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Harry Styles - The Holmes Chapel star goes solo

PUBLISHED: 09:01 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:01 07 November 2017

Harry Styles. Photo courtesy of Harley Weir

Harry Styles. Photo courtesy of Harley Weir

not Archant

It’s a big step for any former boyband member but Harry Styles, Holmes Chapel’s gift to the world, looks to be taking the next stage of his stellar career in his stride, as Paul Taylor reports

When tickets were released earlier this year for the 29 concerts in Harry Styles’s first solo world tour, every single one sold out within seconds.

Right across North America, through Europe and on to Japan, Singapore and Australasia... a vast swathe of the globe is wild about Harry. On a ‘hiatus’ from One Direction, he seems to have carried the band’s entire fanbase with him into his solo career.

That was never a given. For every boyband escapee who soars – Justin Timberlake post-N Sync – there is another who flaps a lot but loses altitude. When Take That split in 1996, it was Gary Barlow – another Cheshire lad – who was expected to have the stellar solo career, yet back then his star faded while Robbie Williams’s rose.

But a belly-flopping solo career always seemed unlikely for Styles. With his puppyish charm, he always looked like the 1 in 1D, and now his appeal is broadening into an all-things-to-all-people stardom. His eponymous debut solo album has a soft rock vibe which caused even the venerable Rolling Stone magazine to hail him as ‘a true rock star’. He is even shaping up as a credible movie actor with an understated portrayal of a soldier in this year’s big war movie Dunkirk.

So, adored singer plus movie star; where’ve we heard that one before? Elvis, Sinatra, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Beyoncé, Timberlake.

With seven years of pop fame, wealth estimated at £40m, a well-publicised romantic track record (TV presenter Caroline Flack and singer Taylor Swift to name two of many), a sell-out solo world tour now in progress and a potential Hollywood career, Harry is still only 23, the age at which many of his contemporaries are just out of university and wondering what to do with their lives.

Did it all seem destined from the start? Yes and no. In 2010, at his first audition for the X Factor, Harry did get an instant squeal of joy from the audience as he shambled on stage, jokily dissed his home village of Holmes Chapel (‘It’s quite boring; there’s nothing much happens there’) and delivered a mellifluous version of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely.

Harry was fresh from his GCSEs at Holmes Chapel Comprehensive then, living with mum Anne Cox – who was divorced from Harry’s father Des when he was seven – and older sister Gemma. Since the age of 12, Harry had been close to his stepfather Robin Twist, who died earlier this year, aged 57.

Harry nonchalantly told the X Factor judges, he was working in a bakery – W Mandeville in Holmes Chapel – while preparing for A Levels. Music had long been a part of his life: belting out Elvis songs on his karaoke machine, singing with local band White Eskimo (several grainy clips endure on YouTube).

‘Everyone here’s supporting him – he’s a popular lad,’ said Harry’s headteacher Denis Oliver at the time. ‘White Eskimo won Battle of the Bands here when he was in Year 10. He’s performed in a lot of assemblies.’

But not everyone thought Harry was ready to make the leap from school assembly to stadium. X Factor judge Louis Walsh even voted ‘no’ after that first audition. And Harry, along with Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, were all eliminated from the talent show before someone had the bright idea of herding the five rejectees into a band to have another go. Even so, One Direction finished third. The great British public thought the greater X Factor that year rested with Matt Cardle.

But a not-so silent posse of young One Direction fans knew who the real winners were, as did Simon Cowell, quick to sign the fivesome to his Syco Records. The UK loved them, and success in the USA – something which had eluded all British boybands, including Take That – also followed quickly. Comparisons began to be drawn with The Beatles’ American ‘invasion’ in 1964. The first four 1D albums debuted at number one on the US Billboard chart – the only group in 60 years to manage that feat.

How did One Direction succeed where so many Brits since the Beatles had failed? The viral nature of the connected world. As Sonny Takhar, then managing director of Syco said: ‘Social media has become the new radio. It’s never broken an act globally like this before.’

One Direction had well over two million Twitter followers back then (40m now, even with the band in abeyance) and, with it, an unprecedented ability to connect with and expand their fanbase. Today Harry alone has over 31m Twitter followers. When he taps at his smartphone, he communicates directly with almost as many people as that other famous Twitterer, and leader of the free world, Donald J Trump.

On his world-conquering progress, Harry has made various new homes, now dividing his time between New York and London. He collects art, and his personal style has changed from hoodie teen to designer rock star flamboyance. When he takes a trip home to Holmes Chapel now, it is a full-blown news event.

With his movie career and his more mature solo material, Harry could now successfully evolve from teen scream to much-loved family entertainer. If so, the example of such national treasures as Tom Jones and Elton John suggests that the lad from Holmes Chapel could be on our stages and screens for another half-century to come.

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