LIKE countless Australian performers before him, Newcastle's James Buckingham always dreamed of moving to the UK to pursue his artistic aspirations.
As a musician, actor and film-maker, London was always calling Buckingham until he finally made the move in 2017.
Buckingham had developed an extensive body of work as William the Wizard on children's TV show Magical Tales and as a songwriter fronting Newcastle indie-folk band Nova and The Experience. The opportunities seemed endless.
But when the 32-year-old returned home from London in March 2020 for a friend's wedding - and subsequently decided to remain in Australia due to COVID-19 - he was carrying more emotional baggage than the physical kind.
He'd lost a wife, long-time friends and developed serious substance abuse issues.
"The short version is I went over there starry-eyed and full of hopes and dreams, and in the time I was there, I totally lost my way," Buckingham says. "I went over there to find myself and all I found was drugs and girls.
"I had a lot of sex and took a lot of drugs, which was super fun, but then my artistry and music slipped away. I did nothing. I did almost no performing."
Some of Buckingham's binges lasted for days, with little or no recollection of what happened in between.
"At one point I felt like I teleported," he says. "It was a Sunday evening and I don't remember starting and then suddenly it was Thursday night and there was an ambulance and I was getting taken to hospital.
"I lost that week and I don't remember a week of my life. I came back here and thought I could get it under control and it happened once or twice here as well."
Things became so dire for Buckingham after he returned to Newcastle last year that five of his closest friends - from different circles - came together to lead an intervention.
I went over there to find myself and all I found was drugs and girls.James Buckingham
Their message was clear: Get clean and sober before you ruin your life.
Initially, Buckingham was furious, but within two weeks he realised his friends had acted rightly and out of love.
"I was completely out of control and they probably saved my life, to be honest," he says.
Therapy and giving up the booze and drugs helped the former Hunter School of Performing Arts captain make immediate improvements to his life. He's since been clean and sober for more than a year.
However, it wasn't until his bipolar diagnosis a year ago that Buckingham was finally able to begin piercing his life and career back together.
"I was so happy because there's a road map out of here," Buckingham says of his diagnosis. "I've met a lot of people who don't want to be diagnosed and get treatment because it'll be real once they get diagnosed or they don't like the label.
"For me it was a relief. If it wasn't for my diagnosis I wouldn't know what the hell is going on and that there's other people in the world going through similar things and they're able to function."
A year on, Buckingham's life has turned around. In January he and fellow Novocastrian Angus Wilkinson had their 14-minute film The Exit Plan, screened in Sydney as a finalist of Flickerfest's best of Australian short films, and last month he and his sister and Sydney Vegan Founder, Renee Buckingham, launched their own podcast DoYouEven Influence? exploring social media influencers.
Music has returned, too. In April Buckingham released his debut solo track, I'm Not Broken, under the moniker Elaska Young.
The soulful slice of electro-pop is a world away from the indie-folk of Nova and The Experience and is one of 30 tracks Buckingham has written since getting sober.
However, I'm Not Broken's B-side RocksIn Your Headlights steers closer to the anthemic and breezy vibes Nova and The Experience were renown for.
But lyrically, Elaska Young carries a darker edge. On Rocks In Your Headlights Buckingham's bouts of self-loathing are revealed as he sings, "sometimes I wish that I was invisible to you/ So you would not see the worst of me", while I'm Not Broken carries a more resilient message of "I'm not broken/ I'm just outspoken."
Buckingham's return to music and improved mental health has also had the benefit of bringing him back together with his sister and former Nova and The Experience bandmate, Anna Buckingham.
"Music has definitely helped us heal over the last six months," he says. "We've started writing together again and the songs are fantastic.
"When we were in the band I would always try to get Anna to write and I would beg her to write. And she just wouldn't.
"She left because she felt like she was living in the shadow of me as the songwriter and that if she tried to write it wouldn't be as good as my songs.
"Then she went away, and now as a songwriter, she's done way better than I ever have."
Elaska Young will play his first Newcastle solo show at the Hamilton Station Hotel on June 17 with support from BOI.
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