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At the height of their fame, pop group Steps were having worldwide hits, supporting Britney Spears on tour and winning BRIT awards, however, not all the members of the band were living their best life.
Speaking to pal Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time, Ian ‘H’ Watkins said the intense workload that the group underwent meant he hit a really low point while the band were visiting Australia.
“I remember a really low point for me was when we didn't know what country we were waking up in,” he told Thornton.
“Our schedule was so incredibly intense. We would do a 24-hour day sometimes. We were promoting up and down the country, all hours of the day.
“And I remember a really low point for me was when we were in Australia. I didn't know what it was back then, but now looking back on it, I probably was having a little mini breakdown and I didn't know it. And I was just crying and sobbing my heart out. I was just overwhelmed, overworked.”
Listen: Steps chat about the best of times - and the worst of times - over their long career
Being on the go non-stop wasn’t the only reason behind Watkins’ breakdown, he was also struggling with his identity, which was an extra burden to carry at the time.
“I was under a lot of pressure because I wasn't being my authentic self,” he recalled.
“I was still in the closet, so I still felt a massive pressure. I felt the media were kind of on my back, trying to out me a little bit as well. It was a really hard time for me personally and professionally.”
Band-mate Lee Latchford Evans agreed that their time in Steps the first time around was really full on and hard work.
“People probably didn't realise how hard we worked - and it was kind of was like 16-hour days, every single day,” he said.
“It didn't matter if it was a weekend or a weekday and we just carried on and we worked through. If anything, weekends were probably more for us because of the SM-TVs and all the things like that.
“I think we didn't really get the recognition - dare I say - that we kind of deserved for all the work that we were doing. We needed a bit more praise from it, from people around us.”
Watkins’ breakdown in Australia was a turning point for the band, who decided to take a little bit more control over their working life.
HAPPY 22nd birthday ‘ONE FOR SORROW’! 🌻 On this day in 1998 this awesome song was released! Still one of my favourites to perform on tour! The video was filmed in Italy, next to a stunning Sunflower field - that’s what you saw! Behind the camera ( what we saw, and could smell ) was a sewage plant! 😂 #happybirthday #oneforsorrow #officialsteps #planetpop
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He said: “I remember from that point onwards, we actually sat down and went, right 'We're not puppets. You can't treat us like this anymore. We need designated time off. If we work a solid month, you give us a week off.'
“Up until that point, we didn't realise that we could actually speak up and be heard because we just went along. We just felt like puppets for a long time.”
Claire Richards, who eventually left Steps to form a band with H, said the Australia trip was the last time that they flew economy as they often stepped straight off a long-distance flight onto a photo shoot or other working event, while Faye Tozer-Smith said things definitely improved from the early days, when they only had one car for events.
Watch: Steps announce their reunion
“I lived the furthest down south in London, I'd be picked up at two o'clock in the morning and then dropped off at ten o'clock in the morning,” she remembered.
“I was like, first pick up and last drop off. I mean, we endured a lot, to be honest, to get where we are and well done to us for doing it and staying sort of fairly sane along the way!”
HAPPY 21st Birthday LOVES GOT A HOLD ON MY HEART! The first single from our second No.1 album ‘Steptacular’! Here’s some pics from my disposable camera! SO much fun filming this video at the Carlton Hotel & Pier in Cannes, France. Yellow is @fayetozersmith favourite colour - that’s why we went with that theme for this single! Who remembers the dance? Tell me your memories 💛 #HappyBirthday #lovesgotaholdonmyheart #officialsteps #petewaterman
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The group, who are releasing their new album, What The Future Holds, next month are pleased that they went through the whole experience together as only they know what it was really like.
“It is hard work and you do push your family away,” said Latchford-Evans.
“You do travel and we've only got the five of us really, because at the end of the day, we had management and the record label, but were they on our side a hundred percent back then? Who knows?
“It was the five of us that were really working and only the five of us know what it's like to be in Steps and have that experience for all those years.”