From X Factor wannabe to transatlantic triumph at the Grammys and Brits…How our new pop colossus Harry Styles did what Robbie Williams never could, writes RICHARD KAY
With a fortune of £100 million and works of modern art hanging on the walls of homes in Hampstead, New York and Los Angeles — where he also garages his collection of classic cars — Harry Styles is leafy Holmes Chapel’s most famous son.
But for fans of the tousle-haired former One Direction star, the Cheshire village is also where Styles grew up with his divorced mother, Anne, and elder sister, Gemma — and it’s as celebrated a destination as Liverpool’s landmarks are to devotees of The Beatles.
Along with the modest two-bedroom semi where he recorded covers on a karaoke machine given to him by his grandfather, other famous sights include Holmes Chapel Comprehensive, where schoolboy Harry was lead singer with his band, White Eskimo, and the bakery Mandeville’s, which has a picture of its most famous part-time employee holding up a loaf of bread.
Harry Styles, though, is not just a local hero. The one-time X Factor contestant is a global megastar whose face (and Gucci-clad body) adorns billboards around the world and whose voice is the soundtrack for a generation.
In a little over 12 years, he has emerged as one of the most popular cultural icons on the planet, whose talent-show beginnings have mushroomed into a hit solo career along with high-profile forays into acting, including a Marvel cameo and a much-hyped — though critically panned — role opposite Florence Pugh in the movie Don’t Worry Darling.
In a little over 12 years, Harry Styles has emerged as one of the most popular cultural icons on the planet
As if that wasn’t enough, he also enjoys an enviable reputation as an international heartthrob.
Last year, he released the UK’s best-selling single and album — As It Was and Harry’s House respectively. He sold out two nights at Wembley Stadium and an extraordinary 30 in New York and LA. It didn’t seem possible that things could get any better for the 29-year-old.
But it looks like 2023 is his year, too. At last week’s Grammys in the U.S. he won Album of the Year, but that was a mere appetiser. On Saturday night, he scooped four awards at the Brits: Best Artist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop/R&B act.
When he comes to reflect on these triumphs, Styles is unlikely to single out his voice, looks or celebrity girlfriends — but rather his mother, to whom he speaks most days on the phone.
When her son auditioned for ITV’s The X Factor in 2010, Anne was twice-divorced and had recently been made redundant from her office job. She wore her hair in a sensible ponytail and a home-made T-shirt declaring ‘We think Harry’s got the X Factor’.
Harry was born in Redditch, Worcs, where his father, Des, was a financial adviser. Styles was seven when his parents divorced, but he has always been thankful they remained on good terms. ‘I remember crying about it,’ he later recalled. ‘I was just sad they wouldn’t be together any more.’
One of his first major purchases after hitting the big time was to splash out £500,000 on a huge house near Holmes Chapel, surrounded by parkland and state-of-the-art security, as a birthday gift for Anne. His dad got a £100,000 Porsche.
His mum remains his biggest fan and staunchest defender. When reviews for Don’t Worry Darling were lukewarm, she took to Instagram writing: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’
Harry’s mum, Anne Cox (pictured left), remains his biggest fan and staunchest defender
Pictured: Harry Styles’ modest two bedroom childhood home in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire
Styles’s breakthrough at just 16 may have come from good fortune — having tried and failed as a solo artist, he and four other teenage boys who had also been rejected were put together in a band by the X Factor judges.
It was Harry who came up with the name One Direction and the rest, as they say, is history.
They came third in the 2010 final — but quickly emerged as the real winners. Within two years they had sold 12 million records and were all multi-millionaires.
Their debut single in 2011, What Makes You Beautiful, entered the British charts at No. 1 as the most pre-ordered Sony Music Entertainment single ever.
In 2012, they were the first British group in U.S. chart history to go to No. 1 with their debut album, Up All Night. Not even The Beatles had achieved that, and Harry modestly observed it was a ‘dreams come true’ moment.
Cracking America — notoriously difficult for British bands — was perhaps their most significant achievement. The hysteria that greeted their first tour there had not been seen since The Beatles.
Over the next three years they enjoyed unprecedented success, with four hit albums.
But it was not just the volume of records they sold — some 70 million — that made the headlines. Increasingly, it was the bandmates’ love lives. And no one came under more scrutiny than Harry.
In 2011, aged 17, he had a much-publicised relationship with the late Caroline Flack, a TV presenter who was 14 years his senior.
The one-time X Factor contestant is a global megastar whose face adorns billboards around the world and whose voice is the soundtrack for a generation. Pictured: One Direction on X-Factor in 2010
The backlash from his teenage fans was instant and ugly. Flack received death threats, but the couple ignored the criticism.
When they parted three months later, Styles took to social media to refute claims he had dumped Caroline. ‘This was a mutual decision,’ he declared. ‘She is one of the kindest, sweetest people I know. Please respect that.’
He was later romantically linked to a host of beautiful women, from model Cara Delevingne and actress Emily Atack to singers Rita Ora and Taylor Swift, who wrote two songs about him. Until recently he was dating Olivia Wilde, director of Don’t Worry Darling, who is nine years his senior.
When One Direction decided to go their separate ways in 2016, Harry became a solo artist and the hits carried on coming. Unlike Robbie Williams, who never rose above 43 in the U.S. album charts after leaving Take That, Styles has achieved tremendous success on both sides of the Atlantic.
He has also indulged in every rock star’s modern accessory, the tattoo. His first was at 18 and by the last count, there were 52 inkings on his body.
These days the tattoos are almost as well-known as his other stylistic touch — sequins and glittery jumpsuits. It has led to accusations that he is appropriating gay culture, something Harry denies. Yet somehow the criticism has rarely stuck, partly because of the unexpected directions his career takes — he had a well-received part as a British soldier in the 2017 film Dunkirk.
But mainly it is because underneath all the flamboyance, make-up and body art, the wholesome boy from Holmes Chapel has not really changed that much. And he still rings his mum every day.
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