Pop Idol contestants Will Young, Darius Danesh / Darius Campbell and Gareth Gates pose for the camera

Reflecting on Pop Idol’s legacy after Darius Danesh’s death at 41

Tragically we all learned yesterday that Darius Danesh had died

It is over 20 years since the Pop Idol contestants took over screens and made stars of Will Young, Gareth Gates and Darius Danesh.

Sadly, Darius’ death was confirmed yesterday (Tuesday August 16). He was just 41. The Scottish singer was found dead in his US home, his family said in a statement.

Thinking about Darius and the TV appearances that launched him to fame, ED! looks at what became of the other Pop Idol contestants from the same series.

Darius Danesh smiling at 'Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice' film premiere
Pop Idol star Darius Danesh has passed away aged 41 (Credit: SplashNews.com)

Pop Idol beginnings

Following in the wake of the hit show Popstars that launched Hear’Say, Pop Idol was the dream child of Simon Fuller who decided that unlike that series, viewers should be given the chance to pick their own winners.

Presented by Ant & Dec with Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, Nicki Chapman and Neil Fox on the judging panel, the series launched in October 2001 and ended with a live final in February 2002.

As the live shows captivated the nation, the show became a smash hit, attracting over 10 million viewers for the tense final.

The success spawned a second run, which saw Michelle McManus triumph – much to the anger of Pete Waterman, who walked off set when it was announced she’d won.

As we all know, Will Young has continued to go from strength to strength since winning the series. But what has happened to the other Pop Idol contestants?

Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, Nicki Chapman, Neil Fox held sway over the futures of the Pop Idol contestants
Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman, Nicki Chapman, Neil Fox held sway over the futures of the Pop Idol contestants (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

Pop Idol contestants: Will Young 

Throughout the series, Gareth Gates had been considered the one to win as he ticked the traditional pop star boxes – cute looks, spiky hair and he was 17!

So when Will was voted by the public the winner – with 4.6 million votes – Simon Cowell was shocked.

Will Young’s debut single Evergreen was released two weeks after the show’s finale and became the fastest-selling debut single in the UK.

Of course, always one to spot a money-making opportunity, Simon also released a track and album with Gareth Gates shortly afterwards.

Since then Will has continued to release highly-praised music and had hits with tear-jerkers like All Time Love, Leave Right Now and many more.

His most recent album is Crying On the Bathroom floor, which sees Will covering tracks made famous by left field female singers. “I loved the idea of creating an album that celebrates some of the modern female artists I so admire in pop,” he told Music Week.

But music is only one aspect of his life.

Will has written books about mental health and being gay. He has also co-presented podcast Homo Sapiens and appeared in a variety of films including Mrs Henderson Presents.

He was also nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical nomination in 2013 for his role in the London revival of the musical Cabaret.

Will has also shown off his dancing skills on Strictly Come Dancing, even though he quit the show after just three weeks.

Will Young speaks about his twin Rupert in the documentary
Will Young spoke about losing his twin Rupert in a Channel 4 documentary (Credit: Channel4.com)

On mental health

In 2020, Will released a book called To Be A Gay Man, which was his take on gay shame and the effects it had on his life. He was later diagnosed with PTSD. In the same year, his brother Rupert took his own life.

Will has never shied away from speaking about mental health and is an active campaigner encouraging people to speak out.

“It comes from a subversive place of showing people that being a pop star or being famous is not what everyone is pretending it can be,” he told Western People.

“I like blowing that illusion out of the water, because it then hopefully gives other people permission to feel anything other than 100% the whole time.

“And also it normalises things – and that does help with me as well.

“Sometimes I will just drop into conversation, ‘Well yeah, I am agoraphobic, so I like staying at home anyway’. I don’t make a big deal of it and people are like, ‘Oh, he just said that on the radio’.”

He says that it is important that mental health issues are discussed openly.

“It’s not being ashamed of it. It’s normalising it,” he told Around Town.

“Humour is really important. It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom. Those things do help me and maybe give other people permission to not feel so ashamed and alone.”

Pop Idol contestants Will Young and Gareth Gates sing to one another
Will Young’s Pop Idol win over Gareth Gates was seen by some as an upset (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

‘Pop Idol was so pure’

Looking back at his Pop Idol experience, he said in an interview on Lorraine: “It was amazing. What was so lovely about it was it was so pure. There hadn’t been a competition like this for one singer and the record contract was given to me by the public not the moguls from the record company.

“It was an extraordinary series. We were lucky because didn’t know what was going to happen. There was no jealousy between Gareth and I, we got on – we really were like a family. I am still in touch with Gareth.”

Will also says that without his appearance on the show, he’s not sure any record company at the time would have taken a risk on him

“I don’t think I would’ve become a pop star at that time without Pop Idol because I don’t think anyone would’ve signed me, an openly gay politics student. That’s what was so beautiful about the show.

“It was such a new experience; not just for me, but also for everyone involved in the TV show. No one knew it was going to become such a huge success.

“The whole thing was a rollercoaster of fun and laughs and it felt very validating to be voted for by so many people.”

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Gareth Gates 

Gareth may have missed out on scooping the Pop Idol title, but Simon Cowell was determined to make the boy a star. And he did.

First the spiky-haired teenage stammerer released a cover of Unchained Melody then followed it up with hits like Anyone Of Us and Spirit In The Sky.

He would go on to release three albums, competed in Dancing on Ice and joined supergroup 5th Story on The Big Reunion.

His wedding to Suzanne Mole in 2008 was attended by Michelle Heaton and Holly Willoughby but sadly the marriage lasted just four years.

At the time he said he and Suzanne had simply grown apart. But it was reported that he’d been secretly seeing his Legally Blonde co-star Faye Brookes, who he went on to date for seven years.

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‘The UK’s biggest loser’

Speaking about his time on Pop Idol he told Examiner Live:  “I was live in front of millions of people with my very dear friend Mr Young, waiting for the results to come in.

“And then I lost. I became the UK’s biggest loser on that day. But it’s provided a great life for me and I’m still living the dream and keeping busy today.”

These days, he oversees musical theatre academies across Yorkshire and the North and run sessions in Bradford for children with stammers like his.

Gareth has joined company Events People to bring three new festivals to Bradford Bulls’ Odsal Stadium.

“I’ve actually done a lot of shows here at the Bradford Bulls ground over the years and I’ve also been a Bulls fan for many years, so it’s nice to help the club and that they’ve allowed us to be here. It’s an incredible venue,” he told a local newspaper.

And on September 3, Gareth will perform in the Big Pop Festival alongside nostalgic favourites such as Peter Andre, Five, S Club, A1 and more.

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Darius Campbell aka Darius Danesh

He was considered a joke on Popstars when he crooned Britney’s Baby One More Time and dared to predict that he’d release a platinum-selling album. But when he appeared on Pop Idol, with his ponytail chopped off and looking very dashing, the public took a shine to Darius.

Initially, he failed to make the live shows. But when Rik Waller pulled out due to illness, Darius was chosen to replace him.

While he put up a good fight against Gareth and Will, he came third.

But his Popstars prediction came true when his first single, Colourblind, bagged him the number one spot in 2002. And his debut album, Dive In, sold more than 300,000 copies to go platinum.

While touring with Alanis Morissette in India, he revealed that this father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Luckily he recovered and the episode “encouraged me to go back into the studio”.

Away from the charts, Darius appeared in various theatre productions such as Chicago in 2006, the Olivier Award-winning production of Guys and Dolls and played Rhett Butler in Trevor Nunn’s short-lived musical adaptation of Gone with the Wind.

Darius Danesh smiling at European Film Premiere
Darius finished third in the first series of Pop Idol in 2002 (Credit: SplashNews.com)


In 2017, Darius slipped into a near-fatal coma after accidentally drinking some dirty water from the Thames while filming an advert for a charity water filter.

It turned out the filter he used in the advert was a dummy version.

“I had a cerebral oedema where your brain swells bigger than your skull,” he told the Daily Record.

“Dad saved my life. He got me to hospital. They diagnosed it quickly.”

Darius married Species actress Natasha Henstridge in Los Angeles in 2011. But they divorced seven years later.

Before his death, Darius was dividing his time between Scotland and Hollywood, and working in the film industry.

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Zoe Birkett

Newcastle-born Zoe Birkett was, at 16, Pop Idol’s youngest contestant. But that didn’t stop her from proving to be strong competition for the performers ten years her senior!

While the judges and the viewers adored her she ended up coming fourth on the series. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a chart star.

Snapped up by 19 management, she enjoyed a short-lived pop career with hits like hiNRG anthem Treat Me Like a Lady and Get Happy.

However, after a couple of years, she decided that she wasn’t happy with the musical direction she was taking. Zoe reportedly told her manager Simon Fuller that she wanted to stop.

After that, Zoe embarked on a hugely successful theatre career. She has appeared in huge shows like Rock of Ages, Priscilla, Thriller and The Bodyguard.

Pop Idol contestants - Zoe Birkett sings into a mic
Zoe Birkett placed fourth (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

‘Simon Cowell was always so complimentary’

Looking back on her time on Pop Idol,  Zoe says she had a great experience and remembers that Simon Cowell had a bit of a soft spot for her.

“The judges were great,” she tells us.

“Simon Cowell was ever so nice to me. He said in a book a few years later ‘I loved Zoe from the moment I met her. If it was a different time, Zoe would have won’. He was always so complimentary about me, which was lovely.”

In 2020, she married her fiancé Adam with whom she has a five year old daughter Aaria.

She had hoped to tie the knot in Bali, but because of the pandemic they were forced to change plans. They got wed in the UK instead in front of 40 of their nearest and dearest.

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During lockdown, Zoe showed off another talent. She wrote a series of books called My Favourite Is… featuring rhyming poetry for children aged 2-6.

“It was always something I wanted to do,” she tells ED!.

“I’ve always written poetry. And my husband was like, ‘if you don’t do this now, you’re never going to do it’. And he was right. So I did it and I loved it. It’s been so, so good.”

Zoe’s performance academy

Zoe says she also tries to give back to her community. And so she set up a performance academy for young people in the north east.

“Basically, the academy is a two day intensive workshop weekend with stars, from TV and film and west end coming along to share their insights,” she says.

“It gives children in the north east an opportunity to work with these incredible people without the cost of London. When I was a kid and I was training, I would come down to London and you had to factor in train tickets, hotel, food and it was so expensive.

“And I thought I can bring all that buzz and experience from these teachers from London up to the north for literally a fraction of the cost and give these children an experience that they’ll never forget. And it’s been great.”

Zoe has starred in the West End production of Moulin Rouge playing singer Arabia. However, she is also first cover for the lead role of Satine.

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Hayley Evetts

Having had a taste for competing on the original series of Popstars, talented Hayley Evetts tried her luck with Pop Idol and as result saw her life change considerably.

Popular with viewers during the live shows, Hayley sadly bowed out in fifth place. But that was just the beginning of a successful career.

Not only did she present the ITV 2 spin off of Popstars: The Rivals, she bagged a small role on Coronation Street and starred as Sandy in Grease alongside Robbie Williams’ best mate Jonathan Wilkes.

She later auditioned for The X Factor in 2012 (though didn’t make it past boot camp) and in 2016 she was one of the candidates set to represent Romania at Eurovision before pulling out due to a severe knee injury.

Speaking exclusively to ED!, Hayley says she loved her time on Pop Idol as it “changed my life”.

Pop Idol contestants - Hayley Evetts sings into a mic
Hayley Evetts is still singing in 2022 (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

“I went on to do lots of amazing things after,” she recalls.

“When I think back it’s quite strange how I went into presenting rather than singing because believe it or not I’m quite shy and presenting live Saturday night TV is terrifying.”

‘Life after Pop Idol was hard’

However, Hayley admits that after once the hoo-ha of being on a show like Pop Idol died down, it was quite hard for her to get back on track.

“Life after was hard,” she recalls.

“We’d been in this Pop Idol bubble for over a year. The tour had finished and we were just left to our own devices. I had no idea how to push myself forward and unfortunately I was had really bad management who didn’t look after me at all.

“It was a really tough time. I eventually lost everything, my mental and physical health really suffered and went home.”

After suffering an injury, Hayley decided to return home and start afresh

“I injured my back so everything stopped once again,” she recalls. “I went back home and made a total fresh start – I became a mum and went to work for the NHS.

“When COVID hit I started to sing and as I couldn’t see anyone I was making little videos of songs and I totally got the singing bug back.

“I am now in a band and I am loving every second of it. It may not be the pop star life that I perhaps a long time ago once dreamed of but I’m happy and singing… and that’s all that matters.”

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Rosie Ribbons

She was a pretty Welsh singer who made Pete Waterman cry. Sadly she bowed out after uncharacteristically mangling Abba’s Winner Takes It All.

Nevertheless, Rosie was offered a five-album deal with Telstar Records, and enjoyed two hits with A Little Bit and Blink.

Pop Idol contestants - Rosie Ribbons sings into a mic
Rosie Ribbons was only 18 when she appeared on Pop Idol (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

In 2007, she tried her luck again on Australian Idol. Rosie impressed the judges with her performance of Everybody Hurts. But she failed to make it through to the final twelve.

In March 2012 Rosie was a featured vocalist on the title track of the Alonestar EP Warrior. It also featured a certain Ed Sheeran, who accompanies her on All Falls Down from the same EP.

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Laura Doherty

Laura was a pretty Northern Irish girl who sadly ended up in the bottom three for three weeks running.

Eventually she left in seventh place and returned home to Derry.

In 2008 she married her childhood sweetheart and had a child.

At the time she said she was glad to have missed out on winning the show. Laura admitted: “I couldn’t be a pop star. There is too much pressure and it is a very dirty business.”

Pop Idol contestants - Laura Doherty smiles
Laura Doherty claimed there was “nothing glamorous” about showbiz (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

“It’s so surreal. You have to get up at six in the morning and your face doesn’t get in front of the camera until 4pm. There is nothing glamorous about it. You have to leave home for too long.”

However, she looks back with fondness and has says she enjoyed some great times in the Pop Idol bubble.

“It was brilliant playing before 13,000 people at Wembley and touring around with the rest of them I got a taste of what it was like but not everybody makes it,” she told The Belfast Telegraph.

“Unless you’re Gareth Gates or Will Young you might last a year. It is pure luck.

“But the work that comes out of having performed on the show is brilliant.”

Laura has remained quiet of late, but has sung in various bands and has taught hip-hop dancing in schools.

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Aaron Bayley

Aaron Bayley was the Newcastle train driver with a powerhouse voice who the judges adored.

Speaking to ED!, he admits that he never expected to win the show as he was older than most of the other hopefuls.

He was just hoping the show would serve as a platform to build a career!

However, his experience on the show wasn’t quite what he had hoped.

Pop Idol contestants - Aaron Bayley sings into a mic
Aaron Bayley, then 26, was the third performer eliminated from the competition (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

“I didn’t much care for the TV side of things,” he said.

Aaron claimed; “I would get phone calls from the producers asking me about my song choices for certain weeks. And then I’d get a call a few days later telling me I could no longer sing that particular song as they were giving it to Gareth instead.”

He also claimed promises made by his management company never materialised.

‘Forgotten about’

“There were many lows, most of which came in the aftermath. Things like hearing through the grapevine that I was expected at an album signing at my local HMV store which management hadn’t told me anything about.

“There were many other things that happened in similar ways. After the show you’re simply cast aside and forgotten about.”

However, he admits that trying to piece his life back together after Pop Idol wasn’t easy.

“It was tough at first because I was kind of ‘too famous’ to get a normal job but not famous enough for a record company to sign you or be considered for other things.

“There were promises of being looked after by 19 management but exactly the opposite happened in the cold light of day. In fact, apart from the a couple of calls that I made to them I don’t think they ever contacted me regarding any work.

“It’s a tough situation to be in as all help is halted. Your personal life and well-being suffers for it in a big way.”

But Aaron is happily married with three children (aged 19, 12 and 7). He also works as a peripatetic music teacher in various schools across the north east and Northumberland.

He also runs a wedding and corporate function band called The Aaron Bayley band. And Aaron also released a self-penned album that’s available on iTunes and Spotify.

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Jessica Garlick

Making it on to Pop Idol was a dream come true for Jessica Garlick. Not just because it gave her the chance to sing, but because she finally got to meet Pete Waterman!

“He was one of my absolute songwriting idols,” she tells ED!. “I grew up on his music. I was so overwhelmed at meeting him I started hyperventilating!”

Extremely popular with the judges, Jessica surprisingly only finished in ninth place.

However, being voted earlier than she’d hoped was fortuitous.

“Leaving the show was a low point for me, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” she says.

“If I hadn’t come out that week, I’d never have got Eurovision. The song was sent to me that very same week and I was free to try out.”

Pop Idol contestants - Jessica Garlick smiles
Jessica Garlick now works with children (Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock)

And Eurovision turned out to be an experience that was just as exciting as Pop Idol.

Eurovision was incredible!” she recalls. “I loved the song, I loved the experience, I loved the fans. It was amazing!

“I had always wanted to represent my country in Eurovision since I was 12.

“In facts, I had four things I wanted to accomplish. To sing for Nigel Martin Smith (Take That’s Manager, my thought being he could be my manager). And to sing for Pete Waterman. Three, take part in the Eurovision Song Contest. And four – sing on Top of The Pops. Little did I know that I would get to do all of these things by the time I was 21!”

‘Music wasn’t my passion any more’

After Eurovision, Jessica and her boyfriend eloped to Vegas then settled in Sydney where she worked as a lead singer in a show.

Returning to England, she decided she wanted to focus on starting a family which meant that music was put on the back burner.

“I realised that music wasn’t my passion any more, my family was,” she tells ED!. “I was destined to become a mother and I didn’t want to miss a single thing.

“In 2010 I had our son and I got into teaching through volunteering at my children’s school. I now teach SEN and music within primary school and I love it. I love working with children and making a difference in their lives.”

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Rik Waller

Rik was the larger-than-life contestant who was cruelly taunted for his weight.

Although he made the live finals, he never actually got to take part as he was struck down with severe laryngitis and replaced by Darius in week two.

Nevertheless, Rik went on to release a cover of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You and later appeared on Celebrity Fit Club in 2002.

Pop Idol contestants - Rik Waller withdrew from the series
Rik Waller withdrew from the series (Credit: Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock)

In 2013, he told the Daily Mail how time shad got tough for him since Pop Idol.

He said: “The most demoralising thing I’ve ever had to do was queue up at the job centre and have people look at me saying, ‘What a failure’.

“When you’ve lost the ability to do the job you’ve always done, it’s an incredible stab in the back to find people are actually laughing at you. It’s why I don’t make a lot of effort to talk to the press these days. It can be more trouble than it’s worth.”

In 2014 he started working as an exam invigilator at secondary schools for Piper Assessment in Sittingbourne.

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Read more: RIP Darius Danesh: Fan tweets prove he was a truly iconic reality show contestant


Korben, also known as Chris Niblett, was the first contestant to be eliminated from Pop Idol.

Not much was heard from him afterwards. However, before he was on the show, Korben came third in the 1998 Mr Gay UK contest.

Pop Idol contestants - Korben sings into a mic
Korben went from Pop Idol to beauty (Credit: Shutterstock)

These days, Korben has been working as a Regional Education Manager at Estee Lauder Travel since late 2014.

And in 2018 he added being a director of education and content development for retail engagement at the beauty brand to his CV.

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Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix and let us know what memories you have of Pop Idol.

Christian Guiltenane
Freelance Writer