Oliver Alexander Thornton
15 July 1990
|Alma mater||Hereford College of Arts|
|Associated acts||Years & Years, Elton John, Pet Shop Boys|
Alexander was born in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. His mother, Vicki Thornton, was one of the founders of the Coleford Music Festival. Alexander attended St John's Primary School in Coleford and Monmouth Comprehensive School. While at Monmouth Comprehensive School, he acted in two school plays: Guys and Dolls, as Benny, and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, as the Corporal. After completing his GCSEs, Alexander studied Performing Arts at the Hereford College of Arts. The New York Times reported that he wrote his first song on his father's Casio keyboard aged 10. His parents separated when he was 13 and he along with his brother was thereafter brought up solely by his mother.
He obtained the services of an agent when he was 16, while auditioning for a part in British TV series Skins. In a YouTube video uploaded from NylonMagazineTV, Alexander said he dropped out of the Hereford College of Arts to pursue his acting career as parts were offered, stating: "I started acting when I was young; it just sort of happened. I dropped out of school to work around the world, which was amazing." "I really wanted to become a singer or a musician ... All of a sudden I was an actor. It was never something I'd set my heart on being. I'm still trying to work it out ... I really hated school because I was totally bullied. But you're never bullied in drama class because the weird kids do well in drama class. That's a safe place". Alexander was interviewed about his mental health by Guardian columnist Owen Jones. He further expanded on his bullying, bulimia and early life experiences during a 2021 interview in the same publication.
Alexander's acting career began in the film Summerhill released in 2008. His next film Bright Star was nominated for an Academy Award in the United States for Best Achievement in Costume Design. He acted in the 2009 released films Tormented starring Alex Pettyfer and Enter the Void. In 2010 he played Evan in the Bush Theatre production of The Aliens. Alexander contributed to the script and music for indie film The Dish & the Spoon, released in early 2011. In 2012, he appeared in the theatre production of Mercury Fur, taking the part of Naz at The Old Red Lion, Islington.
From March to June 2013, Alexander starred as Peter Pan in the West End play Peter and Alice acting alongside Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench. Alexander also had a supporting role in the final series of Skins, playing Cassie Ainsworth's stalker in the two-part episode "Skins Pure", which aired in July 2013. Also in 2013 Google Analytics released an internal corporate video which features Alexander as a demanding shopper under the sub heading "That is what happens when you save on usability".
Alexander plays one of the main characters in the 2014 musical feature film God Help the Girl, where he also sings and plays guitar. The film was written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, the lead singer of the group Belle and Sebastian, as part of the God Help the Girl project.
Alexander also appeared in The Riot Club, the film adaptation of Laura Wade's stage play Posh alongside British actors Sam Claflin, Max Irons and Douglas Booth. Alexander briefly portrayed the vampire Fenton in the British-American horror series Penny Dreadful in episodes aired in 2014.
In the indie film, Funny Bunny first premièred at SXSW 2015, Alexander plays Titty, a troubled teenager in the comedy drama. The film was directed and written by Alison Bagnall, who directed The Dish & the Spoon, while Alexander was a co-writer together with the other two leads. The film was shown at art houses during the summer and was theatrically released on 13 November 2015.
In January 2021, Alexander appeared in a leading role in Russell T Davies' Channel 4 and HBO Max drama It's a Sin which depicts gay life in the 1980s and early 1990s. The show and Alexander's performance earned critical acclaim, with some critics expressing their desire for Alexander to win a BAFTA for his performance.
Years & Years formed in 2010, with Alexander joining the band as lead vocalist after member Mikey Goldsworthy heard him singing in the shower and liked his voice. Alexander's voice has been commented on for its unique tone, with the music being described as "Nina Simone ...crooning a melodic lullaby to the folktronic lovechild of Beach House and Terry Riley".
Their debut single "I Wish I Knew" was released in July 2012 on the Good Bait label, with the band performing as a five-piece group. In 2013, the group signed a deal to the French label Kitsuné as a three-piece and released their second single, called "Traps" in September 2013 which achieved support from Radio 1 and Radio 6, as well as many online publications such as The Guardian and The Fader. "Traps" also features on Kitsuné Maison's 15th compilation.
The band released their second single "Real" on Kitsuné and iTunes in February 2014. The music video featured an appearance from Alexander's Peter and Alice co-star, Ben Whishaw, and former Misfits actor Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. Telling the story in The Independent article of 28 July 2015 of the Ben Whishaw effect (most recent James Bond Q actor), the video received eight and a half million views online, and in 2014 they also changed their record label from the French smaller label Kitsuné to Polydor as they gained prominence. In January 2015, they were announced winners of the BBC's Sound of... vote.
Years & Years' most successful single, "King" released under Polydor, headed straight to number one in the UK Single Chart in March 2015, earning the band national recognition. Their debut studio album, Communion, was released on 10 July 2015 and entered the UK Albums Chart at number 1.
As a gay songwriter, Alexander has stated in interviews he would like to see greater use of the qualified male pronoun in music. He explained that when he used to write in a diary, he would refer to "you and I" because he wanted to hide who he was writing about. Several Years & Years songs feature male pronouns. "It is kind of sad to me that we don't have gay popstars singing about men using a male pronoun," he told Digital Spy, "but that could change hopefully." Though his work with Years & Years openly references his sexuality, Alexander "can't speak for all gay people, because there are so many different issues, and experiences, and different shapes and sizes. But I can speak for myself, and that is what I'm doing if I'm going to be writing songs and giving interviews, I want to be able to speak about something I care about." Years & Years' second studio album, titled Palo Santo, was released on 6 July 2018 and features hits like "If You're Over Me" and "Sanctify". On 14 August 2018, "If You're Over Me" was certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry and announced via the band's Twitter account
In September 2018, Years & Years released the official music video for "All For You", featuring an angelic version of Alexander dancing within an abandoned warehouse before transforming into a demonic version of himself and engaging in a dance-off with an android.
Alexander collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on their 2019 single 'Dreamland,' and later released a cover of their hit 'It's a Sin' to coincide with his starring role in the drama series of the same name.
Advocacy, politics and personal life
Through various interviews and charity campaigns, he has promoted safer sex and HIV screening, and anti-LGBT bullying initiatives. He has also spoken openly about his own struggles with depression, self-harm, eating disorders and anxiety from age 13 onwards. He is openly gay, and in 2017, he presented a BBC Three documentary investigating the link between being gay and the development of mental health disorders where he opened up about his bulimia. In 2018, Alexander was part of Sport Relief's attempt to raise awareness of mental health alongside other celebrities Nadiya Hussain and Stephen Fry.
From May 2015, Alexander was in a relationship with musician Neil Milan Amin-Smith, who was in Clean Bandit. Due to scheduling conflicts whilst on tour and recording, they parted at the end of 2015.
At the 2016 Glastonbury Festival, Alexander took to the stage with his band Years & Years in rainbow ensemble in celebration of PRIDE Week and made headlines with his spur-of-the-moment speech in light of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
In September 2018, Alexander won GQ's Award "Live act of the year". The award was presented to him by Héloïse Letissier, and in his acceptance speech, Alexander advocated for the LGBTQ community and Mental Health Awareness Month, particularly in regard to men.
In the same month, Alexander took part in a video campaign "The Flag We Shouldn't Be Proud Of" for World Suicide Prevention Day, holding up a rainbow flag with two colours ripped from it, and was quoted: "This is the flag we shouldn't be proud of. A flag that represents the two in six LGBTQ people we risk losing to suicide."
In October 2018, British GQ posted an interview between Alexander and Alastair Campbell where he spoke about his struggles with self-harm and eating disorders, his experiences in 2018 with homophobia, his political views on Brexit and Donald Trump. In the interview he said he voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, supported Corbyn as Prime Minister and called Trump "repugnant" and "repulsive".
During Years & Years' performance on the Pyramid Stage at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival, Alexander gave a speech promoting LGBTQ+ rights and calling for the elimination of racism, ableism and sexism. The speech earned praise from fans and media.
Awards and honours
In June 2020, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named him among the 50 heroes "leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people".
|2009||Bright Star||Tom Keats|
|2009||Enter the Void||Victor|
|2010||Gulliver's Travels||Prince August|
|2010||The Dish & the Spoon||Boy|
|2012||Cheerful Weather for the Wedding||Tom|
|2012||Great Expectations||Herbert Pocket|
|2014||God Help the Girl||James|
|2014||The Riot Club||Toby Maitland|
|2009||Lewis||Hayden Wishart||"Allegory of Love"||ITV|
|2013||Skins||Jakob||"Skins Pure (Part 1 & 2)"||E4|
|2014||Penny Dreadful||Fenton||"Resurrection" and "Demimonde"||Sky Atlantic|
|2017||Growing Up Gay||Himself/Host||Documentary||BBC iPlayer|
|2019||Celebrity Gogglebox||Himself||4 episodes||Channel 4|
|2021||It's a Sin||Ritchie Tozer||Main role (5 episodes)||Channel 4|
|2021||Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway||Himself||Star Guest Announcer (Series 17 Episode 1)||ITV|
|September–October 2010||The Aliens||Bush Theatre London||Ralf Little and Mackenzie Crook|
|March–April 2012||Mercury Fur||Old Red Lion Theatre||Ciaran Owens, Frank Keogh, Ben Dilloway, Katie Scarfe, Henry Lewis, James Fynan|
|March–June 2013||Peter and Alice||Noël Coward Theatre||Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw|
|2013||Google Analytics in Real Life Site Search||Demanding Shopper|
- "Hot kids on the block: Years & Years interview". Evening Standard. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
- "Happy birthday, Olly Alexander!". Gay Times. 15 July 2016. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
- "the insider: olly alexander". NYLON. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
- Sullivan, Caroline (5 March 2015). "Years & Years: from Riot Club posh boys to No 1 stars". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
- Alexander, Olly (June 2015). "Vicki Thornton & Olly Alexander – Backstage at performance of Years & Years Shephards Bush Theatre". Instagram. Archived from the original on 24 June 2015.
- "Good golly, Olly's off to Hollywood!". Gloucester Citizen. 4 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
- "Chart joy for Years and Years as Coleford singer Olly Alexander's group hits top spot". Gloucester Citizen. 9 March 2015. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
- Staddon, Katie. "Curtis Brown Representation CV of Olly Alexander". curtisbrown.co.uk. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
- Hereford College of Arts website.
- "Hereford College of Arts – Olly Alexander from Years & Years". Hereford College of Arts. 23 December 2014. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
- Schou, Solvey (1 July 2015). "Olly Alexander Releases His Debut Album With Years & Years". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
- Robinson, Peter (9 July 2015). "I'm a Convincingly Happy Human Being". Pop Justice. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
- Young Hollywood 2010 — Olly Alexander. YouTube. 10 May 2010.
- Morgan, Ruth (February 2015). "Singing in the shower got me the Job". redbulletin.com. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
- Chang, Kee (26 August 2014). "Q&A with Olly Alexander". Anthemmagazine.com. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
- Jones, Owen (26 January 2016). 'My mental health is a positive part of me' — Owen Jones meets Olly Alexander. YouTube. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
- Jones, Owen (26 January 2016). "Olly Alexander: 'You start to think you're alone and crazy but help is out there'". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
- "The 82nd Academy Awards 2010". Oscars.Org. 7 March 2010. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
- "Olly wows the critics in The Aliens". Gloucestercitizen.co.uk. 30 September 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
- "Interview – The Aliens at The Bush Theatre". The Bush Theatre. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
- "Music from The Dish & the Spoon: The Whale (Single) (2011) Music by Olly Alexander". Soundtrack.Net. 25 February 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
- Bayes, Honour (5 April 2012). "Mercury Fur – Love among the ruins". Exeuntmagazine.com. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
- "Google Analytics In Real Life Site Search". Google Corporate Material. 11 September 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
- Barton, Steve (12 January 2015). "Penny Dreadful". Dread Central. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
- Salovaara, Sarah (13 March 2015). ""You Can't Make This Stuff Up": Alison Bagnall on Funny Bunny". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
- Goolsby, Joshua. "Funny Bunny by Alison Bagnall". Indie Film Picks. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
- "Funny Bunny". Indiewire.com. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
- "Olly Alexander on 'It's A Sin': "There's not been a British Aids drama on this scale ever"". NME | Music, Film, TV, Gaming & Pop Culture News. 21 January 2021. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
- Murray, Peter (26 March 2015). "A Frank Conversation with Years & Years Frontman Olly Alexander". The GeorgeTowner. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
- Oberman, Jameela (10 May 2011). "Disorder Magazine". Jameela Louise Oberman Freelance Journalist. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
- Kitsuné (8 August 2013). "Years & Years new EP 'Traps' out on Kitsuné September 9th + exclusive stream on the Guardian!". Kitsuné. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- Friedlander, Emilie (10 September 2013). "Stream: Years & Years, "You & I"". The Fader. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- "Kitsuné Maison Compilation 15 to be released October 21st!". Kitsuné. 9 September 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
- Duerden, Nick (28 July 2015). "Years & Years: From feeling like the weird kid at school and studying architecture to the Ben Whishaw effect". The Independent. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- Ortiz, Edwin (4 February 2014). "Years & Years Inspire a Dance-Off In Their New Music Video for "Real"". Complex.Com. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- Youngs, Ian (9 January 2015). "Years & Years top BBC Sound Of 2015 list". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- "Years & Years' King wins Official Singles Chart Number 1 crown". The Official UK Charts Company. 8 March 2015. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
- "Years & Years' debut at Number 1: "This is the best day of our lives"". The Official UK Charts Company. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
- Murray, Peter (24 March 2015). "A Frank Conversation with Years & Years Frontman Olly Alexander". The Downtowner. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
- "Shining Stars: An interview with Years and Years' Olly Alexander – Metro Weekly". Metro Weekly. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
- Flyyn, Paul (7 July 2015). "Best Years Ever: With gay frontman Olly Alexander, Years & Years hits pop's sweet spot". Out.com. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
- Corner, Lewis (8 July 2015). "Years & Years Interview: It's sad we don't have gay male popstars using male pronouns". Digital Spy. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
- "Olly Alexander Throws Some Serious Shapes In Years & Years' 'All For You' Video". Capital. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- Monroe, Jazz. "Pet Shop Boys Team With Years & Years for New Song "Dreamland": Listen". Pitchfork. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- "Years & Years cover Pet Shop Boys' 'It's A Sin' as TV show premieres". NME. 23 January 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- "Login • Instagram". www.instagram.com. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- "Years & Years to continue as "solo project" for Olly Alexander". NME. 18 March 2021. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
- Dunn, Francesca (25 August 2015). "Years & Years dream big and predict the future". i-d.vice.com. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
- Duffy, Nick (17 August 2015). "Years & Years singer Olly Alexander backs anti-bullying campaign". Pinknews.co.uk. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
- "Olly Alexander: 'Homophobic bullying at school drove me to self-harm'". Evening Standard. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
- "Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander says he had body issues 'for a decade'". The Independent. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
- Hattersley, Giles (28 June 2015). "Sound of summer". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Duffy, Nick (2 December 2015). "Years & Years singer Olly Alexander opens up about suffering from anxiety". Pink News. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
- Jones, Owen (26 January 2016). "Mental Health: This is the NHS: Olly Alexander: 'You start to think you're alone and crazy but help is out there'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
- "Nadiya Hussain and Stephen Fry reveal their mental health battles in moving Sport Relief film". Metro. 24 March 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
- "Years and Years singer Olly Alexander reveals his rather unlikely crush... – PinkNews · PinkNews". www.pinknews.co.uk.
- "Years & Years' Olly Alexander talks fighting gay abuse". Evening Standard. 9 March 2016.
- "Olly Alexander tells Attitude why he and Neil Milan have called it a day". Attitude.co.uk. 3 December 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
- "Years & Years' Olly Alexander says he cried backstage at Glastonbury after much praised prejudice speech". NME. 7 April 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- "All the winners from the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2018". GQ. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- "Olly Alexander: 'Men don't talk about their feelings' | GQ Awards 2018", GQ, 5 September 2018, retrieved 6 September 2018 – via YouTube
- "Olly Alexander reveals 'the flag we shouldn't be proud of' this World Suicide Prevention Day". Gay Times. 1 September 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- British GQ (3 October 2018), Olly Alexander: "I'm surprised that more people aren't talking about male suicide" | British GQ, retrieved 10 November 2018
- "Olly Alexander – Years and Years interviewed by Alastair Campbell". GQ. 17 January 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
- Olly Alexander's Speech About LGBTQ+ Rights Being Praised By Fans
- "Queerty Pride50 2020 Honorees". Queerty. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
- Tracer, Daniel (1 July 2020). "These musicians became queer role models young fans need, and they're changing the world for good". Queerty. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
- "Mackenzie Crook cast in The Aliens at the Bush Theatre". LondonTheatre.co.uk. 13 August 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2015.