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Darius has the last laugh; Despite being bullied at his exclusive Glasgow school and nationwide ridicule during Popstars, Darius Danesh achieved his dream of a career in music through sheer determination. Sarah Ebner tunes in to a man now in complete control.

He was emotionally and physically bullied at school, became a national laughing stock and, as depression took hold, found that his drinking was spiralling out of control.

But Darius Danesh isn't complaining. Whatever happened in the past, he's now very much on top.

'People keep telling me that it's an amazing story,' says the Glaswegian singer. 'But I still don't think I've got perspective on it. Maybe one day.'

Darius's story really took off when he gave an inimitable rendition of Britney Spear's Hit Me Baby One More Time on the original Popstars. He'd 'hit the self-destruct button', he explains, and the song ended any chance he had of making the series' final band.

When he then promised the judging panel that he'd return with a hit album, it sounded like a hollow boast. However, the 23-year-old did reinvent himself, came third to Will and Gareth on Pop Idol and has since had three hit singles and a double platinum album.

Now, as is the way with young modern celebrities, Darius has written his first book.

Darius: Sink or Swim is full of moody photographs, but also tells the story of the singer's reality television journey. It skates over much of his early life, but, if you ignore some of the more amusing lines ('I was famous without the money to cushion it,' he despairs) there's still enough new information to make it a good read.

It's interesting, for instance, to read that Darius was emotionally and physically bullied at his upmarket Scottish school, Glasgow Academy.

The academic pupils 'resented' him because he was good at sport, he claims, while he also studied hard and thus upset the sporty contingent. His size (he's 6ft 3in and wears size 13 shoes) didn't help, while he admits that race may also have played a part.

With a Scottish mother and a father who was born in Tehran, Darius says he was one of only a handful of mixed-race pupils at the school.

'Not many people understand the difference between an Iranian and an Iraqi,' he adds. 'I started puberty earlier than the other kids and I was darker than them too. The older kids would pick on me because I had this really fine hair above my lip and they'd call me Saddam. That was really upsetting, because my dad's family had suffered at the hands of his regime.'

The bullying must have affected Darius's self-esteem, but he says he was always a determined soul. He was also sure that music would be the key to his escape, so he played guitar and formed bands at school, and even sang with Scottish Opera.

After school, he studied English at Edinburgh University (he left after his third year). And it was while he was studying that he auditioned for Popstars, the programme which created Hear'say and also made stars out of its high profile rejects, Liberty X.

Darius was slated after his Popstars turn. He wasn't just criticised for his singing, but also for being too 'cheesy' and insincere.

That accusation of insincerity still upsets him.

'Sometimes you say something that's sincere in a context and it can come across as being insincere, or too good to be true,' he explains. 'When I said 'Can you feel the love in the room?' I said it in a really emotionally fraught situation. People were crying and I was standing in the middle of a room full of people who were very upset. I said it to lighten the mood.

'It's actually a line that Joey said from Friends,' he adds. 'He said it as a joke and I said it in an earnest way. But the way it was edited and the way the cameras filmed it - Michelle from Liberty X was holding me and sobbing, and the guys were crying. And I said it, and it was edited as one of the main . . ' His voice trails off. 'I don't know,' he says softly.

After Popstars, Darius attempted to capitalise on his fame, but it backfired. During one gig, at London's G-A-Y club night, he was spat at and had coins and bottles thrown at him. It almost destroyed him.

He hit 'rock bottom' and began drinking heavily. He was already distraught at the effects his fame had had on his family ('they were literally hounded' he says) and so tried to avoid them.

With hindsight, Darius says he's 'glad' he went through such a tough time.

'I feel that it allows me to understand the concept of self-abuse and to understand what people sometimes go through,' he says. 'There are dark times in everyone's life and certain people will find that they can't always see the light at the end of the tunnel.'

But much as he claims to have put the entire six months episode behind him, Darius still doesn't drink and is reluctant to talk in too much detail about the whole experience.

Telling his parents was one of the worst things he's ever had to do, he says.

'I told them after Pop Idol and after the record deal,' he says. 'It was almost like I walked a tightrope without having a safety net and got to the other side. Then I said, 'Now I've done that, this is what happened when I was half way across'.'

So was he an alcoholic?

'I don't know,' he says. 'I don't really want to go there.'

In between Popstars and Pop Idol, Darius re-invented himself. His younger brother, Cyrus, persuaded him to cut his hair and shave off his goatee beard, and he worked hard writing new songs. He also grew up.

'In the public's perception, there wasn't a big gap between Popstars and Pop Idol, but for me, a year was a lifetime. So much happened in that gap. So many relationships were formed and even broken.'

As he got further and further in Pop Idol, Darius's self-assurance grew.

'I was so happy to be in the final five,' he says. 'It didn't matter how many people hated me, so many people were voting for me each week, it was amazing.

'I was insecure. I'd had the stuffing knocked out of me, and then I grew in confidence, both through my family's support and then the public's support.

'The fact that I turned round one day and realised that people liked me was a huge confidence boost. It was really affirming, a beautiful feeling and nicer, believe it or not, than having a number one single.'

Darius is currently promoting his book and writing and recording songs for his second album, which is due out in November. He's also happily ensconced in a relationship with Jacqui Ainsley, a model whom he met when she appeared in the video for Colourblind.

He's watching the new series of Pop Idol and appears happy and confident. He even seems to have come to terms with much of the abuse he suffered after Popstars.

'I can't really blame anyone for criticising or laughing at me,' he says. 'If it was anyone else I'd probably have done the same . . . I suppose.'

Darius: Sink or Swim by Darius Danesh is published by Headline, priced pounds 14.99 and is available now.

CAPTION(S):

Darius (centre) lines up with the rest of the Pop Idol finalists: (from left) Gareth Gates, Zoe Birkett, Hayley Evetts and Will Young
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Title Annotation:Post Style
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 17, 2003
Words:1229
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