Ricky Wilson on stopping worrying about people's opinions, the joy of a small wedding during Covid and being too tight to join a gym

Kaiser Chiefs were back performing in their native Yorkshire last weekend but before the gig in Scarborough, frontman Ricky Wilson spoke to Liz Connor about his life off-stage.

Ricky Wilson performing at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds in 2019. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Ricky Wilson found fame on the Noughties indie scene as frontman of Leeds-based band Kaiser Chiefs.

The catchy five-piece outfit, whose hits include Ruby and I Predict A Riot, have enjoyed platinum album success, won three Brit awards and still sell out arenas when touring.

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While the band are still going strong and have just started a series of UK dates which included a show at Scarborough Open Air Theatre last weekend, Wilson is also lending his creative talents to a new cause; creating a large-scale sustainable art piece made from recyclable materials in collaboration with dairy-free milk substitute Arla LactoFREE.

Wilson has been working with Arla on a new campaign.

We caught up with the Yorkshire rocker to chat health, fitness and the small joys that make him happy.

Wilson says his attitude to health and fitness has changed over the years.

“You start out in a band and you’re young, fit and you can bounce back from anything; there’s no such thing as a hangover and you’re indestructible,” he explains.

“Then, when you’re in the same job for a while, you can’t do what you used to be able to do before – you have to balance the books.

Kaiser Chiefs at the Q Awards in 2008.

“It’s not so much about hitting the gym in order to become an Adonis, it’s more about making sure everything’s working.

“We were never a boyband, so I don’t think we desperately needed to have abs.

“We took off, travelled the world, ate a load of junk food and drank every day.

“You come home late, look tired and don’t feel the best, which affects the work you’re doing.

Ricky Wilson performing at Elland Road in 2019. Picture: Steve Riding.

“By the time I got to 35 I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something about this’, so I started running.

“I haven’t joined the gym because I’m from the north of England and I’m extremely tight, and I don’t like people telling me what to do.

“But now, I now run every day and I love it.”

Hard road to success

Kaiser Chiefs originally formed in Leeds in 2000 under the name Parva and managed to secure a record deal.

But after being dropped by their label in 2003, they changed their name to Kaiser Chiefs – a name taken from South African football club Kaizer Chiefs, the first club of ex-Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe.

Their first album – Employment – under their new name came out in 2005 and was a massive critical and commercial success, reaching number two in the UK album charts and being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.

The band have gone on to release six further albums – winning umpteen awards, selling millions of records and touring the world in the process.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post back in 2011, Wilson said the road to success after the challenges they faced as Parva was not an easy one.

“Looking back it was a real slog, I wouldn’t do it again,” he said at the time. “There’s no guarantee that you’ll make it you just have to keep going.

“The number of times we were driving down the M1 on a minibus to a gig somewhere wondering if we were ever going to make it.”

Bandmate Simon Rix added they initially made the mistake of thinking winning a record deal as Parva proved they had made it.

“We thought we were the kings of Leeds and we thought ‘right, that’s it the hard work’s over’,” he said.

“So we learnt a valuable lesson because you realise there’s no moment where you can sit back and think you’ve made it, you’ve got to keep moving.”

At their recent Scarborough gig, around a quarter of the set was made up of songs from their debut album Employment, with the likes of hits Everyday I Love You Less and Less, I Predict a Riot and Na Na Na Na Naa going down a treat with their fans.

The 80-minute set closed with another crowd-pleasing hit from Employment in Oh My God.

It is not the end of the band’s live shows in Yorkshire this year – they have two headline shows at The Piece Hall in Halifax booked in for September 11 and 12 with the bill also including The Sherlocks, Mystery Jets, The Big Moon and Apollo Junction. They are also due to play at the Isle of Wight Festival and the Castlefield Bowl in Manchester later this year.

Happy ending after wedding preparations hit by Covid

Away from the stage, Wilson recently got married to his girlfriend of six years, stylist Grace Zito, who he met when working as a judge on ITV talent show The Voice.

The pandemic forced the postponement of the wedding four times but they decided to go ahead with a smaller ceremony than originally planned – something Wilson says ended up being something of a blessing despite missing friends who were unable to make it because of restrictions on numbers.

“We didn’t want the cloak of Covid to be smothering the celebrations, but it kept getting pushed back so eventually we said, ‘Let’s just do it’,” he says.

“We decided to have 20 members of the family and it was the best thing we ever did.

“There were lots of things missing, like church bells and singing and lots of friends, but for all the things that were missing, it was made up by what we got in return – which was that it was a brilliant day.

“I recommend a small wedding.

“You remember the day better because you’re not spending five minutes with 150 people.”

Changing perspectives over time

I ask Wilson what advice he would give to his younger self if he could go back.

“If it was me 10 years ago, I’d say, ‘Don’t be as concerned about what people think’,” he reflects. “When you start worrying about what people think, you start making the wrong decisions, because you’re making them for other people and not for yourself.

“When I did The Voice, it felt like the biggest decision in the world, but it should have been an easy decision to make.

“I didn’t want to do it in case people criticised me, but if you don’t do anything, then that’s worse.

“It really opened the door to me just saying, ‘Yes’ to things that terrified me, or the things I wanted to do but wasn’t sure how they’d come across.

“Not doing anything is far more destructive though, whether you do it well or not.”

So as Wilson has grown older, does he feel like he cares less about what people think?

“No, I still care about what people think,” he says honestly.

“I haven’t been able to shake that, it’s just that now I know people are always going to think stuff, so it’s kind of inevitable.

“Now I think, if people are going to think stuff about you, then it’s better to give them something to think about.”

Star lends art skills to campaign

Ricky Wilson recently headed to a farm in West Yorkshire to create an image of Planet Earth using 1,800 of Arla Lactofree’s new greener milk cartons.

Wilson, who taught art at Leeds University, spent eight hours creating the work on a 25 by 25 metre canvas with the help of local schoolchildren. The location of the shoot was also symbolic of Arla Lactofree’s recent relocation of production to Settle in North Yorkshire; another sign of Arla’s long-standing commitment to the region.

Wilson says: “Although my first passion is music, my background is actually in art so it’s been great to go back to my roots and show my creativity in a slightly different way. It just goes to show you how art can literally be on your doorstep.”

Ricky Wilson is helping Arla LactoFREE launch its new planet friendlier carton, made from 100 per cent renewable materials. Find out more about the new carton, and Arla’s commitment to sustainability at arlafoods.co.uk.

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