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Busted look back: ‘We had puppy-dog energy. You can see it in our eyes’ | Life and style

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Busted in 2002 and 2023
Busted in 2002 and 2023. Later photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman. Grooming: Melissa Bourne. Archive photograph: courtesy of Busted

James Bourne and Matt Willis formed Busted in their bedrooms in Southend as teenagers. After recruiting Charlie Simpson to front the group, they went on to become a multimillion-record selling pop punk trio until 2005, when Simpson announced he was leaving. He went on to launch Fightstar, while Bourne wrote for artists including McFly and the Vamps, and Willis became an actor and won I’m A Celebrity in 2006. Since 2016, Busted have released two albums, Night Driver and Half Way There. They tour in September and continue to release reworked versions of classic tracks, with Loser Kid 2.0 (feat Simple Plan) out on 14 April.

Matt (pictured centre)

In 2002, I was quite bewildered. My only ambition had been to play a gig at Chinnerys in Southend, so everything additional felt overwhelming. I was uncomfortable in front of the camera and couldn’t ever smile. Instead, I became the wacky-face guy. It was easier than having to be myself.

I wouldn’t say James was a dork when we first met, but he was a bit childish, in a good way. I took him to my local pub and he was quite weirded out – he was far too innocent. When I met Charlie, I remember thinking: “Wow, he speaks like the Queen!” He was really tall but he slouched. I wondered if he was insecure about his height, as he always kept his head down. He also wore these ridiculous bell-bottom trousers that I loved.

At the start, no one would take me and James seriously, as we were just two weirdos, then this handsome guy Charlie arrived and we got signed straight away. We were fractured early on. That was because Charlie walked into something that was already done – the whole album was written. Before we knew it, we were on the cover of Smash Hits. I was stoked. But Charlie was never into that world, so he was unhappy. Part of me wanted to say: “Can we just enjoy it? Can our moment not be naff, please?”

Even on the night we won two Brits, we were apart. We all had girlfriends; we were all experiencing this bonkers reality separately. We should have talked about Charlie’s unhappiness straight away, but whenever it was brought up one of our team would say, “Well, let’s not” because we were making so much money for everyone. No one wanted to rock the boat until it was too late.

Towards the end I was drinking and using a lot, but I was very functional, so nobody knew. I was the last one standing, first one on the tour bus in the morning. It wasn’t interfering with anything until after the band ended and I had too much money and time – the worst things for an addict. Now I’ve had so much rehab I’ve turned into the caring uncle of the group: “How’s everyone feeling? Everyone OK?” It’s annoying, but it works, and we are closer now than ever.

James (left)

This was such a magical time – everyone knew who we were and it felt as if Busted were taking over. We had a crazy stylist called Mr Gammon who made custom clothes for our shoots, and we had that puppy-dog energy – you can see it in our eyes. Now we have that 20-years-older energy.

Me and Matt met when we were 16 and trying to make money. We auditioned for a TV show then a band. Soon after that, we started writing songs. I thought it was funny that I was making music with this naughty boy, as I was a good boy. But Matt was really nice and the musical connection kept our friendship strong, even if we probably wouldn’t have been friends otherwise. As for Charlie, my first impressions were that he was the poshest person I’d ever met. He was also really friendly.

Busted was a runaway success. We’d visit record companies and play our songs and jump up and down. They all wanted to sign us, and we got huge record and publishing deals before we sold a single record. We were living in a hotel in Hyde Park and had everything paid for by this manager in America who believed in us. Me and Matt used to get drunk in Piccadilly. One night we met a homeless guy who was our age. It was freezing, so we invited him to the hotel and I slept on the sofa. We never saw him after that.

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You often hear about band breakups leaving people feeling devastated. That wasn’t me. Charlie didn’t want to do Busted any more, but we didn’t bicker about it. I’m not sure Matt was even aware Charlie was in the band.

The work I did in the meantime – McFly, the musicals, my songwriting for other bands – was a gateway to the version of Busted we are today. I don’t think there’s a better example of good karma returning the energy back.

Charlie (right)

This was our first photoshoot. I had no idea it would become a classic Busted shot. It looks as if I’m wearing lipstick. I wasn’t. I had very glossy lips, though.

I was pretty nervous when I first met the guys. On an acoustic guitar I played them Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train and they were pretty stony-faced in response. When we took some photos, I worried that I was too tall.

I was thrown into the group just as they were about to explode. I didn’t focus on fame, but we had to avoid anywhere with too many teenagers, such as shopping centres or cinemas. My family kept me grounded. At 11pm every night I’d sneak out of the hotel to see my girlfriend then get a cab back before 6am. Busted lived in an actual house after that, which was a bit like university halls. Matt was the only one who wasn’t messy. Management said we could buy whatever we wanted, so we got this huge TV and La-Z-Boy sofas. It was very Joey and Chandler.

Matt and James were unbelievably understanding when I said I was leaving. I still have guilt about it. In 2015, we went on a road trip in America to make new music. It was like being on a date. When you enter a band it’s like entering a relationship.

We were kids when Busted started. We’ve since lived life and have set the foundations for something even stronger.


Busted in 2002 and 2023
Busted in 2002 and 2023. Later photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman. Grooming: Melissa Bourne. Archive photograph: courtesy of Busted

James Bourne and Matt Willis formed Busted in their bedrooms in Southend as teenagers. After recruiting Charlie Simpson to front the group, they went on to become a multimillion-record selling pop punk trio until 2005, when Simpson announced he was leaving. He went on to launch Fightstar, while Bourne wrote for artists including McFly and the Vamps, and Willis became an actor and won I’m A Celebrity in 2006. Since 2016, Busted have released two albums, Night Driver and Half Way There. They tour in September and continue to release reworked versions of classic tracks, with Loser Kid 2.0 (feat Simple Plan) out on 14 April.

Matt (pictured centre)

In 2002, I was quite bewildered. My only ambition had been to play a gig at Chinnerys in Southend, so everything additional felt overwhelming. I was uncomfortable in front of the camera and couldn’t ever smile. Instead, I became the wacky-face guy. It was easier than having to be myself.

I wouldn’t say James was a dork when we first met, but he was a bit childish, in a good way. I took him to my local pub and he was quite weirded out – he was far too innocent. When I met Charlie, I remember thinking: “Wow, he speaks like the Queen!” He was really tall but he slouched. I wondered if he was insecure about his height, as he always kept his head down. He also wore these ridiculous bell-bottom trousers that I loved.

At the start, no one would take me and James seriously, as we were just two weirdos, then this handsome guy Charlie arrived and we got signed straight away. We were fractured early on. That was because Charlie walked into something that was already done – the whole album was written. Before we knew it, we were on the cover of Smash Hits. I was stoked. But Charlie was never into that world, so he was unhappy. Part of me wanted to say: “Can we just enjoy it? Can our moment not be naff, please?”

Even on the night we won two Brits, we were apart. We all had girlfriends; we were all experiencing this bonkers reality separately. We should have talked about Charlie’s unhappiness straight away, but whenever it was brought up one of our team would say, “Well, let’s not” because we were making so much money for everyone. No one wanted to rock the boat until it was too late.

Towards the end I was drinking and using a lot, but I was very functional, so nobody knew. I was the last one standing, first one on the tour bus in the morning. It wasn’t interfering with anything until after the band ended and I had too much money and time – the worst things for an addict. Now I’ve had so much rehab I’ve turned into the caring uncle of the group: “How’s everyone feeling? Everyone OK?” It’s annoying, but it works, and we are closer now than ever.

James (left)

This was such a magical time – everyone knew who we were and it felt as if Busted were taking over. We had a crazy stylist called Mr Gammon who made custom clothes for our shoots, and we had that puppy-dog energy – you can see it in our eyes. Now we have that 20-years-older energy.

Me and Matt met when we were 16 and trying to make money. We auditioned for a TV show then a band. Soon after that, we started writing songs. I thought it was funny that I was making music with this naughty boy, as I was a good boy. But Matt was really nice and the musical connection kept our friendship strong, even if we probably wouldn’t have been friends otherwise. As for Charlie, my first impressions were that he was the poshest person I’d ever met. He was also really friendly.

Busted was a runaway success. We’d visit record companies and play our songs and jump up and down. They all wanted to sign us, and we got huge record and publishing deals before we sold a single record. We were living in a hotel in Hyde Park and had everything paid for by this manager in America who believed in us. Me and Matt used to get drunk in Piccadilly. One night we met a homeless guy who was our age. It was freezing, so we invited him to the hotel and I slept on the sofa. We never saw him after that.

skip past newsletter promotion

You often hear about band breakups leaving people feeling devastated. That wasn’t me. Charlie didn’t want to do Busted any more, but we didn’t bicker about it. I’m not sure Matt was even aware Charlie was in the band.

The work I did in the meantime – McFly, the musicals, my songwriting for other bands – was a gateway to the version of Busted we are today. I don’t think there’s a better example of good karma returning the energy back.

Charlie (right)

This was our first photoshoot. I had no idea it would become a classic Busted shot. It looks as if I’m wearing lipstick. I wasn’t. I had very glossy lips, though.

I was pretty nervous when I first met the guys. On an acoustic guitar I played them Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train and they were pretty stony-faced in response. When we took some photos, I worried that I was too tall.

I was thrown into the group just as they were about to explode. I didn’t focus on fame, but we had to avoid anywhere with too many teenagers, such as shopping centres or cinemas. My family kept me grounded. At 11pm every night I’d sneak out of the hotel to see my girlfriend then get a cab back before 6am. Busted lived in an actual house after that, which was a bit like university halls. Matt was the only one who wasn’t messy. Management said we could buy whatever we wanted, so we got this huge TV and La-Z-Boy sofas. It was very Joey and Chandler.

Matt and James were unbelievably understanding when I said I was leaving. I still have guilt about it. In 2015, we went on a road trip in America to make new music. It was like being on a date. When you enter a band it’s like entering a relationship.

We were kids when Busted started. We’ve since lived life and have set the foundations for something even stronger.

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