's going to be everything you think it's going to be. It's going to be great." and it has been great.
Do you still watch TV talent shows now?
No I don't and it's because I don't relate to them. There's nothing about what I did that's in those shows. I'm not interested in seeing the judges, I don't really care who the mentor is, I don't really care who's wearing what or who's fighting with who. I just want to hear people singing and that's lost now. There are so many backing dancers and backing vocalists now which we were never allowed. It was literally us, a piano and a mic.
But they totally have their place. Families love sitting down and watching them and they're still big business but I'm terrible, I don't know anyone who's been on them. Honestly I don't make a point of doing, it just doesn't fall on my radar of things to watch.
There's been a massive spotlight shone on the after care that reality TV contestants receive. What are your experiences in that area?
The reason why my mental health was so stable back then is because social media wasn't even available. You could choose not to read the newspapers, you knew it was there but even back then we knew it was all rubbish and The News of the World was still in its prime.
You see with reality TV stars now, they stand no chance with social media. No chance whatsoever. I love the fact that everything I did in my youth is a memory or a hard copy picture somewhere. No one is going to be able to trawl through social media and get the shots of 15, 16 or even a 24-year-old me.
I was absolutely on the cusp of being spared that because things would have been very different if social media had been then what it is now.
But today you are on social media and you recently spoke out about abuse you received following an attack. Have you ever thought about not being on there?
I am still on there and of course I could walk away from social media but then who wins from that? We don't actually tackle the problem because social media becomes a moral sewer because people just feel like they can go on and say anything, do anything and there's no consequence.
I could absolutely walk away from social media but that's doesn't solve anything. If you stay on and you challenge this unacceptable behaviour - you wouldn't be able to do this in real life, go up to someone and threaten to kill them or incite violence without the police getting involved.
So you shouldn't be able to do it on social media. Social media companies need to be better and people need to be better. We need to take responsibility ourselves because I actually think trolling is an addiction. Say someone trolls, that's not the first time someone's done it. They're doing this all the time. The way you conduct yourself online should be the exact same way you conduct yourself in public, face-to-face with people.
I very sadly got attacked in the street in January 2017 and it was a really random attack. The guy went to court and got found guilty but the abuse I got on social media for being a woman who said "Oh by the way, this guy hit me" was appalling. I am so thick-skinned and 16 years down the line am so well-versed in negative comments and I could say that someone tweeting me directly to say I'm this, that or the other doesn't affect me, but of course it does. Trolls know they have that power that if they tag you in something, you're going to see it.
I'm still on it because I love social media and it can be very positive too.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
So the new series of Our Life with Michelle McManus has started on BBC Radio Scotland and it's just the loveliest job you could ever wish for. I get to interview these extraordinary people from all walks of life. Some of them have had really sad experiences, some are really happy but these people are incredible and I get to just chat to them.
Would you ever do Eurovision?
It's my dream! Nobody loves me. Nobody comes near me. All I want to do is sing in Eurovision, I adore it. I always have. And even if the United Kingdom came in last I wouldn't care. That is an absolute dream.
Years ago when they introduced Making Your Mind Up I gave the points from Scotland and Graham Norton was hosting and I loved it. I love Eurovision and would do it in a heartbeat but alas I've never been asked.
That's definitely one on the bucket list!
Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
A great singalong night out.
Michelle McManus: Pop Goes the Idol runs from 2nd - 25th August (not 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th) at 6.10pm at The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4 (Stand 3). Book tickets here.