‘Prince William asked me if I was the guy from the big house on Fame Academy and I said you live in a fairly big house your­self... he just laughed!’

Malachi Cush shot to fame on one of tele­vi­sion’s first singing con­tests. Now, in a new UTV se­ries, he in­ter­views fa­mous faces in­clud­ing Phil Coul­ter, Glo­ria Hun­ni­ford and Ea­monn Holmes. He tells Stephanie Bell why he’s glad to have hit the big time be­fore

Belfast Telegraph - - LIFE - Back Home starts on UTV on Tues­day at 7.30pm

It is 16 years since a young gas fit­ter from Co Ty­rone ner­vously en­tered one of TV’s first re­al­ity singing shows, Fame Academy, and made it all the way to the fi­nal five. It was the first time 23-year-old Malachi Cush has stepped out­side North­ern Ire­land and the ex­pe­ri­ence trans­formed his life be­yond his wildest dreams.

Overnight, he went from an be­ing an un­known to a young star mix­ing with celebri­ties and even roy­alty — he once stood chat­ting with Prince William in a night­club toi­let.

He went on to en­joy great mu­si­cal suc­cess and his easy man­ner and sooth­ing voice were soon picked up by TV and ra­dio where he has proven a nat­u­ral as a pre­sen­ter.

Now set to re­turn to our screens next week for a new six-part se­ries on UTV called Back Home, Malachi may be a lit­tle bit older and wiser but he is still filled with grat­i­tude for the break he got all those years ago.

Film­ing over the past six months, he is ex­cited about the new se­ries which will see him take some of North­ern Ire­land’s big­gest stars on a trip down mem­ory lane, re­vis­it­ing sig­nif­i­cant places from their child­hood.

Glo­ria Hun­ni­ford, Ea­monn Holmes, Phil Coul­ter and many more big names all opened up to Malachi in front of the cam­era in what he says were very per­sonal and can­did in­ter­views about their lives grow­ing up here.

Life is busy for the 37-year-old with tour­ing com­mit­ments and plans to record a new al­bum.

Mar­ried to Claire and still liv­ing in his home town of Don­agh­more, Malachi says he con­tin­ues to marvel at the un­ex­pected turn his life took when, un­known to him, his fa­ther en­tered him for the Fame Academy show.

He spent 12 weeks of the 14-week run of the se­ries in the Fame Academy house where he got the chance to hone his skills as a singer, per­former and song­writer, some­thing for which he is grate­ful to this day.

It was be­fore The X Fac­tor and The Voice and also be­fore the days of so­cial me­dia, some­thing he is also grate­ful for.

“When I got the let­ter for the au­di­tion I thought some­one was tak­ing the hand out of me,” he says. “It was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I think it was a bless­ing be­cause it was the first of its kind, be­fore the days of X Fac­tor and also be­fore so­cial me­dia.

“When we were in the house we weren’t aware of what per­cep­tion peo­ple had of us, whereas nowa­days con­tes­tants know ev­ery­thing through so­cial me­dia.

“We were fo­cused on our per­for­mances and learn­ing and de­vel­op­ing our skills and I still at­tribute a lot of my skills to­day to that.

“I would never have called my­self a song­writer and that ex­pe­ri­ence gave me con­fi­dence to write my own songs.

“I think for new kids com­ing up who en­ter a process like that my ad­vice would be that they need to be pre­pared to work hard and put the ef­fort in.”

While he feels that X Fac­tor is more about en­ter­tain­ment than tal­ent, if he were a young per­son to­day want­ing a big break he says he wouldn’t hes­i­tate to au­di­tion for it.

“Hav­ing lived the life I have, with hind­sight I would do Fame Academy again and, if I was a young kid grow­ing up to­day with some tal­ent and not get­ting any­where, the X Fac­tor would ap­peal to me,” he says. “I think X Fac­tor let too many acts through for the gim­mick value and maybe they are not the great­est tal­ent on the night. “There is no doubt that it has pro­duced big stars like Olly Murs who is an ex­cep­tional tal­ent. I met Olly and I know he works re­ally hard.

“It is a cruel world to be in and you have to have a thick skin as there is so many crit­ics now on­line and con­tes­tants are ex­posed to that.”

Like many peo­ple in the pub­lic eye, Malachi is ac­tive on Twit­ter and has ex­pe­ri­enced the harsh side of so­cial me­dia.

One troll at­tack in par­tic­u­lar a few years ago shocked him be­cause of the nasty na­ture of the mes­sages.

He re­calls: “I’ve had pretty nasty stuff put on so­cial me­dia which was com­pletely un­war­ranted and just be­cause some­body de­cided to take a swipe at me.

“I am thick-skinned and I didn’t labour over it, although it did af­fect me and I can see how it would af­fect the con­fi­dence of younger peo­ple and I re­ally think it is some­thing that needs to be ad­dressed.

“I never re­sponded to it and even­tu­ally he got bored and moved on to some­one else.”

Not one to court con­tro­versy, it was sur­pris­ing that Malachi de­cided to put his head above the po­lit­i­cal para­pet last year to sign a let­ter sent “from mem­bers of civic so­ci­ety” call­ing on the Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar to sup­port na­tion­al­ists in North­ern Ire­land.

The un­prece­dented “ur­gent ap­peal” to Mr Varad­kar was sent amid con­cerns that the DUP’s deal with the Govern­ment at West­min­ster was a threat to the po­lit­i­cal process.

Malachi in­sists he is not po­lit­i­cal but purely as “a con­cerned cit­i­zen” who is wor­ried about Brexit he felt com­pelled to add his name to the let­ter.

“I just feel con­cerned in gen­eral terms about where we are go­ing and I’m also con­fused about what Brexit means to us as there doesn’t seem to be any clar­ity,” he says.

“I think peo­ple in gen­eral are con­cerned and when I was asked to sign the let­ter I just thought that some­times we tend to say noth­ing and that is fine, but be­cause of my con­cerns I felt that I should have a say.

“I think some­times the con­cern of peo­ple on the ground is un­der­es­ti­mated and no one is ex­plain­ing any­thing.

“I am one of those peo­ple that doesn’t un­der­stand what Brexit will mean for us and I think there are a lot of peo­ple like that, and I sup­pose I hoped it might help get our politi­cians work­ing to­gether again and give us a clearer pic­ture.”

While we have be­come used to see­ing Malachi on TV, it hasn’t been to the detri­ment of his singing. His mu­sic ca­reer has run in tan­dem with broad­cast­ing and he is plan­ning two tours this De­cem­ber, one with Phil Coul­ter as well as a tour of Amer­ica in the new year.

He is still writ­ing new songs and work­ing on an­other al­bum which he hopes to fin­ish by next spring.

Malachi walked away from Fame Academy with a record­ing con­tract and his de­but al­bum, Malachi, en­tered the UK Top 20 al­bum chart as well as the Ir­ish al­bum chart, earn­ing a sil­ver disc.

He has recorded an­other four al­bums — Celtic Heart­beat, New Day, Time­less Tra­di­tions and Songs for the Soul.

A song he wrote him­self for his first al­bum, Just Say You Love Me, be­came an un­ex­pected hit in the Far East, hold­ing the num­ber one spot in Thai­land for five weeks.

It made him a star in the coun­try where he toured three times, play­ing huge venues to sell-out crowds.

It is one of many sur­real mo­ments of his ca­reer.

“I look back on a lot of these things with a smile on my face and it is still hard to be­lieve what hap­pened,” he says.

“There have been a lot of tough days but also a lot of joy­ous days.

“The Thai­land thing came about as a re­sult of a happy ac­ci­dent. Some­one from Uni­ver­sal Records from Thai­land was at a meet­ing in Lon­don and my sin­gle hap­pened to be play­ing in the back­ground.

“He heard it and de­cided to try me out in his re­gion and if he hadn’t been in that of­fice at that time it wouldn’t have hap­pened.

“I did three dif­fer­ent tours in Thai­land and they only ever wanted to hear ma­te­rial from my first al­bum. Even now on­line you see clips of peo­ple from Thai­land singing Just Say You Love Me which al­ways amazes me.

“It was com­pletely sur­real at the age of 23 to be do­ing ex­ten­sive tours there in venues that were stuffed with fans, it was bizarre.”

An­other sur­real mo­ment was find­ing him­self shar­ing a uri­nal and a joke with Prince William.

It was shortly af­ter Fame Academy and he was in­vited to Lon­don Ir­ish Rugby Club to sing the Na­tional An­them at one of their games.

At a pri­vate party af­ter­wards in one of Lon­don’s top night­clubs, the club’s chair­men blagged their way into the VIP area.

“I went to the toi­let and the next thing Prince William was stand­ing be­side me and I didn’t know whether to speak to him or not,” he says.

“The Fame Academy house had been owned by the Sul­tan of Dubai and was fairly fa­mous. I was wash­ing my paws and Prince William came over to do the same and said ‘Malachi you’re the guy from the big house on Fame Academy’ and I said back ‘you live in a fairly big house your­self ’ and he just laughed.

“I got to talk to him and Harry was also there. They were great craic. It was a nice mo­ment and I have dined out on that story for years.”

Through­out what has been a mag­i­cal ca­reer, Malachi says his fam­ily has al­ways en­sured he stayed grounded.

This down-to-earth qual­ity is some­thing which struck Malachi most about the big stars he met for his new UTV se­ries.

In the se­ries, Malachi meets each celebrity guest on their ar­rival back home to North­ern Ire­land and ac­com­pa­nies them on a jour­ney back in time to their child­hood haunts.

“I was born in the Eight­ies and grew up with the likes of Ea­monn Holmes and Glo­ria Hun­ni­ford on TV,” he says.

“It was lovely get­ting to know them bet­ter and hear all their sto­ries. There was some­thing about go­ing back in time that grounded them all.

“See­ing Glo­ria walk­ing those streets again in Por­ta­d­own and vis­it­ing her old school and lis­ten­ing to her talk about the im­pact it had on her life to­day was fas­ci­nat­ing. No mat­ter what or where they have trav­elled, none of them have for­got­ten their roots.

“In the first episode on Tues­day with Phil Coul­ter, he goes back to the spot in Bun­do­ran where his brother and sis­ter both died in sep­a­rate drown­ing tragedies in­side 12 months.

“It is the first time he has gone back an­di­ti­sav­erye­mo­tional­mo­ment.

“It was all very in-depth and very per­sonal and their will­ing­ness to be open and hon­est about their lives.

“For all of them they still put fam­ily at the heart of their lives and I think that is some­thing that is unique to us here in North­ern Ire­land.

“In about ev­ery case you are told to keep your feet on the ground; I know I grew up hear­ing that and all of the stars came across much grounded.”

Malachi Cush has con­nected with stars like Glo­ria Hun­ni­ford (right)in his new UTV se­ries Back Home

Malachi Cush with Ea­monn Holmes and (right) song­writer Phil Coul­ter

Malachi with his wife Claire and (top) per­form­ing on Fame Academy

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