Thursday 13th April 2006
There’s something about the boy. By their final stages TV talent shows are full of nice people with laudable dreams and lovely voices, but when you first saw Shayne Ward on 'The X Factor', you knew he was different. The real deal. He has an extraordinary voice, of course. And he’s a sweet, good-looking lad. But there was something more. A hunger. A sense that he didn’t just enjoy performing, he needed it. Shayne, in other words, has that elusive X factor. He’s more than just a great singer. He’s a proper pop star.
But let’s start at the beginning. Shayne Ward was born on October 16, 1984, the youngest of four boys. His twin sister Emma was to become the eldest of three girls in a large, close-knit Irish family. “It’s great to have a big family,” he says warmly. “It was a very loving house. We didn’t have the best of money situations because there were so many of us. We never went on holidays abroad, for instance, because we couldn’t afford them. But my mum would make up for that by taking us for walks in the park, for picnics and to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. We had the best life!”
Times got even tougher when Shayne was ten and his father left. The twins were taken for brief visits with him sometimes, but mainly Philomena Ward bought up her family alone. If it was hard, she didn’t let them know it. “She’s been great,” says her youngest son. “She coped so well.”
Shayne spent the first half of his life in Hattersley, just outside Manchester. As in many urban areas, it was easy to take the wrong path. There was joy riding, petty thieving, gangs of youths hanging round the streets, casual violence.
His older brothers got sucked into this environment as teenage boys often do, but Shayne was barely aware of it. “It wasn’t hard for me to avoid all that, because I was well protected by my brothers.” Eventually the family moved to Clayton in Manchester for a fresh start. “We’re all great now,” says Shayne firmly. “It was just teenage life.”
There was always music at home. Irish folk acts like The Dubliners and The Furies. Country music, especially his mum’s beloved Patsy Cline. Dance, trance and jungle from his brothers. Money was so tight that Shayne has only ever bought one CD: Daniel Bedingfield’s ‘If You’re Not The One’. Yet the radio provided a steady diet of pop and R&B, and most of the family would go about their daily business singing.
The Ward family are no strangers to the stage. Two of his uncles played the circuit as singers: Patrick was in London singing soul, Bernie was in Liverpool performing old school classics like ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’. When it became clear that Shayne had inherited their falsetto range, they told him he was lucky: “Most people only have the one voice, and you can have two.”
Shayne left school as soon as he could. “Looking back, I wish I could have gone to college and university, but I wanted to work straight away for my mum. I wanted to earn money.” He worked at a printers, got a job installing computer points, and did stints in factories making everything from chocolate to clothes and cardboard boxes. At the time of his X Factor audition, he was working in the shoe section at New Look in Manchester’s Arndale Centre.
“I really enjoyed myself there and met a lot of good people,” he smiles when asked if he was glad to get out. “It was good fun! I had a great time.” They gave him a leave of absence to do the show, and he jokes that he still hasn’t formally handed in his notice. “It’s an open agreement, so if this doesn’t happen I can always go back to selling shoes.”
At 16, he also joined a band called Destiny, with two girls called Tracy. They covered crowd-pleasing chart hits from Queen to Emma Bunton, and when Shayne joined he also bought in some of the older songs he loved: Eddie Holman’s ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’; ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ by The Stylistics; McFadden & Whitehead’s ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’.
“At first I was nervous as hell,” he laughs. “I was too scared to move on the stage, I was really stiff. I even had a bucket at the back of the stage, and I’d have to tell the audience, ‘Right guys, I’ve got a bucket because I might feel sick. So if I stop singing, you’ll know what I’m doing.’ It broke the ice! Slowly I started getting more comfortable with the crowd, and my confidence grew. But it took a while for the bucket to disappear.”
They played weddings, parties, all the Working Men’s Clubs in the region. Shayne would get £50 for the two 45-minute slots. Although the money was handy, a little more to give to his mum, that wasn’t his main motivation. After the working week, this was his treat, his bit of weekend fun. “They were good times. We even went to Germany to do the Army barracks. I was really excited about that. My mum couldn’t believe it.”
Still, he didn’t think it would ever lead to anything. Destiny auditioned for the first X Factor series, but got nowhere. A year later, Shayne and one of the Tracys decided to try alone. Even then, he almost dropped out. “It felt pointless. I didn’t think I’d get anywhere with it.” But his family urged him on, and when two of his sisters decided to try too, he applied.
“But I never believed it was going to happen,” he shrugs. “I’ve said this from the start, and I still mean it now. I’m not looking for the fame. I’m not looking for the money, the posh places, and the showbiz parties. I only entered because my family wanted me to, and I never looked too far ahead. Every time I went on that stage, my focus was just to sing my song as well as I could and pray I’d get through to the next stage.
“I couldn’t believe I kept getting through. Then when people got booted out I could see the sadness on their family’s faces, and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want my family to be the ones going away looking sad. Even in the final, I thought I was the weakest one in the group. I didn’t believe in myself, I’ve always put myself down. That’s just the way I am – a natural-born worrier.”
After winning the show, his debut single ‘That’s My Goal’ was pretty much a dead cert for the Christmas number one. It was the sheer scale of its success that was surprising. The first-day sales were the third biggest ever recorded for a single in the UK: some 313,000 copies. It went on to sell well more than 1.3 million. “The idea that over a million people bought my single, it just didn’t feel real,” says Shayne. “It still doesn’t to this day.”
The eponymously titled album was recorded in Stockholm, Copenhagen and London with some of pop’s sharpest producers and writers: Steve Mac, Per & David, Cutfather & Joe, and Quiz/Larossi. They’ve put together a timeless, ballad-led set that showcases Shayne’s vocal and emotional range to the full. ‘That’s My Goal’ is there, of course, and the achingly beautiful second single ‘No Promises’, while X Factor fans will enjoy the live recording of his show-stopping version of ‘Over The Rainbow’. “I’d like people to see that I’m not just a talent show winner, that I can actually sing,” says Shayne. “I’d like to be seen as successful in my own right now.”
But still, he insists you’ll have to look elsewhere for diva-like behaviour. “I haven’t changed. Everything has just become, if I’m honest, a little bit nicer. No, a lot nicer! People want to have me in their company, which they wouldn’t before.” He laughs. “It’s amazing what TV can do!”
So Shayne Ward started out on a reality TV show. But in time that’s going to be about as important as Britney and Justin’s time on the Mickey Mouse Club, Kylie’s stint as queen of 'Neighbours', or Robbie’s teenage years in Take That. There really is something about the boy. It’s been a roller-coaster ride so far, but this accomplished debut album isn’t the end of the story. It’s the beginning.