Last Saturday, I witnessed one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen. I sat down to watch Lewis Capaldi deliver yet another amazing Pyramid Stage performance at Glastonbury. He knocked it out of the park during his previous appearance at the festival and I fully expected him to do that again. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
I’ve since read reports suggesting that his voice was problematic throughout the set though I really didn’t see it in that way. His early songs were fine and he appeared to be on good form. However, after half-an-hour or so, it quickly became apparent that Lewis had an issue. He was coughing mid-song. He admitted to the crowd that he was struggling to sing. Perhaps most devastatingly, as this continued, the visible signs of his Tourettes and mental health issues became more apparent, especially his tics and shoulder twitches. Yes, the crowd supported him more than ever and pretty much sang his final song for him, though those levels of adoration didn’t seem to matter to him. He was clearly beating himself up more and more as the performance progressed.
There were so many worrying signs from this. I’m guessing Lewis has issues with self-loathing (I can speak from experience with this one). He clearly sets ridiculously high standards for himself – standards which he must have difficulty achieving. He was visibly disappointed (perhaps even angry) with his performance. Imposter syndrome remains a huge issue for him, as does the lack of self-confidence and the very apparent self-doubt. For me, the saddest thing he said was ‘When I do come back and when I do see you, I hope you’re still up for watching us.’ He doesn’t seem to realise that a huge Pyramid Stage crowd is almost certainly guaranteed for him when he does return. That one line suggested to me that Lewis is a severely tormented soul who perhaps already believes that he’s reached his peak and is on the slippery slope to showbiz mediocrity. I dearly hope I’m wrong, but that one sentence smacked of fear and vulnerability.
Linked to this, the recent Netflix documentary, ‘Lewis Capaldi: How I’m Feeling Now’, was a difficult but essential watch. As an all-access documentary, it’s raw and it’s brutally honest. It was an incredibly brave decision from Lewis to make such a programme – I only hope it was his decision and not one made by his manager or record company.
The documentary contains some insightful moments. He reads out a lovely e-mail which he received from Elton John, full of love, admiration and support, yet this seemed to be of no benefit. The signs of self-doubt and imposter syndrome remained very apparent, not least when Lewis says ‘It’s nice but I obviously still feel like an imposter. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.’ Also concerning is the intense pressure he’s clearly under from his record company. His debut was the biggest selling album in the UK in both 2019 and 2020, and there would undoubtedly have been expectation for him to repeat that astonishing success with his sophomore album. The song ‘Someone You Loved’ spent seven weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart and, at this point in time, is the 4th most streamed song in Spotify history, with over 2.8 billion streams on the platform. However, as a result of this success, he is clearly setting himself an incredibly high bar and comparing everything (certainly in terms of success) to that absolute behemoth of a tune and that huge debut album.
There is also a very telling moment in the documentary where Lewis shows a complete lack of confidence. He says, ‘I’m not confident in my abilities as a songwriter and I think that’s got worse the more successful I’ve got.’ Clearly ignoring those quite crazy stats above, he chooses instead to continue to believe that he isn’t talented enough. Good old imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head yet again. There are other concerning issues referenced within the documentary, including anxiety, panic attacks (which have, on occasion, resulted in physical pain), and Lewis admitted to being a hypochondriac. Overall, it gave the impression of a very troubled man.
Regarding his Glastonbury appearance, the most painful part for me was that he genuinely does not seem to realise just how much he is loved. The crowd on the day, and his broader fanbase, clearly adore him. The 100,000 or so people at Glasto clearly realised he was struggling, though they didn’t become subdued, or boo him, or show dissatisfaction. They helped him through. They sang their hearts out. They gave him an amazing ovation at the end. Yet he left the stage in one of the quickest Pyramid Stage exits of the entire weekend, clearly desperately disappointed in himself.
The one big takeaway from this for me was that it is quite apparent that mental health issues can and do affect so many people. Regardless of social status, financial status, age, gender, sexuality – pretty much all of the groups which we are placed into these days – mental health issues affect so many people in so many ways and to varying degrees. In the case of Lewis, we have one of the most adored singers on the planet, one of the humblest and most likeable guys around, yet he still clearly suffers badly from mental health issues. This is difficult enough for anyone to deal with, so God only knows what it is like for someone so firmly entrenched in the public eye.
This also cemented in my mind the view that imposter syndrome is the most debilitating of what I continually badge as ‘everyday mental health issues’. Sure, anxiety is hideous and crippling when it occurs, but it comes and goes (in my experience, at least) and is a problem to deal with sporadically. Lacking self-confidence is awful though there can be those little rays of light to grasp – occasions when certain things happen and provide us with that little shot of confidence, no matter how fleeting. So, again, it isn’t necessarily permanent. Imposter syndrome, however, tends to sit ever-present in the minds of sufferers. If we feel we’re not good enough to do something, whether that’s singing, playing a musical instrument, writing, painting, baking, creating anything, going about our regular job, being a parent, being a partner, or just about anything else you can think of, that shit tends to stick and live rent-free in our heads for a ridiculously long time. It’s really difficult to address and resolve. It tends to be a constant in our heads.
All of this makes me wonder if the cheeky chappie image which Lewis portrays is a front. I’m certain it is – this is a classic deflection tactic. There are clearly elements of humour and mischief rooted deep down in him, and that is something I find wonderful, though I do feel he exaggerates this at times to get, and keep, people onside. I don’t mean that in a nasty or cynical way – to me, it’s a symptom of his lack of confidence and struggles with imposter syndrome. He clearly doesn’t need to do this to such an extent though I do wonder if that persona is truly the genuine Lewis Capaldi, or if it masks who he really is. I suspect it’s one of many coping mechanisms he uses to avoid dealing with the daily struggles he clearly has.
I do fear for him and dearly hope he gets to spend some valuable time with those who are truly closest to him. Those who genuinely have his mental health and wellbeing at heart and will look after him and hopefully help him find some peace with himself. The cancellation of his remaining summer 2023 shows is a huge step in the right direction. It will be wonderful if he feels comfortable in returning to the spotlight again. However, if that is proving difficult, he needs to make the right long-term decision for him. What I hope he does realise is how much vital and amazing work he’s already done in candidly sharing his problems and raising awareness of mental health issues. The more people do this, especially celebrities, the more people who are struggling, no matter what the extent of their issues, will realise they’re not alone. It’s vitally important to talk…
As always, thanks for reading and take care.