It's about two hours before Lewis Capaldi takes the stage of Dublin's 3Arena. Backstage, he is about to retire to his dressingroom in order to prepare for his second consecutive sold-out concert. His pre-gig ritual? He shrugs. "Have a panic attack. Play the gig. Pray it wasn't s**t."
Capaldi is not quite at the “blue M&Ms and private jet on standby” stage yet, but you get the sense that the young Scot is still adjusting to his comparatively rapid ascent to fame. Still only 23, the craziness of the past 12 months has been documented across his social media: his witty responses to Noel Gallagher’s various potshots, his reaction to seeing a billboard advertising his number one album on the London Underground, his disastrous attempt to buy a toilet plunger to use in his plush Hollywood hotel (you can guess what for). Even if you didn’t like his heartfelt, lovelorn ballads – which are the antithesis of his convivial off-stage personality – it’s impossible to dislike Lewis Capaldi the man.
Capaldi has become something of an everyman thanks to his self-awareness, wittiness and the presence of mind that is usually sorely lacking in twentysomething pop stars with the world at their feet (although less than a week after we meet, he faces a backlash of-sorts for continuing his tour despite the coronavirus pandemic). But he is not completely joking about the panic attack. This arena tour – the first time he’s headlined venues this big – has been “anxiety-inducing”, he says. In person, he is a little more serious than the Buckfast-swilling joker that he often makes himself out to be.
“Yesterday, I had a panic attack on stage at the first [Dublin] gig,” he admits. “It was obviously not fun, but when that happens you do have to try and pull everything back in and be like, ‘Right, let’s just try and get through this’. But this is the most anxious I’ve been on tour for ages. I wouldn’t say it makes it hard to enjoy, because I still have fun – but I’d definitely say it’s more taxing, emotionally, maybe. You come to this arena and stand in the middle of it and feel sick because of how big it is. It’s intense. But then the show’s amazing and usually by the last couple of songs I’ve settled – but every night, stepping out in front of that many people, is quite jarring.”
It’s something he has taken seriously in terms of his fanbase, too. In order to help fans who may also experience social anxiety or feeling overwhelmed at gigs, he has launched the LiveLive scheme which offers a safe space where people can take a breather and talk to trained mental health professionals if they wish. He has also put some measures in place to safeguard his own mind during this craziness.
"I don't drink when I'm on tour. I don't drink caffeine any more, because I feel that it makes me anxious. But when it gets bigger and bigger..." He trails off. "My mum and dad have come to a lot of shows on this tour as well. You just just pull those around you close to you – your friends and the people who have been there from the start. And you have to not take things too seriously. I can see how people lose their footing in it all, and how you can start to think that maybe you're more important than you are – because people pretend that you are. The idea of celebrity is stupid, I think. But as long as you know that and you remind yourself of that, it's for the better. To be fair, I'm not Justin Bieber or Ed Sheeran – I'm not getting chased down the street. It's just a couple of people asking me for pictures when I'm out and about, so it's not a big deal, really."
He may not have reached Sheeran-esque levels of fame yet, but the success of his debut album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, and his breakthrough single, Someone You Loved, suggest that he may have lain the groundwork for it. He jokes about how they haven’t erected a blue plaque or statue of him in his hometown of East Whitburn – a small village 25 miles from Glasgow – yet.
"I think they wait til you're dead until you have a plaque erected – otherwise, when you're still alive, people can still say they don't like you," he says. "But when you're dead, everyone's like 'Right, okay, give him a plaque'. To be fair, I don't anticipate getting a plaque. We did just see the... what's the one, the guy's head? Luke Kelly, " he says, referring to the bust of the Dubliner near the 3Arena. "I wouldn't mind one of those. It's more interesting than a plaque, anyway. I'd love a big head of me, screaming. That'd be quite nice."
Capaldi says he always wanted to work in music in some way; he was learning instruments at the age of two and played his first gig at nine. “I think I was destined to do something in music – maybe a music teacher or in a wedding band, stuff like that,” he nods. “But this level of things was never really on the cards. It’s all very strange.”
Navigating that strangeness has also involved other people in his social sphere. The most obvious has been his ex-girlfriend Paige Turley, who won the most recent series of Love Island (he denied that Someone You Loved was about her, but admitted that she did inspire Hold Me While You Wait). Ever the gentleman, he agrees that hearing coattail-riders use his name as leverage is weird, but denies that she is one of them.
“I wouldn’t say the Paige thing was her latching on to me, at all. She was offered an amazing opportunity, so crack on, know what I mean?” he shrugs. “But it’s very weird to see people coming out of the woodwork that you don’t know; family members that you don’t really speak to who are now, all of a sudden, best pals. This is a bit of a – CLANG, NAMEDROP – here... but we did a couple of shows with Ed Sheeran at the end of last year, and we had lunch and we were talking about this stuff. I was asking him how he deals with it, and he said, ‘Fame and being famous and all the success... it doesn’t change you at all. It changes everyone else around you – and that’s where you have to start being a bit more careful.’ At the time, we’d had a number one with Someone You Loved, but things didn’t feel at the same point as they are now, and I’m kind of starting to see that now. So that was a really valuable piece of information.”
He may joke about dropping Sheeran's name, but whether he likes it or not, he is kind of a big deal at the moment. The most famous name he has in his phone right now is Sam Smith's, having toured with them (non-binary terminology alert) last year. And he has struck up quite the bromance with one of our own, Niall Horan. The pair have even written music together.
“We have recorded a song together, yeah,” he confirms. “I don’t know if it’s ever going to come out, but yeah, we’ve done it. We’re talking about maybe performing it together on tour in America. It was really fun writing with him, and he’s f**king really good at it, so maybe somewhere down the line it’d be cool to release something. Has he taken me for a night out in Mullingar? No, not yet – I really want to, though. I really am a big fan of getting pished, so I think it’d be quite a good laugh to do that.”
Pretty much everything is going right for Lewis Capaldi at the moment, but it’s no surprise to find that someone like him, with an anxious mind, is already worrying about the future. He’s not a one-hit-wonder, but he does spend time thinking about how he can keep this thing moving – and is realistic about his prospects of sustaining the momentum.
Then there’s the “difficult second album” to consider. “What have I got planned for that? F**k all, is the short answer,” he chuckles. “I’ve got loads of melodies and stuff, and I’ve got the bones of songs that I really think are special – but again, it’s kind of what you write about that sets it apart, I think. For me, that’ll probably be about... well... I dunno, because I haven’t really thought about it yet,” he says, laughing before turning serious once again. “Music moves so fast and I’ve said this before, but there’s such a finite amount of artists who are able to sustain things at this level or beyond for a long time. You’re talking about Beyonce, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Drake, all these people. This,” he says gesturing around him, “probably won’t last for that long and to think that I’d be in that category is very foolish. So when it comes to that, and thinking about the second album? Right now, I’m just enjoying this. I’m gonna try to throw myself into this as much as possible, and we’ll just see what happens with the next one, eh?”