Curse of Pop Idol – from singer's benefits struggle to star left fighting for life after water bottle stunt went wrong

POP Idol could be making a comeback on its 20th anniversary – but some of its stars may not have the best of memories.

Former judge Dr Fox, real name Neil Fox, told The Sun a one-off reunion is in the making for the show’s birthday next year. 

He said: "A Pop Idol reunion is certainly on the cards – where have 20 years gone!

"Be great to get back on the screens with a one-off special.

“Gareth Gates was always one of my favourites – he’s an amazing talent.”

Twenty years on, some of the series’ biggest winners have revealed how they nearly lost everything after appearing on the show. 

From PTSD to health battles and legal disputes, we look at the show’s troubling legacy. 


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Contestant Rik Waller made the final 10 in series one but was replaced by Darius Danesh in thefinals after catching laryngitis.

He landed a £400,000 contract with EMI records but quit the business after a 2004 tour was cancelled due to poor sales and his second album flopped.

Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2013, Rik said: “The most demoralising thing I’ve ever had to do was queue up at the job centre and have people look at me saying, ‘What a failure’.

“When you’ve lost the ability to do the job you’ve always done, it’s an incredible stab in the back to find people are actually laughing at you.

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"I was never attacked physically but I had plenty of people come up to me and be particularly offensive."

He has since become an exam invigilator.

Meningitis from dirty Thames water

Darius Danesh went on to have a successful music career before moving on to the West End stage, starring in Chicago, Guys and Dolls and Funny Girl, opposite Sheridan Smith.

But in 2012, he broke his neck in a car crash in Spain and three years later he accidentally drank dirty water from the River Thames, causing him to collapse into a near-fatal coma.

The star was demonstrating a charity's new water filter by glugging water pulled straight from the river when he fell ill.

He was left fighting for his life after contracting meningitis and swelling on the brain and later discovered the gizmo was a prototype and not yet ready to be used.

At the time, his mum was in the middle of a chemotherapy course for breast cancer and his dad had recently been given the all-clear after his own cancer battle.

“It felt upside down and wrong because mum was going through cancer treatment,” he said.

“Yet she was sat next to me with tears in her eyes telling my brother that they almost lost me.”

Darius went into film producing in Hollywood and worked on the Daniel Radcliffe horror Imperium in 2016, then Tomorrow in 2018.

Brain tumour the size of a golfball

Judge Nicki Chapman announced in 2019 that she had undergone surgery to remove a terrifying brain tumour "the size of a golf ball."

Nicki first realised she was ill when she was presenting the BBC property programme Escape to the Country and couldn't remember the name of the executive producer, who she had known for 15 years.

The former TV judge, 55, was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumour – which she christened Bert – but could only have part of it removed in the op, as it was too dangerous to remove the rest.

But last month she announced her latest scan had shown the tumour had gone, although her consultant didn't know why.

She revealed she broke down on receiving the news, while filming in the middle of a field.

"I get a bit teary just thinking about it," she told the White Wine Question Time podcast.

"They don't know why. And obviously I've still got to be monitored because these things have habits of changing.

"So we take the good when we can. Always look for the win in every situation. So Bert for the moment has gone and in the nicest of ways I hope the b****"d never comes back."

Sexual assault allegations

Judge Dr Fox was arrested in 2014 during a police investigation into historical sexual abuse.

He was accused of nine sexual offences against six people, three under the age of 16, between 1987 and 2014.

The DJ always denied the charges and he was found not guilty of all charges at Westminster Magistrates Court, in December 2015.

"The process is very scary and very intimidating. Your life is just in limbo, that's what's hard about it," he told This Morning.

"Trying to keep the normality of your kids going to school every day and coming back and doing their homework – thank God for them, because they keep you level."

But he vowed to come out of the storm "better not bitter."

Legal woes over format

Producer Simon Fuller was not impressed when his Pop Idol co-creator, Simon Cowell, launched The X Factor in 2004.

He sued Cowell for copyright infringement, saying he had copied the Pop Idol format and the pair settled out of court.

In 2011, he sued Fox in the US when they launched the American version of The X Factor – once again settled out of court after a two-year battle.

Winner's PTSD after 'too gay' slur

The show’s first ever winner, Will Young was just 22 when he won the singing contest in 2002.

His winner’s single, Evergreen, went to number one on the UK singles charts and he’s since had hits with Leave Right Now and All Time Love.

The singer has also starred in feature film Mrs Henderson presents with Bob Hoskins in 2005.

But after his victory in 2002, a homophobic music exec allegedly told Young he sounded “too gay”.

Will told Attitude last year: “I'm very proud of what I did and that I didn't pretend to be someone else. 

“And I think that is so, so cool for a 22-year-old to do that. 

“I'm proud of that part of me that was like, “F*** you all! I don't give a s***!”

In 2016, Will was forced to drop out of Strictly Come Dancing after struggling with his mental health. 

He said he spent six weeks in a trauma facility in 2012 after hiding his sexuality gave him PTSD.

He told the Radio Times: “I don’t think the shows were ever about the music. Programme-makers are only ever concerned with creating great TV shows.

"The danger now is that they could become something more cynical and manipulative that moves into the realm of hoodwinking the public.”

Traumatised by teenage sex romp

Gareth Gates was just 17 when he was named runner-up on the show, and his newfound fame led to him losing his virginity to Katie Price.

The former model – also known as Jordan – was six months pregnant with oldest son Harvey at the time, and Gareth has since said he almost quit the industry for good over the hook-up.

"It wasn’t too long after that I decided to take a break from industry," he told new!

“It wasn’t the reason I wanted to be a pop star. There are stars out there for the wrong reason. I was to be recognised for my talent.”

He denied the romp when it became public and says he made matters worse for himself by lying to his family.

“I denied the whole Jordan thing because I was 17, I didn't want my family to find out about my sex life," he says.

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"If I hadn't of lied it wouldn't have been a big deal, my family, friends and fans wouldn't have felt as let down I guess.”

He has since gone on to have a successful career, with a string of hits including Unchained Melody, and starring roles in West End shows such as Les Miserable and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

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