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Olly Alexander

Olly Alexander

Olly Alexander (born Oliver Alexander Thornton; 15 July 1990)[2] is an English musician, singer, songwriter, actor and LGBT advocate. He is the lead singer of the synth-pop band Years & Years.

Olly Alexander
Olly Alexander Performing at Sziget Festival 2016, Budapest, Hungary.jpg
Alexander performing at Sziget Festival 2016, Budapest, Hungary
Oliver Alexander Thornton

(1990-07-15)15 July 1990
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England[1]
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • actor
Years active2008–present
Height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Musical career
  • Synth-pop
  • Indie Pop
  • Electronica
  • Dance-pop
  • Polydor
  • Kitsuné
Associated actsYears & Years
Websiteyearsandyears.com [64]

Early life

Alexander was born in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England.[1][3][4] His mother, Vicki Thornton,[5] was one of the founders of the Coleford Music Festival.[6] Alexander attended St John's Primary School in Coleford[7] 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.[8] After graduation, Alexander studied Performing Arts at the Hereford College of Arts.[9][10] The New York Times reported that he wrote his first song on his father's Casio keyboard aged 10.[11] His parents separated when he was 13 and he was brought up by his mother as a single parent.[12]

He obtained the services of an agent when he was 16 while auditioning for a part in UK TV series Skins. In a YouTube video uploaded from NylonMagazineTV, Alexander said he dropped out of school.[13] Alexander dropped out of the Hereford College of Arts to pursue his acting career as parts were offered: "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."[14] "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".[15] Alexander was interviewed about his mental health by Guardian columnist Owen Jones.[16][17]


Acting career

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.[18] 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.[19][20] Alexander contributed to the script and music[21] 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.[22]

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".[23]

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.[24]

In the indie film, Funny Bunny first premièred at SXSW 2015, Alexander plays Titty, a troubled teenager in the comedy drama.[25] 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.[26] The film was shown at art houses during the summer and was theatrically released on 13 November 2015.[27]

Music career

The band he is in, 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.[28] 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".[29]

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.[30][31] "Traps" also features on Kitsuné Maison's 15th compilation.[32]

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,[33] and former Misfits actor Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36] Their debut studio album, Communion, was released on 10 July 2015 and entered the UK Albums Chart at number 1.[37]

As a gay songwriter,[38][39] Alexander has stated in interviews he would like to see greater use of the qualified male pronoun in music. He explained that, whenever he used to write 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.[40] "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."[41] 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."[41] Years & Years's 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

17 September 2018 saw Years & Years release 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 dance off with an android.[42]

Alexander collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys on their 2019 single "Dreamland".

Advocacy, politics and personal life

Through various interviews and charity campaigns, he has promoted safer sex and HIV screening[43] anti-LGBT bullying initiatives.[44] He has also spoken openly about his own struggles with depression, self harm,[45] eating disorders[46] and anxiety from age 13 onwards.[47][48][49] In 2017, Alexander 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.[50]

Alexander describes himself as a "real left-winger" and said in 2016 that he "had a crush on" Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.[51][52]

From May 2015 Alexander was in a relationship with ex-Clean Bandit member Neil Milan Amin-Smith, but due to scheduling conflicts whilst on tour and recording, they parted amicably at the end of 2015.[53] in 2016 Milan credited Alexander amongst others in his leaving statement [65] posted on instagram. As of 2018 Alexander remains single.[54]

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[55] in light of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

In September 2018, Alexander won GQ's Award "Live act of the year".[56] The award was presented to him by Héloïse Letissier, and in his acceptance speech, Alexander advocated for the LGBT community and Mental Health Awareness Month, particularly in men.[57]

In the same month, the singer 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 colors ripped from it. The singer 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."[58]

In October 2018, British GQ posted a 54-minute interview[59] between Olly Alexander and Alastair Campbell. In the interview, Alexander spoke very candidly about his past struggles with self harm and eating disorders, his experiences in 2018 with homophobia, his political views on Brexit and Donald Trump, and, for the first time, he revealed that his brother has Asperger syndrome.

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 unanimous praise from fans and media.[60]



2009Bright StarTom Keats
2009TormentedJason Banks
2009Enter the VoidVictor
2010The FadesHimself
2010Gulliver's TravelsPrince August
2010The Dish & the SpoonBoy
2012Cheerful Weather for the WeddingTom
2012Great ExpectationsHerbert Pocket
2013Le Week-EndMichael
2014God Help the GirlJames
2014The Riot ClubToby Maitland
2015Funny BunnyTitty


2009LewisHayden Wishart"Allegory of Love"
2013SkinsJakob"Skins Pure (Part 1 & 2)"
2014Penny DreadfulFenton"Resurrection" and "Demimonde"
2017Growing Up GayHimself/HostBBC Three Documentary
2019Celebrity GoggleboxHimself


YearTitleTheatreAlso starring
September–October 2010The Aliens[61]Bush Theatre LondonRalf Little and Mackenzie Crook
March–April 2012Mercury FurOld Red Lion TheatreCiaran Owens, Frank Keogh, Ben Dilloway, Katie Scarfe, Henry Lewis, James Fynan
March–June 2013Peter and AliceNoël Coward TheatreJudi Dench and Ben Whishaw

Corporate video

2013Google Analytics In Real Life Site SearchDemanding Shopper


Citation Linkwww.standard.co.uk"Hot kids on the block: Years & Years interview". Evening Standard. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
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Citation Linkwww.gaytimes.co.uk"Happy birthday, Olly Alexander!". Gay Times. 15 July 2016. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
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Citation Linkwww.nylon.com"the insider: olly alexander". NYLON. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkportal.issn.orgSullivan, Caroline (5 March 2015). "Years & Years: from Riot Club posh boys to No 1 stars". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkinstagram.comAlexander, 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.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk"Good golly, Olly's off to Hollywood!". Gloucester Citizen. 4 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.gloucestercitizen.co.uk"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.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.curtisbrown.co.ukStaddon, Katie. "Curtis Brown Representation CV of Olly Alexander". curtisbrown.co.uk. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHereford College of Arts website.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.hca.ac.uk"Hereford College of Arts - Olly Alexander from Years & Years". Hereford College of Arts. 23 December 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.nytimes.comSchou, Solvey (1 July 2015). "Olly Alexander Releases His Debut Album With Years & Years". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.popjustice.comRobinson, Peter (9 July 2015). "I'm a Convincingly Happy Human Being". Pop Justice. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
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Citation Linkwww.youtube.comYoung Hollywood 2010 — Olly Alexander. YouTube. 10 May 2010.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.redbulletin.comMorgan, Ruth (February 2015). "Singing in the shower got me the Job". redbulletin.com. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkanthemmagazine.comChang, Kee (26 August 2014). "Q&A with Olly Alexander". Anthemmagazine.com. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 5:43 AM
Citation Linkwww.youtube.comJones, Owen (26 January 2016). 'My mental health is a positive part of me' — Owen Jones meets Olly Alexander. YouTube. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
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Citation Linkwww.theguardian.comJones, 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.
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Citation Linkwww.oscars.org"The 82nd Academy Awards 2010". Oscars.Org. 7 March 2010. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
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Citation Linkwww.gloucestercitizen.co.uk"Olly wows the critics in The Aliens". Gloucestercitizen.co.uk. 30 September 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
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Citation Linkwww.youtube.com"Interview - The Aliens at The Bush Threatre". The Bush Threatre. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
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