The forgotten reality TV star taking Lana to the top

Behind the New Yorker's hit new album lies a Fame Academy 'flop'

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The Independent Culture

He was the spiky-haired youth who won the BBC's Fame Academy a decade ago, then disappeared from the limelight.

But David Sneddon has been revealed as the unlikely collaborator for Lana Del Rey who called upon the Scot to help her score further chart success.

Born to Die, the first "official" album by Del Rey, finally hits stores today after months of anticipation. The New York singer is tipped to enter the charts at No 1 despite dividing critics with her breathy pop that she describes as "gangsta Nancy Sinatra".

One of the key songs on the album, "National Anthem", a tale of sex, drugs and romance, was actually written after a meeting between the singer and Sneddon, who has developed a new career as a songwriter-for-hire. "Lana was in the country in 2010 trying to develop herself as a writer/artist and was working with various writers and producers. Our managers knew each other, so it was easy to organise a session to see how we'd all get along," said Sneddon, who enjoyed a No 1 single, "Stop Living The Lie", after winning the short-lived BBC1 talent show in 2002.

Sneddon co-wrote "National Anthem" with his musical partner James Bauer-Mein. "We heard some of the early tracks Lana had written and really liked the sound she was going for," said the Paisley-born musician, now 33.

Pop stardom soon lost its appeal for Sneddon, who rarely speaks publicly about his Fame Academy experience. The only talent show winner to compose their own No 1 single, Sneddon waved goodbye to his £1m record deal after one album and pursued a new career, as a backroom songwriter.

Sneddon and Bauer-Mein are the team behind hits for soul singer Nate James and synth-pop duo Hurts. Sneddon rejects claims that Del Rey is a "manufactured" artist, a charge once laid against himself. He said: "She'd spent a while working on her sound before we met her so we were pretty quick to learn what she wanted out of a song.

"The lyrics are incredibly personal to her and although she enjoys the mystique of Hollywood imagery, you'll find a story wrapped up in every song."

Sneddon and Bauer-Mein hope to continue their partnership with Del Rey. They said: "We get along really well with Lana and had a lot of fun working with her on this album. If Lana wants to collaborate on the next album, we'd love to be involved. Quite simply, her songs are fantastic."

Sneddon, who gained a last-minute place on Fame Academy after another contestant pulled out, won the first series with 3.5 million votes. But he swiftly became disillusioned with the "dark side" of tabloid notoriety which reached a low point when he hit a London club barman who had been taunting him.

Fame Academy was axed after a second series in 2003, which was won by Alex Parks. The BBC series was overshadowed by ITV's Popstars: The Rivals which spawned Girls Aloud. But BBC1 returns to the talent show format this year with The Voice, in which a judging panel including Sir Tom Jones and Jessie J, are unable to see the singers who are auditioning for them.

Hit-makers stars' songwriters

Linda Perry

Once of one-hit wonders 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry has enjoyed success writing Pink's "Get The Party Started" and Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" among others.

Cathy Dennis

Despite only scoring one Top 10 hit in her own right – 1991's "Touch Me (All Night Long)" – Cathy Dennis has achieved eight No 1s writing for others, including Britney Spears' "Toxic" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl".

Tim Rice-Oxley

The keyboard player for Keane has also developed a career writing album tracks for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Gwen Stefani.

Lady Gaga

The star once worked as a songwriter at Sony under her real name – Stefani Germanotta.