15 Jun 19
The Scottish Sun
FOR Ricky Wilson, life is good. Really good. Step forward Grace Zito, his stunning fiancée, who he proposed to in April last year on bended knee flanked by Reedus – the couple’s chocolate Labradoodle – in a band stand at Greenhead Park in Huddersfield.
“I’d kept the ring in the pocket I keep the dog treats in, so he was all over the ring,” recalls Ricky, 41. “I got on one knee, he put both paws on my leg and it was really funny, then Grace said: ‘You’re joking?!’”
Ricky Wilson says he and Grace are trying for a baby but wish to get married first
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They met five years ago when she styled Kaiser Chiefs for their 2014 video My Life. She later worked with Ricky on The Voice and they began dating six months after he quit the talent show following his split from long-term girlfriend, television producer Lesley Williams.
They live in north London but are contemplating moving “somewhere a bit more leafy” in anticipation of “the next big adventure” – growing a family.
“Our marble spiral staircase isn’t that conducive to kids, but that’s not saying anything’s happening right now,” he adds.
Given his desire for children have they, ahem, started trying?
Ricky Wilson admits he’s much vainer now thanks to weight loss and improved teeth
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“We’re practising!” he says with an exaggerated raise of the eyebrow. “I’d like to get married first. There’s some old Italian grandparents [on Grace’s side] that probably wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t! There’s no date set for the wedding but it’ll be churchy, followed by a big party with music from a DJ.
“I don’t like watching bands – I get jealous,” he admits. “We’ll be watching Coldplay at Wembley and Grace will say: ‘Why aren’t you enjoying it?’ and I’ll say: ‘I am enjoying it.’ And then she’ll ask: ‘Why aren’t you dancing and singing?’ and I’ll say: ‘Cos I’m jealous because that’s not me!’”
Whenever he and Grace, 31, say “I do”, would Ricky consider selling the pictures to a glossy magazine?
“I did think how amazing it would be to sell your photographs and give the money to charity because it would really f**k everyone else up who sells their photographs,” he says mischievously.
Ricky, 41, says stunning fiancée Grace Jito met him at his ‘absolute worst’
Grace isn’t the only reason that Ricky is on such top form. As well as bagging some impressive solo gigs since leaving The Voice two years ago after three series – including his own show on Radio X and filling in for Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2 – now comes the icing on the cake. The release of the Kaisers’ seventh studio album next month sees the boys returning to their original record label Polydor on a lucrative deal.
The enormous success of their 2005 debut album Employment – which sold more than 2 million copies and produced hits such as I Predict A Riot, Oh My God and Every Day I Love You Less And Less – was followed by the No.1 Yours Truly, Angry Mob. But after that, the band – Ricky, Andrew White, Simon Rix, Vijay Mistry and Nick Baines – watched with disappointment as subsequent efforts achieved unremarkable sales.
But there’s a buzz building around Duck, and Ricky has said it’s given him a second wind.
“People are really excited about it and talking about it like it’s already a hit, and that’s not happened in a long time,” he says.
Ricky says he almost had a breakdown while filming The Voice
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Ricky had one objective for stepping into the glitzy world of reality TV in 2013 – to boost public awareness of Kaiser Chiefs and flog albums – and the plan, he declares proudly, “totally” worked.
“You can’t just sit at home and expect the music to do all the work for you,” he says.
The Voice changed everything for Ricky, humanising him and diluting the wild on-stage rock star persona.
In the beginning there were reports of his on-set nerves being so bad he needed anti-anxiety tablets.
Ricky Wilson feels the need to stop and take every photo with fans
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The rough-around-the-edges Ricky was softened by an endearing vulnerability, and he won the show twice in 2014 and 2015.
Once neurotic about being misinterpreted or misquoted in interviews and therefore closely guarded about his private life, Ricky says immersing himself in prime-time TV has opened his eyes to the power of being more transparent.
“I thought: ‘Ah, right, this is a part of my life that people want to know about and you can’t hide it, especially now with social media.’ It’s all about inviting people in rather than closing doors. There was an ownership about me that they didn’t have before.
“I have to stop for every photograph now or I’m a bastard, whereas before, if I didn’t, it was a bit rock ‘n’ roll.”
The Kaiser Chiefs have achieved massive success since releasing their debut album in 2005
The transition will be obvious to listeners of Duck, which has more emotional songs than the Chiefs are known for, including one where Ricky reveals his longing for kids.
Ricky says Grace met him when he was at his “absolute worst” – broken-hearted after the split from Lesley and feeling thoroughly overwhelmed by the pressure of juggling television duties with recording the album Education, Education, Education & War.
“She’s not only seen me in my pants, she’s also seen me really miserable,” he explains. “It was really tough and I wasn’t coping very well with that. People were getting me through the last season of The Voice without me having a breakdown on TV.”
Ricky first encountered anxiety as a child, growing up in Leeds with parents Glynne and Geoff and brother James. He’d vomit whenever he was nervous – “it was like a fear of impending doom” – and the problem continued well into his Kaiser Chiefs career.
Ricky Wilson with The Voice winner Kevin Simm in 2016
“I used to throw up every time before I went on stage. It’s like a migraine in your stomach – an intestinal migraine. I don’t do it any more because I understand what I’m feeling. Sometimes now if I’m feeling anxiety, I just imagine I’m excited, and it turns it around in my head. That’s my little trick.”
Rather than damaging his career, Ricky believes his mental health issues have enhanced it by encouraging him to overcome daunting situations, pushing him out of his comfort zone.
“It’s something to stand up against. It’s kind of made me who I am,” he says, adding he ditched anti-anxiety medication because it dulled his “fear of consequence”.
Exercise helps calm his mind naturally, although Ricky admits he doesn’t do as much as he used to. In the lead-up to his debut on The Voice he shed 2st by cutting out junk food and running 10 miles a day. He now tots up five miles three times a week or more, but isn’t keen to shout about his fitness regime.
Ricky says fiancée Grace just ‘makes everything perfect’
“I don’t really want to celebrate that because you don’t really want to remind people that you have to go running to not be 16st,” he jokes. “Because I would be. And I plan on being it again one day. I can’t wait!”
There’s a smattering of shirtless holiday pictures on Ricky’s Instagram feed, including one in Menorca, which he jokingly captioned: “It’s like Daniel Craig never happened.”
It’s typical Ricky – self-deprecating and tinged with dry, northern humour. But beneath the jesting is he actually Mr Confident?
“I only post those if I’m feeling very good about myself, but I am in my 40s. Compared to some of the guys I went to school with I’m doing pretty well.”
Ricky Wilson says the perfect selfie requires a dog to ensure it gets likes
Thanks to the weight loss and improved teeth – Ricky had Invisalign braces to straighten his smile, followed by whitening – he looks sharp and polished compared to his bloated early Kaiser Chiefs days.
Ricky is the first to admit he’s vainer now. “Yes, I do think I am, and I really don’t think it’s a negative thing in moderation because even if I’m walking on stage, if I’m feeling better about myself, then I do a better job.”
He’s never touched Botox and isn’t the biggest drinker, even plumping for the occasional alcohol-free spell, including just before Christmas two years ago following an embarrassing booze bender at an awards do. According to one report, it saw him deliver an “X-rated rant” about his The Voice successor Olly Murs and fall over a barrier three times before being mistaken for a drunken fan by Cate Blanchett’s protection team.
Ouch. The morning after that performance must have featured off-the-scale beer fear.
Ricky Wilson left The Voice two years ago but has continued to have an impressive career
“Oh, totally,” shudders Ricky. “That did stop me drinking for a while.”
He has zero memory of what he said that night, but has since bumped into Olly and there were apparently no hard feelings.
“He’s a really nice guy,” he enthuses.
Tom Jones says the same of Ricky in his autobiography Over The Top And Back, which is on display – open on the relevant page – in Ricky’s second home in Falmouth.
Ricky says he stepped into the world of reality TV in 2013 to boost public awareness of the Kaiser Chiefs
“I only get one sentence,” laughs Ricky, adopting a thick Welsh accent to recite: “‘Then I met Ricky Wilson. Nice bloke. No bullshit.’ I’m thinking: ‘If that is my epitaph, I’m happy with that.’”
Not everyone has been as complimentary as Sir Tom, though. Ricky recalls Tory leadership hopeful Boris Johnson once wrote a scathing newspaper comment piece about Kaiser Chiefs.
“He said: ‘These epic softies, the weeds from Leeds, write songs about predicting riots. When I was a kid, rock stars incited riots, they didn’t predict them.’ I was like, you want people to incite riots? D**k!
“I was next to him once at some traffic lights. I was on my Brompton bike. I may have felt a little bit like giving him a shove, but I’m not that kind of person.”
Ricky Wilson and Grace Zito at the NME Awards in 2016
It’s true. Ricky has never been the sort to throw tellies out of windows, and his band has long been regarded by the music press as less cool than their counterparts.
But what exactly is cool these days? Ricky has his own definition.
“The other day I was in a hotel room. I’d bought some Lego and thought: ‘The fact I can just buy a Lego kit, make it and leave it in the room – that’s rock ‘n’ roll!’ If I was really rock ’n’ roll, I’d probably be dead. I don’t think the coolest people in the world even know or care that they are. The coolest thing is to not really care.”
Just over a year ago, before his 40th birthday, Ricky “liberated” himself by abandoning superstitions like never stepping over three pavement drains.
The new Kaiser Chiefs album Duck is out on July 26
“I used to walk through town like I was doing hopscotch,” he laughs. “Now, I go the opposite way.
I walk under ladders, I break mirrors, I don’t care any more. I used to be saluting magpies all day.
What’s the point? Only good things have happened since.”
Of course, Grace has been integral to Ricky’s new-found contentment.
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“She makes everything better,” he says, adding that only a few days ago he was overcome thinking about how his life has panned out.
“I was on the sofa – it was just me, Grace and the dog. She was doing a mood board for some styling thing and the dog was lying in front of the TV watching The One Show, and I had this overwhelming feeling of joy. I thought: ‘This is perfect.’”
Ricky’s voice suddenly cracks. “Sorry,” he smiles, and his eyes are brimming with tears. Then he drops to a whisper: “I’m not going to cry! You don’t know what’s around the corner, and that’s awfully exciting.
There are many adventures to be had.”
Kaiser Chiefs’ new single People Know How To Love One Another is out now. Duck is out on July 26.
[boxout headline=”FEELING SOCIABLE “]
Favourite platform? Instagram – there’s no negativity. Sometimes on Twitter people say some awful stuff about how they’d like you to die, then you click on their picture and it’s them on the beach with their kids.
Insta fave? I like @Kirbyjenner – he’s a guy that pretends to be Kendall Jenner’s brother and Photoshops himself in with the Jenners and Kardashians. Also @Paul_danan_official. It’s not him, it’s a guy who just talks about celebrities from the ’90s, and he does it so well.
Funniest person on Twitter? @Smithsara79. I don’t know who she is, but I find her very amusing!
Are you on Facebook? No. I still have an account but I wouldn’t know the password.
How do you take the perfect selfie? Get the dog in it and it’ll get likes! All my most liked photos do.
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Grooming: Sara Bowden using Giorgio Armani and Bumble and Bumble
Styling: Zoe Kozlik
Stylist’s assistant: Lara Macintosh