It’s not easy standing up to bullies - but singer Joel Rothwell is aiming to inspire and encourage youngsters who are being picked on to seek courage and not let the bullies win.
The 23-year-old, who spent most of his childhood in Lancashire, tours schools up and down the country, delivering a powerful message following his own experiences, as well as talking about how his hard work and determination paved the way to a successful singing career.
Joel said that during his formative years, he felt victimised by a staff member, which deeply affected his confidence.
But he said his experiences only made him stronger and determined to prove his critics wrong.
He recalls: “On my first day of high school I was told I was going to be hated and that set the tone."
Joel said he was also singled out by his peers, especially as he played for the school’s football team in the year above him.
He remembers: “It’s hard to talk about, but I was beaten up and called fat, as I was overweight, despite being sporty.
“I got challenged because I was in the football team for the year above so I was essentially taking someone else’s spot, so the kids above didn’t like it.
“I felt no-one was looking out for me and I felt I was on my own.”
Following his troubles with the school, he was expelled and joined QEGS (Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School), in Blackburn, where he says he he felt valued.
He was the school’s youngest football team captain, as he was offered the title in the first football team, in his first year, which was usually give to a sixth former in the second year.
He says: “When I came to QEGS, I was so impressed with the way my teachers cared for me and respected me. This made me want to do right by them and it’s why I chose to carry on studying here after year 11.”
It was also at the school that he developed his musical talent.
He says: “I’ve always wanted to sing since I was four years old. I decided to take it more seriously when I was 16 and began to write my own songs, as watching my sister, Rebecca, now 40, write her own songs inspired me to do the same.
“So I began writing with Rebecca and recording YouTube videos to send to producers.
“During my first year of sixth form at QEGS, I was spending a lot of time in the studios in London, as I was getting offered a record deal with Global, which at the time was owned by Capital.
“So I dropped out of school and went to BIMM (The British and Irish Modern Music Institute) in Manchester.
“I was gigging and touring and releasing my music with Apple Music and Spotify.”
Joel describes his music as electronic and ‘Shawn Mendes meets Gorgon City and The Chainsmokers.’
He has already gained recognition from the likes of Gary Barlow and RJ Gibb, the son of Bee Gees Legend Robin Gibb.
He has also been offered a slot on the stage of the prestigious Troubadour, London.
Joel reveals: “I worked with Gary Barlow with a Help for Heroes concert because, back in 2016, I was working in the studio in Sheffield alongside Eliot Kennedy, who has written songs for Spice Girls and Bryan Adams, asked me if I wanted to perform at The Hidden Wounds charity concert in the Vulcan Experience aircraft hanger at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster.”
Joel adds he doesn’t get star struck and jokes: “Gary Barlow went out before me, so essentially he supported me.
“I was also invited to perform at an event hosted by RJ Gibb in October. His PR guy, Julius Just has been tracking my movements as he likes my work, and he played RJ my music and he loved it, so he wanted me to perform.
“It is good to get recognition. The bigger the artists I am performing alongside, the better for me. I thrive on that. To be seen as good enough to sing alongside these acts is an achievement. RJ Gibbs sent out a press release saying something good about me, and that he was excited to have me on board, which is great.”
Alongside his gigging, Joel is determined to take a stand against bullies and has embarked on a tour of secondary schools throughout Lancashire and Manchester to make sure others have guidance that he didn’t.
He is aiming to highlight the issues close to his heart and inspire youngsters to help stop bullying in their school and show them how he turned his life around.
He adds: “I want others to know there are people you can speak to. Bullying can affect anyone, no matter what age. So, no matter what age you are, don’t be afraid of speaking out. I never had anyone to speak to. So I am trying to be a beacon of light and if I can help just one youngster, that is better than helping no-one. I was surprised at how many children and teenagers have messaged me for help. I enjoy being that support for them, but it is not good that they need to do that.
As part of his tour, Joel will be at Fleetwood High School on Tuesday, December 17. He has already visited Hindley High School, Wigan, and was also met with a hero’s welcome at his former school QEQs to mark the release of his new single, Know Them.
He spoke to pupils about the importance of being an individual and how to find support if they feel they are being bullied.
He did a Q&A, and chatted to pupils about his career and their own aspirations for the future.
Joel says: “I am now using my music to help children to let them know that there is always someone to talk to if they feel they are being bullied and it was a pleasure to share this message back at QEGS, especially on the day that my new single was released.”
Joel’s former form tutor at QEGS, Tim Birtwistle, who also taught Joel art at GCSE and A-Level, says: “Joel was always passionate about creative subjects and Music was his real strength. "Joel left QEGS to pursue his career in music and has kept in touch with us ever since. I am delighted his career is flourishing and we are very proud that he is using his music to promote such a positive message on this important subject.”
Joel is now working to release his second single, Strangers, in the New Year and he will be playing at Manchester Academy 3 on February 23. Tickets are £8. He will also be continuing his school tour to provide support to more pupils over bullying.
Joel also has big plans for 2020, as he says: “I am looking to book into some festivals. I would love to get Glastonbury if I can.”