Review: Getting Over the X - Steve Brookstein (4.5/5)

Friday 21 November 2014
It was the stuff dreams were made of. It became the ultimate nightmare. Being the first winner of the X Factor in 2004, Steve Brookstein should have had it all. Instead, he tells a story of a man sold down the river by his own record label as they championed the runner-up, G4, and forced him into an album of cover songs.

This is the story of what really happened, from vicious personal attacks by Sharon Osborne and Louis Walsh to threats from Max Clifford about going public. A decade on, and Max Clifford is inside and severely discredited. So is Andy Coulson, an editor who ran many of the untrue stories about Steve. He has been dubbed a pub singer, a fake, a flop and bitter as the narrative that begun on the show became adopted by journalists who thought he was fair game, frequently reviewing gigs that they hadn't been to or inventing quotes he hadn't said, and always regulated by a toothless Press Complaints Commission.

Ten years on, Steve is now able to lift the lid on the show itself and analyse for the first time exactly what Max Clifford said when he rang to say, 'Talk to the press and we'll bury you.'

I've read comments on Twitter about the relevance of this book in 2014, I feel there's never been a better time for Steve to share his story. The interest is still there, the press still contact him every year a new series starts, and with the truth about how the press really operate coming out in recent years, and Steve himself being erased from X Factor history, it's no wonder he wants to get his story out there, now he finally feels in the right place to do so.

The X Factor does appeal to all generations, but it would be interesting to know how many of the current viewers remember Steve, or actually even watched the first series. I was only 14 at the time, so can't remember all that much about it except my Mum voting for Steve and I think I bought his album for her (we have it in the house, so somebody did). I can't recall the venom with which Louis and Sharon spoke to him (on live TV) and it's shocking this was even allowed. The word bully is thrown around on X Factor almost yearly now, and a week without an argument is very rare indeed, it's done almost in a pantomime way now but back then it was nothing more than vicious (see YouTube), and it's a wonder how Steve got through those weeks.

The chapters in the book are dated by month and year, with Steve discussing what was going on around that time. Taking us from the very first audition, right through to the final and the years afterwards up until the present day. Steve speaks very openly and honestly throughout. No stranger to the business when he auditioned, he wasn't stupid and knew the games the music business could play, yet even with Pop Idol and the like, nobody could predict how big The X Factor would become, nor how many lives would be changed, and not always for the better. Behind a TV or computer screen it's easy to forget these are people, being used solely for a few hours of entertainment each week. We often get a look into their lives behind the scenes but only what the producers want us to see, and Steve lifts the lid on what really goes on.

We now know more about just how manipulative these shows can be, the contestants and the public played with week on week, stories twisted and fabricated just to provoke a reaction and get people talking. The winner of the show was promised great things, their lives changed forever. The loser was promised nothing. You can imagine then the surprise and annoyance of Steve to find out G4 were to release their album first, sell more copies and go on to be called 'the real winners' by Simon and Louis. Being a teenager I wasn't all that interested in what the media wrote at that time, so much of the information here was new to me, and it's certainly very revealing, lifting the lid on just what goes on and how certain people set out to shut Steve up, however he wasn't willing to go down without a fight.

Steve has alluded to things over the years without ever revealing the full story, well in this book he is able to finally do that. I'm not going to list them here but there are some very interesting stories. With everything that went on after Steve won, I'm assuming the contract for future contestants looked very different to Steve's, the ones signed by the current crop must be incredibly long, so it'd be interesting to actually read the stories of the other winners, or the other contestants who entered a show hoping to fulfill their dreams only for a lot of them to find out fifteen minutes isn't a very long time. Perhaps those stories can never materialise.

Throughout the years many have called Steve bitter, or critcised him for refusing to shut up but the truth is the media twist things or report incorrectly, and stories which appeared damaging Steve weren't always true, yet with people attempting to keep him quiet, and the public and media seeing him as a joke, he never had the platform to get his story across, and get the truth out there. Even before that he had to face constant belittling, ridicule and nasty comments from two judges, is it any wonder that he's come across as bitter over the years? I'm sure most people would have. He is only human after all.

You only have to look at Steve's Twitter on a Saturday night to see why people call him bitter, and it's given this book a bit of a bad rep before it has even been released, it's not all negative. Steve is also very much a family man, speaking with love and adoration about his wife and children. That said though he doesn't actually come across as bitter (not much anyway), the passage of time perhaps making him more accepting and understanding of what went on. It isn't 300 pages of hatred towards Simon and The X Factor, it's very much about Steve and his life, and how the experiences changed it, it's not a wholly negative read and there are positives to take from the experience.

I felt the book ended quite abruptly, I would've liked a bit more about Steve looking to the future but hopefully now he's shared his story finally, he can find happiness and move on with his life. Steve might have been erased from X Factor history, and some people might make fun of this book, yet you can't criticise it without giving it a chance and I really hope that people do. It's a story that does hold relevance ten years on, and is one that I think deserves to be read.

Thanks to Steve Brookstein and ghostwriter Tony Horne for the review copy. 

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