The Ivor Novello-winning song, a festive favourite that saw the band performing on Top Of The Pops around a grand piano in immaculate white parkas, was written about the suicide of his older brother Ollie five years before its 1994 release. “I was only 19 when it happened and it’s hard to believe that it’s 30 years since he passed,” says Tony. “But whenever I hear Stay Another Day played on the radio, it reminds me of him and how I lost him to something that is still very painful.
“It was a massive shock when Ollie decided to take his own life and all the family was grief-stricken. After losing him, it was very strange because the family never spoke about it – we always kept it very quiet.
“It was a pain that we all went through because suicide does that to a family. But everyone goes through it differently. To try to process all my emotions, I wrote this little song, Stay Another Day, that I thought no one would ever hear and it was like therapy for me.”
Tony, 49, from Essex, was the lead songwriter of East 17 – named after the postcode of their hometown, Walthamstow, in north-east London – with whom he enjoyed seven UK Top 10 singles and four hit albums in five years, selling 20 million records around the world.
The band broke up in 1997 after fellow member Brian Harvey boasted about taking the drug ecstasy. Amid their high-octane pop hits, piano ballad Stay Another Day stood out as a highlight and remains a Christmas staple.
Released in November 1994, the song entered the charts at number seven, rising to number one the following week where it remained for five weeks, making it the 1994 Christmas number one single. Its lyrics, always poignant, take on new depths with Tony’s revelations about the inspiration behind them.
“The lyrics are about what you would do if you had one more day with a loved one. It’s a song about missing someone and how I wish I could have my brother Ollie back for a day so I could say all the things I should. It’s just very poignant,” says Tony.
East 17’s Tony Mortimer wrote the 1994 Christmas No. 1 hit Stay Another Day in memory of his brother
While Ollie had battled with depression for all of his short life, Tony admits he never realised just how sick he was.
“None of us in the family realised how down he was feeling,” he says.
“We really had no inclination and that is the trouble. Men don’t speak about how they are feeling. We were close as brothers – he was my older brother by three years – and I looked up to him.
“We were in touch the night that he took his own life. He took an overdose. But sometimes people get into a downward spiral and it gets to the point where the pendulum swings and the pain of leaving is less than the pain of staying.
“Once that balance is out, you’re in trouble and that is when you need someone to make a phone call because you don’t know how beautiful life is going to get the next day. Thirty years have elapsed and Ollie never got to know what it is like to have a family or travel the world. But that is a person’s decision when they make it and it is such a final decision, as they say.”
Stay Another Day has been so significant in his life that, when Tony got a call from the record company which wanted to celebrate its anniversary by re-recording it with a children’s choir, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. “I was really up for it and the Waltham Forest Youth Choir recorded it and we linked up with CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) which is leading a movement against suicide and last year stopped 600 people from taking their own lives. It’s a grim subject but it needs to be talked about.
“We all get down now and again but with a lot of men you have no idea what is really going on. That is why I am doing it for CALM because men don’t speak about their emotions. I even lost a friend last year.”
Tony has battled with depression and panic attacks himself. In East 17, he felt the pressure of having to write hit after hit and started drinking heavily. Doctors eventually diagnosed depression.
Tony Mortimer re-records the iconic hit with the Waltham Forest Youth Choir
“I am a very anxious person and I really struggled when I was in the band,” he recalls. “I used to worry about all the things that could go wrong.
“But I have to say that my two daughters Atlanta, 24 and Ocean, 26, saved me and if they weren’t there then things would have been different.” He continues: “I’ve not had a panic attack for a good while now but that is because I avoid stressful situations. They could be triggered by the demands of performing, touring or being overtired. They say that anxiety is worrying about the future and depression is worrying about the past.”
Stay Another Day is Tony’s favourite track and recently made number 12 in a list of the most popular Christmas songs commissioned by the Performing Right Society (PRS) for Music. It is said to earn Tony £100,000 a year.
“It’s not like we would ever beat Wizzard or Slade, who are in the top 10. And Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl is at number one of course. But I feel blessed to be in there.”
A reunion with original band members Brian, Terry Coldwell and John Hendy is not on the cards. “I have tried several times to get back with them and when we last had a reunion I thought it would give me a chance to exorcise the demons. But it didn’t.”
Brian was sacked for boasting about drug-taking in the wake of the ecstasy-related death of teenager Leah Betts and has had his own struggles.
East 17 members Terry Coldwell, Brian Harvey, John Hendy and Tony Mortimer in their ’90s heyday
“I have not kept in touch with him or the other band members,” says Tony. “The only thing we have in common is that this song comes out every year and it ties us all back together. We all have families and life gets busy.”
Tony says weight gain and a back operation to fix a protruding disc, mean he would struggle getting on stage. “It was causing me a lot of pain and I have still got nerve damage in my foot. It took me out of the game and has stopped me training. I have put on two-and-half stone.”
However, he says becoming a grandfather at 49 has given him fresh energy.
“My daughter Ocean had a gorgeous boy called Barney. I am protective of her and him but you have to stand back because it’s not your child, but it is wonderful and we are spending Christmas with them.
“Ocean is cooking a big dinner but I won’t be singing Stay Another Day around the table!”
Tony Mortimer has partnered with PRS for Music to celebrate Christmas music. His new choir version of Stay Another Day, featuring The Waltham Forest Youth Choir, is available to download now in partnership with CALM – http://stayanotherday.info