In beirut, Mika talks exclusively to Tabloid! about his colourful life, pesky love handles and returning to Lebanon

Colourful doesn't even begin to describe Mika's world. Granted, the world has witnessed the obvious clues — the bright clothes, child-like jewellery and crazy antics on stage.

But meet him face-to-face and it's easy to see the colour comes from somewhere far deeper than many could imagine.

Speaking exclusively to tabloid! just hours before his highly-anticipated first concert in Lebanon — his birthplace — Mika, a bundle of positive energy, vibes and enthusiasm, spoke openly about everything from nuts to new underwear.

Looking anything but inconspicuous in a striking navy and white striped jacket, the 6ft pop sensation lit up the room, his curly locks shaping his face, softening a huge smile.

And then came the colour.

Firstly in the form of his family who outdid him in the colour stakes, namely his mother who wore a luminous orange dress and his sister in a fuchsia pink trouser and shirt combo.

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in the form of a child/boy/man who has clearly struggled — and is still struggling — with a world which he finds hard to understand.

He exudes colour through his music, personality and outlook on life, a conscious decision he claims has shaped who he is today.

Between reality and fantasy

"I write songs in order to process things in my life. You can say something in a song which you just can't get away with saying to someone's face — unless you want to get smacked in the mouth."

Stuck somewhere between reality and a fantasy, cartoon-like world, Mika now says the three-dimensional colour and imagination we all know and love from his catchy melodies, bright music videos and breathtaking live shows allow him to express his views and thoughts in a positive and fun way.

"Even if I'm singing about somewhere quite dark and depressing, I believe this parallel universe allows me to approach everything in a fun and happy way. The alternative would be to get dragged down by negativity."

Mika's early years were difficult. The singer forgot how to read and write and stopped talking for weeks on end.

Born in Beirut in the mid-80s, Mika's family found themselves having to move to Paris at the height of the civil war.

His father was taken hostage and held at the American embassy in Kuwait before being released and taking his family to settle in London.

"It was a combination of moving as well as a horrible time at school for the first few years in London that lead me to stop talking, reading and writing.

"I was pulled out of school for six months in order to sort myself out and find a new school and this was when I remember music really becoming important to me. It got me back on my feet."

A self-taught piano virtuoso, gymnastic vocalist and born entertainer, Mika says by the age of nine he knew songwriting was his destiny.

"After I started singing as a boy I started getting jobs everywhere. With the help of a terrifyingly tough Russian singing teacher I became quite good and did everything from recordings with the Royal Opera House to the Orbit chewing gum jingle.

"I'll never forget calling up British Airways to get a ticket only to be placed in a line listening to my own voice — it was a painful eight minutes.

"I think the main reason I was getting so much work was because I was insanely cheap. My mother and I had no idea how much I was supposed to get paid. Looking back I think 45 quid for the chewing gum jingle could have been a little too cheap."

Up against the on-going fighting, political disruption and concerns over safety, this concert trip was third time lucky for Mika, who says he was "dying to get to Lebanon" to perform for the people he considers family.

'Lebanon's my home'

"This is a concert which has fallen through a number of times and you have no idea how pleased I am that it is finally going ahead. I was born here and have what feels like hundreds of cousins here.

"My mother lives here and I consider it home in many ways. I tell everyone I can of my Lebanese heritage and even though I have never really lived here I don't think it matters.

"I was brought up in a Lebanese household and I don't underplay that. I am not scared about being in Lebanon — admittedly my crew were a little apprehensive but that is natural."

So the cartoon world Mika created as a child has stayed with him and now is transported into circus-like antics and atmopshere on stage, unique choreography and foot-tapping tunes which just cannot be ignored — even if you try.

"I think my perfomances are theatrical as a way of escaping. I hide in my music and try to take all the negative influences and make them positive.

"The cartoon came from being 'placeless' for so long. Moving around all the time meant I didn't know where I belonged.

"I think I felt I didn't have a home so I would just create my own where everything was colourful and happy. And it worked."

Mostly written about his family and life experiences, Mika credits his child-like curiosity as his main inspiration and influence when it comes to writing songs.

"Some of messages are really quite dark but I think they are made even more powerful by the fact they are presented in a catchy pop melody.

"Sometimes when I'm on stage it feels weird to watch a five-year-old singing along to Love Today because it's about a hooker in Miami.

"I sometimes look down and think I hope you don't understand these lyrics — well at least until you're 12.

"But the joy of the music is people can look as little or as deeply into the lyrics as they wish."

With plans to spend his birthday on August 18 mountain climbing in France, and endless fat-burning dance routines on stage you'd think Mika would have nothing to worry about when it comes to exercise and his weight. Think again.

"If there's one thing the world doesn't know about me it's that I have love handles. The world doesn't know about it because I didn't either. I love a drink or two but my trainer says the handles are appearing so I have to stop."

The young Mika wasn't to be found hunched over a radio under the bed sheets or seduced by the glitz of Top of the Pops. He was catapulted onto the stage by a Richard Strauss opera at the age of just 11.

"I've always done things differently without really knowing it. I wish I could say I was a self-imposed loner but it was imposed on me. But at the same time I lived in a magical world. A parallel universe for people that is illusory and enchanting and amazing."

For the last 12 years of his life Mika has followed his maxim of a parallel universe to its natural conclusion, which resulted in his dynamic, idiosyncratic debut album Life in Cartoon Motion.

Quitting college

"I grew up listening to everything from Joan Baez and Dylan, to Serge Gainsbourg and flamenco.

"My musical tastes have become more eclectic as I've got older but I always find myslef going back to great artist songwriters, people who make great records to their own vision — Prince, Harry Nilsson, Elton John and Michael Jackson. These people make amazing pop records which couldn't be performed by anyone else and that's what I always wanted to do."

However, it could have all been very different.

"At 19 I left home to study for an academic degree at the London School of Economics. But I quit on my first day and enrolled at the Royal College of Music two weeks later. What was I thinking?"

An obsessive songwriter as a student, he would gate-crash parties and take to the piano to deliver five-song sets unannounced and uninvited.

One such occasion led to an early development deal, which he now sees as essential to his progress as an artist but at the time saw a little short of spirit crushing.
"The bosses would try and twist me into a direction which went totally against my nature.

Basically they wanted me to follow whatever was popular at the time, which at that time was Craig David, so my depression was pretty deep.

Saved by the web

"My advice to people starting out now would be to use the internet for everything it can provide. It is an amazing resource and gives people opportunities they wouldn't have had before.

"I always credit a web blog called PopBitch for some of my discovery. I went from having about 102 hits online of people listening to my music to near 50,000 in just over 24 hours. Just because they wrote something nice about me.

"It was incredible. People think your music is great when you are famous but the truth is my music was the same then — same songs, same album but nobody had heard it.

"And now I have the priviledge of being able to do things my way but anyone starting out also has the same freedom. You don't have to ask anyone's permission and you can do whatever is in your heart."

A family man, Mika now works along side his brothers and sisters who do everything from set design to running errands for their big brother. But extrovert they certainly aren't.

"My sister goes mad if anyone even tries to talk to her. We call her Whack because if you try and take a picture of her she will do it.
"My family is very close and I love that. We fight like normal families do but it is always OK in the end.

"I work with people I trust and they remained very tight-lipped about me which I like. We have people knocking on the door at home and all the rest but we don't speak because we are serious about music and not being famous. I want to put on a great show, not be a celebrity."

And the wheels only back up the above.

"I drive a Fiat 500 but I've just bought an Austin Healy 100 from 1952 which is so cool. But the irony of the whole thing is that I don't drive. It's great I can get driven around by my friends.

Behind the Big Girl

Curiosity (and a night in front of the television) along with an endearing quality to always see the good in things, brought about Mika's number one hit Big Girl.

"I was watching a programme on Channel 4 in the UK about obesity in the US and it was incredibly dark. The tone of the documentary was very sarcastic and cutting towards fat people and it didn't sit right with me.

"Then they started interviewing the owner of a nightclub about two hours outside LA called The Butterfly Lounge, which was a nightclub specifically for larger ladies. Suddenly the whole tone of the documentary changed and became a pleasure to watch.

"These ladies were having a great time and it flicked something in me. There and then I wrote down the words ‘get yourself to the butterfly lounge and find yourself a big lady' and Big Girl was written in 15 minutes."

Mika's favourite things

Superpower: To have sticky hands like Spiderman to climb up buildings.

Breakfast: Double espresso, hot milk, boiled egg (3 mins and 40 seconds), Ryvita, labneh, hummus and cucumber.

What makes you nervous? Everything.
Favourite film: Freaks by Tod Browning.
King for a day: I'd hold a medieval feast with a sacrificial animal.