Joe would never forget that fateful night. Deep down he knew Stacey should have won, but the roar of the crowd, George Michael’s tender embrace and Cheryl Cole’s obvious pride banished any thoughts of guilt from his mind.
My how they’d partied that weekend in South Shields.
The first thing he did was buy his Mam, dear old Eileen, a house. It was a modest affair but with a sunken bath and decking in the garden. She’d been thrilled.
What he didn’t tell her was that he’d borrowed the money from Geordie Mick, the local hard man. Joe was confident that with the royalty payments, the tour and worldwide press attention, that he’d pay him back in no time. It was to be a decision he’d regret for the rest of his life.
He’d heard mention of the facebook group urging people to buy some old heavy metal record he’d never heard of in order to stop him from getting the Christmas number 1. He’d found it quite amusing and trusted Simon who’d told him not to give it a second thought.
Ironically neither the heavy metal band or Joe Mcelderry were to be blessed with a Christmas number one that year. Fans buying multiple copies had forced executives to ban both records from the charts leaving Jedward’s version of Frosty The Snowman to storm the airwaves.
It was a blow to Joe, although he was confident Simon would back him after inviting him to a meeting in his slick London offices.
“Listen Joe, I’ll be frank, I’m afraid it’s bad news”
Joe’s young face crumpled as Simon continued,
“The money’s all gone. We spent over a million promoting your single and we’ve lost the lot.”
“I’m cancelling the tour and taking Jedward out to the States. I’m sorry Joe, but it’s over.”
Joe couldn’t hold back the tears and even the impassionate Cowell felt a twinge of pity
“Look Joe, I’ve had a call, Buttons has pulled out of the Hartlepool Municipal Pantomime and they need a replacement. I can put you in touch if you like but there’s nothing more I can do.”
Joe hadn’t taken him up on the offer, too shocked and crestfallen to even think about panto. Leaving the office he met Jedward who were drinking champagne and playing on a DS in the plush reception. They were pleasant enough but didn’t offer him a glass. As he left he heard them giggling and felt sure they were laughing at him.
Christmas was a bleak affair in the Mcelderry that year although he tried to keep his spirits up for his Mam’s sake. She was more worried about where the money for the house had come from than anything else, but he assured her he had an interview in the Daily Mirror and a photoshoot in Sugar and not to worry about money.
The truth was money was all Joe could think about. The press weren’t interested in an X Factor has-been. The truth was he’d clammed up whenever interviewed. He was only 18 and just didn’t have anything interesting to say. All the journalists seemed to want to know anyway was what Jedward were really like and whether the rumours about their incestuous relationship were true.
The first punch knocked him to his knees. It was Boxing Day and he’d just popped out to Tescos for an economy loaf and packet of custard creams. Looking up he saw Geordie Mick glaring down out him along with two other snarling and fearsome men.
“You’ve got two weeks Joe,”
Geordie Mick had said as a succession of kicks were aimed squarely at his limp body. They never touched his face.
Joe could hardly walk as he carried his meagre shopping home. He told his Mum he tripped but wasn’t sure she believed him.
As the days passed Joe became increasingly desperate. He friends soon tired of his frantic appeals to borrow money and in any event no-one in South Shields had the kind of money Joe needed to pay back Mick.
When the two weeks was over Joe did the only thing he could think of. He ran.
Getting off the coach in Victoria Station, Joe felt disorientated by the big city. Knowing no-one and with nowhere to go he wandered the streets, his hands nursing a can of K Cider to help keep out the cold.
With two weeks growth on his young face and dressed in shabby Primark, no-one suspected that he was Joe Mcelderry, winner of the X Factor. The next day as he made his first claim for job seekers allowance the advisor had joked about his name saying,
“Well you don’t look anything like him, he’s much better looking than you darling,”
She’d laughed. Joe had considered making a complaint but he was more concerned with finding a bed for the night. Taking pity she gave him the number of a young people’s hostel warning him that they might be full at this time of year.
Sadly for Joe she was right.
They’d told him to come back in two weeks and they may be able to offer him a place.
For two weeks Joe walked the streets, ignoring his Mother’s frantic phone calls until he swapped his Nokia pay as you go for ten fags and a 3 litre bottle of White Lightening.
He drank constantly, the nights were so cold and the days so long and empty. No-one noticed the tearstained scruffy teenager clutching a can of cider and checking phone boxes for money. There were countless kids like him on the streets of London.
His giro hadn’t lasted long. The first time he begged he winced with shame, but even that became easier. He discovered that if he asked enough people for just 20 pence each he would soon have enough for a can of his preferred white cider. And naturally the drunker he got the easier it was to rely on the pity of strangers.
He was finally accepted into the hostel where almost everybody drank almost all of the time. Joe’s life became a blur after that, sitting in a Hammersmith Park drinking with the underbelly of London life. He’d tried to tell them he was Joe Mcelderry, X Factor winner but they just laughed, one of them saying, “Aye lad and I’m Richey from the Manics.”
Joe later found out that he was indeed Richey from the Manics but never told anyone, his discretion being bought with a bag of chips and a promise of a savage beating.
Occassionally Joe had moments of lucidity and when he did he’d call Stacey. He felt so guilty for that night, robbing her and little Zachory of a glistening future. He knew Stacey was struggling, so he never let her know how bad things were, telling her he was back at college and doing fine.
The one morning he awoke in the tiny hostel room that resembled a prison cell and realised hit was time to speak to his Mam. He’d tried to cut himself off emotionally, the drink helped, but inside it tore him up and he knew how much she must be hurting.
Geordie Mick had been brutal. She may walk again, the doctors weren’t sure, even so she was terrified to go outside. Having had to sell the house she was in a B&B waiting for a place from the council. They’d told her to expect a long wait.
Joe cried and cried that day. His Mother didn’t blame him but warned him he must never go back to the North East. Geordie Mick was not the forgiving type.
So Joe drank and drank and days turned into weeks turned into months. One night he’d turned up outside Cheryl’s house, drunk and shouting incoherently. In fairness Cheryl had come out to see him, though Ashley glared at him menacingly from the window.
“Listen pet, we’re not friends, it’s just a job pet. I mean I’m sorry an’ all, but I just can’t help you.”
Shamed Joe had asked for a little spare change, anything, just 20p, his next can of cider never far from his mind.
“Aww darlin’, I would but we’ve just ‘ad the pool serviced and Asley’s totalled another car. I’m sorry pet but we’re all strugglin’ at the moment.”
Joe had fled ashamed.
The hostel was a dreadful place with people shouting and singing all night and regular fights. Joe just kept his head down. He had the life he knew he deserved.
It was a bright Summer morning when Joe came to his decision. He begged like never before that day but this time the money wasn’t spent on on the usual cans of cheap cider. Joe felt a new clarity as he bought a fresh outfit of clothes from Peacocks although people were less sympathetic to his pleas now he had clean clothes.
But, by eight’o’clock he had enough to carry out his plan.
His hands were trembling as he booked himself into a modest B&B for just one night. He made sure the room had what he needed, a bath and a phone and then spent the last of his change on a half bottle of Grants vodka.
Lying in the warm bath that night Joe’s head had never been clearer. He rang Stacey, just one last time. He thought of ringing his Mam but he just couldn’t face it, not now.
The first bite of the razor hurt more than expected and he flinched knocking the bottle of empty pills he’d taken as a precaution into the bath. Screwing up his eyes and tensing his wrist Joe persisted making the only decision he’d ever made that seemed to make sense.
His death wasn’t even mentioned on facebook.