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“I’m very proud [of my sexuality], and I’m no longer afraid,” Matt Terry tells GAY TIMES. With his poignant new power ballad ‘His Car’, the singer-songwriter is publicly opening up about his sexuality for the first time by issuing an apology to the first man he ever fell in love with. As a result of his burgeoning fame from winning the 13th season of The X Factor in 2016 – a time Matt describes as “f**king hard” due to relentless speculation over his sexuality from British tabloids – societal pressures forced him to keep their romance a secret. “I said to him, ‘You’re not allowed to tell anyone about this’ and he loved me enough to do so,” he remembers. “It’s such a regret of mine, and I’m just really sorry.”

After a brief hiatus from the industry, Matt is finally “taking back the power” and coming out on his own terms. “Throughout the years, I’ve had media reach out and offer me money like, ‘We’ll give you this much if you want to talk about your sexuality,’ and I would say, ‘Absolutely not.’ I’m too proud and have too much self-respect,” he says. “But now, I want to set the record straight with this song and video. I know… People are gonna be like, ‘Is this news?’”

Co-written with producer Xoro (Tim Kulawik), the accompanying music video for ‘His Car’ follows Matt and a male love interest on a romantic, nostalgia-filled trip to Yorkshire. Matt tells us the song will be included on his long-awaited sophomore album, which will feature a variety of tracks that reminisce on the highs and lows of his first queer romance. Read ahead for our full interview with Matt, in which he discusses the story behind ‘His Car’, reflects on the “pressures” of concealing his true identity on The X Factor and defiantly states that he’s about to “make as much noise” as he can as an out-and-proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Thank you for talking with me Matt, especially about such a personal song. Talk to me about ‘His Car’ and why you decided to open up about your sexuality?

It’s the only song I’ve struggled to record. As you’ve heard, it’s not vocal acrobats or screaming – it’s telling a story. That’s my story. That’s my truth. And it’s one of the most important stories I’m going to tell. I’ve been hiding who I was, and I haven’t really opened up. I’ve never let anybody in. This song is an apology to the first man I fell in love with because I asked a lot of him. I said to him, ‘You’re not allowed to tell anyone about this’ and he loved me enough to do so. Six, seven, years later, I realise that’s not something we should be doing, and it’s not something you should ask somebody. It’s such a regret of mine, and I’m just really sorry. I’ve spoken to him about it and he said, ‘I wouldn’t have done anything that I didn’t want to do, so I had a part to play.’ I don’t know if you’ve ever been through anything like that, but a lot of boys I know, my mates, are very similar to me. They’ve either done it themselves or been on the receiving end, and I don’t think it’s a story that has been told. In music, we need more stories like this. That’s the reason why I’m letting people in.

Coming to terms with your identity is one thing, but you had to go through that process on one of the UK’s most-watched shows, with various publications then questioning your sexuality. At the age of 23, too. What was that time like for you?

I’m smiling because I feel like I’m finally getting this off my shoulders. I’m a Taurus, so I do everything by myself: ‘I’m strong, I can handle it.’ But, it was so f**king hard, I’m not going to lie. Any comment I saw or heard, any tweets, my heart would drop and I would immediately break into a sweat. I went on the show because I love to sing. I didn’t want to be – it sounds so silly – famous. I’m not here for that. I want to dedicate my life to my passion and my art, which is songwriting and my voice. I went on the show because I had £4 in my bank account, and I didn’t want to be a waiter anymore. When I won, I never thought about what would happen. I didn’t think ahead. I never thought about the press or my sexuality or, ‘What am I gonna tell people?’ The paparazzi would always write ‘Matt Terry kisses male outside pub’ or ‘Matt Terry likes Tom Daley’s Instagram picture.’ I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I hadn’t spoken to my family. I hadn’t spoken to my friends. It was getting on top of me.

Also, I had the pressure of delivering a number-one album, otherwise I’d be a failure. The team I had – I’ll say it – weren’t the best. I don’t think we understood each other very well. I had a manager who… I won’t name names, but bear in mind, I was new. She was like, ‘You need to tell me now – are you or aren’t you gay? I’ve got the whole industry right now asking about you. I’m here defending you, telling them no. If it turns out you are, I’m going to have a massive egg on my face because of you.’ I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. There was no one there to protect or help me. I was like, ‘Okay, I see what’s happening here.’ And that’s when I decided that [my sexuality] is for me. That’s when I said, ‘I’m going to take a step back. I will let you in when I know who I am.’ So, I privately came away from the industry, and lots of people have been like, ‘Where have you been?’ I’ve been discovering who I am as a human and as an artist. This is me taking back control.

The press, and people around me in the music industry, were asking me for an answer I could’ve give, because it wasn’t an area I’d explored yet. I’d never been with a man at this point. But, I knew that I wanted to explore that and it was a side of me that existed. It was a lot of, ‘Are you gay? Are you not gay? Where’s the album? Where’s the music? Where’s the tour?’ It was too much. I feel like a fully developed adult these days, and now I can see it was really unfair. I chose to move forward, and now I’m so happy. I love the human I’ve discovered in myself, and I hope I can do the same for other people. Luckily, I have a family where I just came home one day and said, ‘So this is my partner and we’re together.’ The whole family said, ‘Awesome, what did you have for dinner?’ I live now with an open mind and open heart, and I feel like we should all live by the statement that we all say: love is love.

My first reaction to your manager’s comments was to laugh, because it’s almost like a parody of a fictional villain. But, as we’ve seen, these people still exist – and not just in the industry. Celebrities are still having to confirm or deny whether they’re straight or queer because ‘fans’ are demanding to know.

Like with Kit Connor. The whole thing was just a disappointment. We all watched Heartstopper. If you understand the show, you wouldn’t be prodding him about his sexuality. I just hope that the more we do things like this, with my song and video, we see more moments like that on TV.

When did you write ‘His Car’?

About a year ago. I just got back into the studio because I’ve mostly been writing for everyone all over the world, from K-pop artists to Little Mix, David Guetta and Gallants. When people are like ‘where have you been?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been working really hard.’ I know I’m not on the red carpet or all over your telly, but I’ve been sucked into the studio. Because of the whole experience [on The X Factor], I didn’t think I would ever release music again. I thought, ‘I can write for other people, maybe that’s my calling?’ Then these songs started to pour out. I’ve never written a song about this before, it’s always been quite generic.

With my first album, there were girls in the music videos. I remember turning up on set and the label saying, ‘Here, pick one of these girls as the love interest.’ I’m looking at headshots of all these beautiful girls and I thought, ‘Did I even imagine a girl in this? Or did I imagine a man?’ Before you know it, I’m in music videos snogging women. So, it’s empowering and liberating that I wrote this song. I am so ready to show who I am with my music. Throughout the years, I’ve had media reach out and offer me money like, ‘We’ll give you this much if you want to talk about your sexuality,’ and I would say, ‘Absolutely not.’ I’m too proud and have too much self-respect. But now, I want to set the record straight with this song and video. I know… People are gonna be like, ‘Is this news?’

As the winner of The X Factor, your coming out will undoubtedly be splashed across headlines and covered by the British publications that previously speculated about your sexuality. How does that make you feel?

All of my friends and family and people that know me personally, it’s not news to them. I’m just prepared to be honest. I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous and that I’m tough-as-nails. But, I just love where I’m at and I love the man I’ve become. Being in love with another man is part of who I am, so if I don’t love me, then I’m not doing it right. We should love every part of ourselves. I’m very proud [of my sexuality], and I’m no longer afraid. I don’t think it’s going to hurt me, I’ll put it that way. I have prepared myself for support and love, but I’ve also prepared for homophobia. I will have some unfollows, but I don’t care. I would rather have 200 followers that love me than 200,000 followers that are homophobic.

You’re publicly coming out with a song and music video, which is, of course, faithful to the lyrics with a male love interest. Talk to me about the creation of the ‘His Car’ video?

I directed the video with a friend of mine who’s also my videographer, Courtney Nathan Philip, and I said I wanted it to be simple with two locations. We went to Yorkshire. The actor in the video, he’s a friend of mine and I knew he’d be perfect because he lived through that experience with me. In the video, we showed that [with my ex] I would pull my hand away from him if a car passed us in the street. Or if I sat close to him in a pub, I would scurry away from him when they brought the drinks over. He was quite a bit older than I was and very comfortable with himself. I see now that he loved me enough to go backwards. But, this video was empowering. After The X Factor with my record label, I completely lost control because nothing was authentic.

It’s been seven years since your debut album Trouble. Can we expect ‘His Car’ to be included on a new album, or a wider collection?

Absolutely. I released ‘You Don’t Know Nothing’ on 13 October and then dropped a song called ‘Ghost of Me’. Everything is recorded, done and dusted. I just need to master it all. Me and my team are just taking each day with this industry. It’s moved to a place where… Like, I’m not Adele. I can’t just drop an album and expect everyone to listen to it. I’ve said to my team that we need to start from zero. So, this whole thing has been about rebuilding myself in the music industry. I am making as much noise as I can about myself and my true identity, which is somebody who’s part of the LGBTQ+ community. I have lots of songs telling my story about what happened to me in my gay relationship.

Is there anything else you want fans to know about where you are right now in your journey?

I think we’ve covered everything. In regards to The X Factor, it’s important for me to say that I’m grateful for the show and everything it’s given me. I’ve learned a lot from it, but I won’t let it be the same as before. I won’t be put in a box with my sexuality. That is part of me, but it’s not all of me. I appreciate it – thanks Simon [Cowell], love you. It just can’t define the rest of my life and I won’t let it. I’m in a really lovely place, and this is not a pity party at all. This isn’t, ‘Poor Matt, he went through so much!’ This is, ‘Matt has taken back the power and is doing it on his own terms.’

Matt Terry’s new single ‘His Car’ is out now. Watch the music video here or below.