Tony Mortimer says if he’d had any idea just how successful East 17’s Christmas hit Stay Another Day would be, he might never have written it.
The Ivor Novello winning singer told Sky News: “I wrote it in my little flat in Walthamstow in August. I was making spaghetti hoops on toast, and it was raining. So not very rock and roll.”
A song about loss, written a few years after his brother Ollie took his own life, he says it wasn’t written with Christmas in mind.
“The record company heard it and the first thing they said, I’ll never forget, they said, ‘that’s a Christmas number one’.
“I think my head turned 180 degrees. I was like, ‘what on earth has that got to do with Christmas?’
“Then I said, ‘You can’t release it, it’s too personal a song’.”
However he relinquished, and the song was put out in November 1994, climbing to number one and staying there for five weeks.
It was the band’s most successful song, gaining platinum status and topping the charts in Sweden, Ireland and Denmark too.
The song beat Mariah Carey‘s All I Want For Christmas to the UK top spot, and Mortimer says she wasn’t the only star to make way for East 17.
“I got told that Michael Jackson didn’t release Earth Song that year because the sales of [East 17’s track] was going mad.”
Earth Song was released late the following year, claiming the 1995 Christmas UK number one spot.
As for the track’s trademark bells, Mortimer admits: “They just got put on at the end just to make it more Christmassy.”
And he says nabbing a Christmas number one is as lucrative as you’d expect.
He said: “If you have one hit song, that’s pretty good. But to have a hit song every year is amazing.
“My whole life has been quite surreal. I’ve got to be honest. And a lot of it’s to do with this song.”
Putting its success down to the fact it’s a “bit of a pub number, a sing-along”, the inspiration behind the hit is much more poignant.
It was a song fuelled by emotion, as Mortimer explains: “That’s what you do as a songwriter. You draw on emotions and reasons to write your song, and the stronger the emotion or the sadder you feel, that gives you a chance to write a really good song.
“My brother killed himself a couple of years before and I wanted to write and draw on that emotion of loss because I experienced and understood it for the first time in my life in such a massive way that I wanted to write it down and express it.
“I didn’t write my brother a love song, obviously, because that would be just weird, but I used it as the inspiration to write a song of such loss. And I hope people find a bit solace and peace in in that painful, painful thing I went through.”
Now, 25 years after its initial release, the song is getting a new lease of life.
But in place of his three former bandmates (Brian Harvey, Terry Coldwell and John Hendy, who Mortimer says he doesn’t “speak to any more as their lives have gone separate ways”) there’s a brass band and 100 local school children.
Mortimer plays piano on the re-vamped track, accompanied by Waltham Forest Youth Choir.
Part of the proceeds will go to Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably), which aims to prevent male suicide.
Mortimer says the young singers really impressed him: “They’re so talented. I told them, ‘look around you, I came from Walthamstow and I’ve done something. And you can as well.
“No matter where you come from, just believe in yourself and you can do it’. And that’s what I want to pass on to these children.”
Describing the track as “even more Christmassy” than the original, Mortimer explains: “I don’t want to earn the money from it anymore. I want it to go to this suicide charity.
“It really feels like I’m handing over the torch and it’s now off and it’s its own thing… I’ve had enough turkeys on my table for me.”
Stay Another Day is out now.
:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.