Wherever he sang his hit in the glory days of the Eighties, Paul Young was greeted with the same hysteria. Now things are a little quieter, as Janie Lawrence discovered
How cruel is celebrity status. One minute there you are: Paul Young the successful, dishy pop star, who can't walk down the road without reducing female passers-by to hormonal blancmanges. The next ...

Well, Paul, what does happen next? Do you still get fan mail? "I've just had this strange letter from a girl in Holland," he replies.

Righty-ho. And?

He continues in deadly earnest. "She says she's saving herself for me. Only ..."


"She's writing from an asylum, and says she's psychotic."


"She wants me to write back but I think I should consult someone, because if I say the wrong thing I could tip her over the edge."

Paul, I counsel, a spark of intuitive genius tells me that any contact would be a jolly bad idea. I mean, let's face it, she's been committed. At which point because I am such a heartless harpy the story reduces me to shrieks of helpless laughter. Do you think she wrote it with one arm in and one arm out of the straitjacket, I ponder. I wait for him to titter. But then, because Paul is without doubt a far far nicer human being than me and has clearly never entertained thoughts of murdering screaming children in railway carriages, he doesn't. Instead, he proceeds in deadly earnest:

"I think I should write back something."

It strikes me that if this tale is anything to go by, Paul must be one heck of a worrier. Breathless when we meet - he's been to the wrong place - he announces that he had intended to be half an hour early.

"I had this fanciful notion that I would be able to relax and calm down before I saw you."

He is not calm. For someone who has been interviewed a trillion times over the years he assumes no starry posture whatsoever.

Looking tense, he gulps his way through three consecutive espressos. From time to time there is even a trace of a stutter. "It comes back every now and then. It's left over from being shy as a kid."

All of this leads me to believe he must have been pretty damn gutted when his record company, East West, announced last month that his services were no longer required.

"I was disappointed. I wasn't bitter. For two mornings I found it very difficult to get out of bed. But by the third day I was all right."

A letter from Max Hole, the MD of the company, contained all sorts of mollifying statements - "I don't doubt your artistry", and suchlike. But, to be brutal, Paul Young had been dumped. A word he doesn't like. "'Dropped' doesn't even sound so bad," he says ruefully.

The fact remains that the singer's big hits belong to the Eighties. "Wherever I Lay My Hat" was his first No 1, in 1983. His last, the duet "Senza Una Donna", with the Italian singer Zucchero, was in 1991. The album East West, released in 1997, imaginatively entitled Paul Young, did not do well at all.

The evening before we meet I've done my homework, and can honestly report I did enjoy the album. It's melodic and you can make out the words. All in all, perfect hummy background stuff while I peeled the potatoes. These though, I fear, are the criteria of an out-of-touch fogey. Not the priorities of today's young music-buying public.

"I know I made a good album," he says. "In fact I was so cocksure of it that it knocked me back a bit when it didn't do as well as I'd hoped."

For anyone expecting him to fulfil his White Soul Boy tag, it comes as a surprise. Paul Young has gone all country on us. He also penned most of the songs himself. He regularly flies back and forth to Nashville and has already lined up two American performers to record these new-style songs. "It didn't bother me not writing songs in the past cause I loved the performing side. Now I'm writing and enjoying the process."

Brought up in Luton, Paul Young began his working life as an apprentice at Vauxhall Motors. By day he was on the factory floor, at night he was gigging. "I was surviving on four hours' kip a night. So one evening I fell asleep, drove the car into a lamppost and wrote it off."

After five years with the Q Tips his big break came with the album, No Parlez. During that period he was one of those stars consistently described as "a hell-raiser".

"We used to carry a toolbox with nails, so that if anything got out of hand in the hotel room and something got broken we could nail it back down again. We didn't want to get knocked for the expense."

Now 42, he is still handsome, though the dark brown hair is longer and is beginning to head towards salt and pepper. Whether anyone else in the cafe apart from me knows who he is or why he's being photographed is debatable.

"Fame and glory is an intangible thing" he says philosophically. "It's an experience I've had - it doesn't mean I would want to have it again. I don't know if I would want the stress back in my life."

He is, of course, now a family man and father of three, married to the model Stacey Young. For a time he was as well known in the tabloids for his personal life as for his music. When Stacey had a liaison with Eddie Kidd before they were married, it made all the gossip pages. When Stacey and Paul were reunited, it was dutifully reported. And their "secret" marriage in the States was deemed sufficiently important for the DJ Simon Bates to share with Radio 1 listeners. Of that will-they-won't-they-get- back-together period he says, "I'm glad to say that we managed to make the right decision. When we got married it worked great, and it still does."

Stacey is now once again forging a career of her own, with a mixture of modelling and telly work. As Paul is now without a label, and they're moving to a new, large home in Hertfordshire, is this voluntary or has he sent her out to earn a few quid towards their Sainsbury's loyalty card? "No, she said she wanted to get out there again," he says earnestly.

It's OK; I was only joshing. "But there is a need for me to keep working, to keep it ticking over." As he reminds me, no matter how many times his old hits get played on the radio, he doesn't receive a penny; the royalties go the song-writer.

He has enough songs for a new album although when, or with whom, they will be recorded remains up in the air. For now, as he puts it, he has "time on his hands".

So, purely for fun, he plays pub gigs with Los Paciminos, a Tex Mex band that he formed.

He also heads off to make guest appearances at some event called Night of the Proms. No relation to the Albert Hall extravaganza I gather.

Rather, these take place in Belgium and Sweden, and often include other British Eighties' stars whom we haven't seen too much of since ra ra skirts.

Perhaps he will have to reinvent himself. Has he worked out a strategy?

"To get working again, so I can go on tour. The frustration comes because I believe I'm doing interesting music."

He spots the time, and bolts back the last dregs of espresso. After all, every former hell-raiser inevitably becomes a dad who has promised to take his daughter to a gymkhana.