Duncan James was “very afraid” to come out as gay in the early days of Blue.

The 44-year-old pop star rose to fame in 2001 alongside Anthony Costa, 41, Simon Webb, 43, and Lee Ryan, 39, as part of the chart-topping boy band, but admitted he hid his sexuality during their boom because they’re a “predominantly female” fan base and he didn’t want to let anyone down.

Speaking exclusively to BANG Showbiz, he said: “I think going back to 20 years ago when I was secretly in the closet and at the height of my career with Blue, I was very scared and very scared because we had predominantly female audience, so I didn’t want to let the guys down, I didn’t want to let the record company down. I think I just didn’t want to let anyone down and be resented by gay people. In the 1970s and 80s, there were horrible horror stories about gays becoming queer, and even 20 years ago, when I was in the closet, I was just worried about all these things. I put my mental health on the back burner because I didn’t wanted to think about it.

“I wanted to put my career, my bandmates and my family first. I just thought, “Well, I can handle my sexuality on my own.” But by suppressing it, I got into a lot of trouble and couldn’t even tell the boys about it.”

The “One Love” hitmaker, who has been in a relationship with Rodrigo Reyes, 28, since 2021, added that while he’s “really happy” these days, he wishes he had “enough courage” to come out, so that he “hasn’t enjoyed” the success they’ve had, but believes the group’s latest release will give him a chance to feel “comfortable” in his own skin.

He said: “But fast forward 20 years, I’m out and I’m proud to have a boyfriend and I’m very happy. I just wish I had the ability to be brave enough to come out sooner. I enjoyed Blue the first time a lot more than I did. I lived in fear and I woke up every day feeling scared and afraid, so it made me not necessarily enjoy it. This time I don’t wake up in the morning with a dark cloud or anxiety behind me. I wake up feeling happy and excited to go to work.

“Going on stage with guys and I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not or pretend I’m a natural guy who likes girls. I no longer need to pretend that I have been thinking about it for many years. It’s complete for me. I feel very comfortable in my own skin, which is something I haven’t been able to do with Blue for a long time. It’s an opportunity for me to be my true self and travel the world and be on stage without having to be fake.”

Blue’s new album “Heart” and Soul is out now and they are touring the UK in December.