He conquered the charts with Years & Years, then won acclaim for his extraordinary performance in It’s a Sin. As he returns to pop – on his own – he reflects on what he’s learned
Olly Alexander bounds down the stairs of his flat to greet me with a hug. It’s a big flat, stretched over two floors, huge windows overlooking a pretty London park. There are books everywhere, in scattered, haphazard piles; he is just about to start Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles, a gift from a friend. There’s a Joni Mitchell songbook propped up on his piano, and there are massive houseplants all over the place. He left his old flat, not too far from here, after several lockdowns, because it didn’t have any outdoor space. This one, which has a huge balcony, is rented, so he didn’t buy the furniture, but the plants are his. “I’m a plant gay,” he quips, drily.
Alexander has a puppyish energy. He is lively and charming and clearly very sensitive. On his sofa, he curls his legs underneath him, his trademark red hair (he once told Rihanna she inspired it) tucked under a baseball cap on which is printed Business of Pleasure. He is fun and chatty and acutely self-aware: he was in the audience for the Adele ITV live special recently, among an extraordinary buffet of celebrities, and he serves up good gossip about a couple of them, doing a brief, uncanny impression of Mel B. Boy George was sitting near him, which leads us on to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, a reality show that Boy George appears in and that Alexander became obsessed with during lockdown. “I won’t go on and on about The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, even though I could … ” he says – and then he does.