Singer-songwriter Aidan Martin on drug addiction and recovery: ‘My world fell apart’
When Aidan Martin tried cocaine for the first time, he could never have known just how powerful a force it would become in his life.
What followed was, as he describes it, “six years of debauchery”. Aidan became addicted to cocaine and chemsex – the practice of having sex while on drugs – and he fell into a series of relationships that were toxic and damaging to his mental health.
Looking back, Aidan can see that he fell into a hole, but he still doesn’t know exactly how it happened. One day, he was a young gay man exploring his sexuality and his identity in London. The next, he was facing homelessness, and worse, watching his friends die.
Those terrifying years are behind Aidan, and today, he’s a successful singer-songwriter with a loyal fanbase. His career kicked into third gear when he appeared on The X Factor in 2017, where he wowed judges and audiences with his powerful self-penned songs. He’s now channelling his experiences with drugs, chemsex and depression into his music.
Aidan Martin’s entire world fell apart as addiction took hold
Aidan’s journey with addiction began when he made the move from Newcastle to London at the age of 17, like countless queer people before him. He had bright hopes for the future – he saw moving to the city as a chance to reinvent himself as an out and proud gay man.
“I was working for a bank at the time as a cashier and I literally took my payment and left,” Aidan tells PinkNews. “I moved to London, dyed my hair black and was wearing make-up and carrying bags and wearing fur. I loved it, and I still look back with fond memories on the way I was then, but I started to fall in with the wrong crowd and I started to try and find myself in those people.”
It wasn’t long before Aidan started experimenting with drugs – and the situation quickly started to spiral out of control. Looking back, he says his foray into cocaine-use led to him to “other things”, one of which was chemsex.
“Chemsex was quite a big issue for me. I had to really try and fight back against it. For about six years, my head was under. I wasn’t doing anything with music, and there was a real disconnect between me and my family and everyone who loved me. I found myself lost in this world.”
He’s keen to share his story because he knows so many other queer people are struggling with the exact same issues. Research tells us that LGBT+ people experience addiction and mental health issues in greater numbers than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. By speaking openly about his experience, Aidan hopes he can help queer people who are suffering in silence.
I was suicidal – I really went through it all.
“My whole world fell apart because of drugs,” he says. “I was homeless at one point, and I lost everybody around me – so many of my friends died. I can think of probably seven, eight people who lost their lives to exactly what I was doing, and even then it wasn’t enough to scare me to stop. It’s left scars that I’m still working through.”
During those years, Aidan Martin experienced relentless depression. He remembers spending days at a time in bed, unable to answer the phone to anybody.
“I did have a couple of people who were really there for me and who were a massive help in all of that, but it didn’t take away from that feeling of worthlessness,” he reflects. “And then it would happen again the next weekend because you’re stuck in the cycle. I was suicidal – I really went through it all. It was one of the most intense, crazy times of my life, and it went on back and forth for five or six years.”
Things started to look up for Aidan when he came into contact with David Stuart, a pioneering activist who has been credited with coining the term “chemsex”. With David’s help, Aidan was able to start working through his addiction. When David died suddenly in January, there was an outpouring of grief from those he helped – including from Aidan.
“David Stuart was so incredible because he came up with that term and gave it a name, and he was one of the first people to hit it head on,” Aidan says. “He set up a clinic within 56 Dean Street to tackle that, which was a lifesaving moment for me, because going to the doctor and talking about that stuff, it wasn’t something you would do. There were so many gay men just keeping it to themselves.”
Aidan finally started singing again, which led him to The X Factor
Aidan was getting his life back on track, but he still hadn’t started singing again. He had always been an eager performer, but as he descended into addiction, he gave up on his dreams of becoming a professional singer. That all changed when he moved into a new flat on Rupert Street in London.
“There was a guy living in the next room, a gay guy called Kenny who is now my best friend,” Aidan says. “I had given into the fact that singing wasn’t going to happen for me, and Kenny managed Green Carnation, which was a bar in Soho. He said to me one day, ‘I’ve heard you singing in your room. You need to come and do a show.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing that, I haven’t sang in so, so long.’”
Kenny persisted, and eventually, Aidan acquiesced. Performing in Kenny’s bar helped him reconnect with his passion – before long, he realised that he could start writing about his experience of addiction in his songs.
I was ashamed for a long time of my past and what I’d been through.
“Through that, this healing process began… I’m finding the courage and the strength to talk about these issues openly, and that hasn’t been easy either. I was ashamed for a long time of my past and what I’d been through, and it’s only now that I’m seeing the power it can have, not only for myself, but for other people who have had similar experiences.”
As Aidan started to come out of addiction, he decided to enter The X Factor in 2017. He wowed both the judges and audiences watching at home with his soaring ballads, but he was ultimately sent home at the judges’ houses stage.
In the last couple of years, there’s been intense discussion about the legacy of The X Factor and the way contestants were treated on it. Aidan Martin’s experience was mostly good, he says, but he does wish he had gotten a bit more aftercare from the team. He says he was “very insecure” when he auditioned for the contest, and he wasn’t quite as emotionally resilient as he needed to be.
“It really helped me on my career, and to be honest I don’t think I’d be standing here today if I hadn’t done that. It definitely led me on to what I’m doing now – it gave me an incredible opportunity. Obviously I think that within it, it would have been lovely if there was more care involved because you are going through something huge and life changing. I remember I went to sleep one night and I walked out of the house the next morning and people knew who I was. That was crazy. Nothing prepared me for that and I found it really difficult.”
When he came out of The X Factor, he had “nothing” – no money, no fame to fall back on, and no job. He had to start from scratch.
“I had to go back to working in a bar. I remember there was this couple who walked past me when I was cleaning a table in the bar, and the guy said to the woman, ‘Oh that’s that Aidan Martin from X Factor,’ and she was like, ’It wouldn’t be him, he wouldn’t be working here.’
“It was hard, but I only really have good things to say about it because it gave me a platform to sing my own song. It was a dream come true, but it’s definitely a challenging experience, and you’ve got to be a certain kind of person to get through it emotionally.”
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the road for Aidan. He has since signed a record deal, and last August, he unleashed his single “Good Things Take Time” on the world. It’s an emotionally searing ballad which sees Aidan tackling his own experience with addiction head on.
“The lyric of the chorus is, ‘Even when I’ve been out all night, even when I’m f**king up my life, even when I’m losing my mind, I know that good things take time.’ I was always holding on to this idea that eventually I’d be OK. I remember writing that song and wondering if I was ready to put it out into the world. In the end, I actually met an amazing woman called Rory who wrote that song with me. She’s in recovery and has been sober for three years now, and she’s an incredible role model for me.”
Working with Rory gave Aidan the courage to share his story “openly and honestly” for the first time. He’s glad he did – he’s even gotten the lyric “good things take time” tattooed on his arm as a reminder of the journey he’s been on.
“Every time I see that I think, despite what I went through, there’s always hope,” Aidan says.
“To anyone reading this, no matter what you’re going through, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You’ve just got to hold on and find those things that drive you away from what’s burying you.”