He's an ex-cellphone salesman and an avid photographer. An anti-bullying advocate and a lover of Bluff oysters. He's only just got his driver licence and he's had a movie made about his life. He's Paul Potts, the most extraordinary ordinary man.
Potts' rise to fame is the template for You Tube sensations. A nervous, almost unkempt man with gappy smile, he stepped on to the stage in the first season of Britain's Got Talent in 2007 and simply blew the judges away with his heartbreaking rendition of Nessun Dorma, Puccini's big hit from Turandot.
You could almost see the dollar signs flashing up in Simon Cowell's cold little eyes.
Of course he went on to win, and has since enjoyed the kind of success that he once believed he would never, ever achieve.
Three albums, international tours, a book and a movie later, Potts is in Invercargill sitting on a couch at the Kelvin Hotel looking for all the world like someone's brother-in-law. A brother-in-law that loves oysters.
"I've been accused of scheduling my tours around the [oyster] season," he says. "And the tours always have been in April . . ."
He's thrilled to be back in the country that was one of the first to really embrace the 44-year-old's music.
With the ink barely dry on his driver's licence (and on his very first speeding ticket, that he picked up in the North Island), he's looking forward to finishing the tour (Invercargill tonight, Dunedin on Sunday and Christchurch on Tuesday) so he can cruise off to the South Island in a rental car with his beloved camera.
He can't wait to see Aoraki/Mt Cook, and has booked a Milford Sound boat tour.
"The early one, not the later one, you have to get in before the coaches pull up," he says.
He could be any one of your Brit relatives on holiday.
Admittedly a relative that was played by the gorgeously round comedian James Corden in One Chance, a movie made about Potts' life, but still. Very familiar.
Yet Potts goes deeper than just your average Joe who got lucky on a reality TV show and achieved international stardom.
"I don't own the right to do what I do. It's something I have to constantly work on. I constantly strive to improve," he says.
When he watches the YouTube clip of his first Britain's Got Talent audition, he winces. "That top B - I always cringe a bit."
As a performer, he's always trying to improve, preferring to underestimate rather than overestimate himself.
The relentless self-criticism is a hangover from the vicious bullying he received as a child.
The bullying hasn't really stopped - he's had his own share of online abuse - but now Potts has found his voice and he's become a staunch anti-bullying campaigner. His No 1 target is the use of the word trolling to describe online bullies.
"The internet now is worse than it has ever been. And calling [the bullying] trolling just desensitises it."
He also targets Twitter and Facebook. He thinks the companies should be giving money to anti-bullying charities and providing more support for victims of online abuse.
"It's not enough to block people [victims can report online bullies who will eventually be prevented from sending messages to a user]. You should be able to ask for help and have real help provided, and that should be funded."
Bullying has real consequences that Potts knows only too well about.
"Bullying made me more susceptible to things. I didn't think I had any value," he says.
He says on the very day a child committed suicide after being bullied, British Prime Minister David Cameron was in parliament calling the opposition "muppets".
"It seems innocent enough, but when you see the leader of your country name-calling, it endorses it.
"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. And don't for a minute think that having an amazing life full of travel, movies and professional success is in some way a big "so there" to his former tormentors
. "I get to go to great places, but I don't see [success] as revenge. You've got to move forward."
Paul Potts plays tonight at the Invercargill Civic Theatre at 7.30. Tickets from $79.
- The Southland Times
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