Justin Hawkins swears that, in his native Britain, there's one sure telltale sign you've fallen from grace in the entertainment industry. And that's when the reality TV show producers start ringing you up. Persistently.
The Darkness frontman knew his fortunes had taken a turn for the worse in 2006, after he reportedly had blown £150,000 in three years on cocaine. He entered the Priory rehab, leaving behind his BRIT-Award-winning glam-metal quartet as well as his frustrated brother, Dan Hawkins, who's also the band's guitarist. But he didn't know how bad things had gotten until he was offered a slot on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
"And they ask me every year," says the singer, whose charismatic banshee wail was first heard on the 2003 Darkness debut Permission to Land, and its flagship hit single "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." "The first time they asked me, it was quite a lot of money. And the second time they asked me, it was slightly less money. So I'm waiting for the day when they ask me to pay to be on there."
The British version of Big Brother puts in regular requests, too, and Hawkins figures he could stand a good chance of winning.
"But at what cost, though?" he sighs. "My dignity? My soul? There's very little left of that already."
Hawkins even got a tattoo on his shoulder to forever remind him of everything he'd been through. "It's the space shuttle," he says of the tat's design, "because it took off, went really well, and then it exploded and killed everyone on board."
Even so, Hawkins patched things up with his sibling to the point where they started co-writing songs for their reconvened band's third album, Bob-Ezrin-mixed Hot Cakes. His voice and canny ear for Queen-sized hooks are undiminished on celebratory, often autobiographical rock anthems like "Living Each Day Blind," "Everybody Have a Good Time," "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us," and the falsetto-squealing opener "Every Inch of You," on which the singer looks back on his turbulent career and marvels at his sudden turn of good luck.
Surveying his career with sober eyes, Hawkins says it wasn't show business that corrupted him — he'd already had a decadent bent. "I knew at the beginning what I was letting myself in for, and I actually embraced it. I can tell you for a fact that I was completely off my face when we recorded the first album. So we're not talking about something that's fame-related — we're talking about an illness that's been in me since Day One."
Eventually, Hawkins' phone began to ring with offers of the non-reality show variety. He nabbed film roles, in Psychosis and the Joe Meek biopic Telstar, in which he played Screaming Lord Sutch. He started producing acts like Saving Aimee and Foxy Shazam. And demand for his songs grew again, from artists like Adam Lambert, Steel Panther and Meat Loaf. Last year, he was even featured in a Samsung Super Bowl XLVI commercial, reprising his signature "Thing Called Love."
At 37, Hawkins is still as limber and acrobatic as ever onstage, the only visible difference being a twirly new Musketeer-ish moustache. "It's the secret to successful recovery!" he cackles. But he's seriously grateful, just to be alive. "And that's what I always ask myself – 'How come I'm not dead?' Maybe one day I'll find out the answer."