Olly Alexander is a British musician and singer-songwriter currently affiliated with the synth-pop band 'Years & Years'. Formed in 2010, Years & Years’ music has been dubbed as a combination of electropop, R&B, and 1990s house elements. He is also an actor. A Yorkshire native, Alexander became interested in performing quite early in his life. He performed in school plays and composed his first song when he was ten years old. At the age of 16, he found an agent to represent him and dropped out of school to pursue a career in acting. In 2008, he made his screen debut in the telefilm ‘Summerhill’. A year later, he made his first appearance on a TV show in ITV’s detective drama ‘Lewis’. In the subsequent years, he has appeared in various roles in films, such as ‘Enter the Void’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘Funny Bunny’. He has also been active on stage, appearing in productions of ‘The Aliens’, ‘Mercury Four’, and ‘Peter and Alice’. Besides being the vocalist of Years & Years, he also contributes to the band as a keyboardist, pianist, and on the synthesiser. The group has released two studio albums and four extended plays to date. Alexander is a vocal advocate of LGBT rights, safer sex, and HIV screening.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on July 15, 1990, in Harrogate, Yorkshire, Olly Alexander is the son of Vicki Thornton, who co-founded Coleford Music Festival. He was educated at St John's Primary School in Coleford and later at Monmouth Comprehensive School before enrolling at Hereford College of Arts to study performing arts.
During his time at Monmouth, he participated in two stage productions, playing the character of Benny in ‘Guys and Dolls’ and of the Corporal in ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’.
According to the New York Times, Alexander composed his first song on his father’s Casio keyboard when he was only ten years old. Three years later, his parents separated and subsequently Alexander was raised by his mother acting as a single parent.
At the age of 16, he got an agent who agreed to represent him. He eventually dropped out of school hoping to work as an actor.
He is homosexual. He came out to his mother when he 20 years old and received her full support. He never told his father as he had lost touch with him since his parents’ separation and never felt the need to reach out to him to tell him this.
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Olly Alexander’s first role was in the TV movie ‘Summerhill’ (2008), portraying the character Ned. In 2009, he made his cinematic debut in the British-French-Australian biographical fiction romantic drama ‘Bright Star’. He was cast as Tom Keats, poet John Keats’ brother.
In 2009, he appeared in his first TV show as well, in ITV’s detective drama ‘Lewis’. Alexander did three more films the same year, ‘Tormented’, ‘Enter the Void’, and ‘Dust’.
In 2010, he appeared as himself in ‘The Fades’ and co-starred with Jack Black, Jason Segel, and Emily Blunt in the commercially successful film ‘Gulliver's Travels’. In 2011, he landed his first main role, in Alison Bagnall’s comedy-drama ‘The Dish & the Spoon’.
He worked with Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway, and Elizabeth McGovern in the 2012 comedy drama ‘Cheerful Weather for the Wedding’. That year, he was cast in the film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Great Expectations’, portraying the character Herbert Pocket.
In 2013, he appeared in two episodes of the acclaimed E4 teen drama ‘Skins’ and in Roger Michell’s directorial venture ‘Le Week-End’.
In the 2014 musical drama ‘God Help the Girl’, Alexander was cast as a songwriter. The film earned him and other members of the cast the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award (Ensemble) at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Besides playing one of the main roles, he contributed to the soundtrack of the film by performing three songs: ‘I Dumped You First’, ‘If You Could Speak’, and ‘Pretty Eve in the Tub’.
He played an older student named Toby Maitland in the 2014 drama ‘’The Riot Club’. He also appeared as the recurring character Fenton in the horror drama TV series ‘Penny Dreadful’. In 2015, he played the role of Titty in the comedy-drama ‘Funny Bunny’. He served as the host/presenter of the 2017 TV movie ‘Olly Alexander: Growing Up Gay’.
On the London theatre scene, he has appeared in three plays to date. He was cast in the Bush Theatre’s production of ‘The Aliens’ in 2010. He appeared in the Old Red Lion Theatre’s production of Philip Ridley’s play ‘Mercury Fur’ in 2012. In 2013, he acted alongside the likes of Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in the Noël Coward Theatre’s production of John Logan’s ‘Peter and Alice’.
The band Years & Years was established in 2010 by guitarist Mikey Goldsworthy and Olly Alexander. Goldsworthy had heard Alexander in the shower and found his voice to be unique and interesting. Thus, he recruited him as a vocalist. The band also included Emre Türkmen, Noel Leeman, and Olivier Subria.
They released their debut single, ‘I Wish I Knew’, in 2012. It was followed by their debut EP ‘Traps’, which was released through Kitsuné Records in September 2013.
Leeman and Subria quit the band in 2013. The group has since released three more EPs: ‘Real’ in February 2014, ‘Take Shelter’ in August 2014, and ‘Y & Y’ in February 2015. They put out their first studio album ‘Communion’ in 2015. ‘Palo Santo’, their second studio album, was released on July 6, 2018. It peaked at number three on the UK Albums Chart and also charted in countries like Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
‘Communion’, the group’s debut album, is their most successful work to date. It is comprised of 13 tracks and was released on July 10, 2015, through Interscope Records in the United States only and Polydor Records in the United Kingdom and other countries. The album sold over a million copies worldwide. It was also certified platinum by BPI and gold by IFPI SWE. Furthermore, it topped the UK, Scottish, and Irish music charts.
Olly Alexander was involved in a very high-profile relationship with Neil Amin-Smith, the violinist of Clean Bandit. In September 2015, they shared a kiss on stage at U.K. festival Jersey Live in front of a cheering audience. However, in December, Alexander told the Attitude magazine that they had broken up. He has also been in an open relationship with a past boyfriend.
Alexander is a self-described “real-left winger” and has mentioned that he used to have a crush on the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. He has actively campaigned for LGBTQ rights, safer sex, and HIV screening. He has been open about his personal struggles with depression and anxiety which he has been dealing with since he was 13 years old.
During his tenure as the host of ‘Olly Alexander: Growing Up Gay’, he has also spoken about his bulimia. In 2018, he joined the likes of Nadiya Hussain and Stephen Fry in Sport Relief’s initiative to cast a light on mental illness.