Explosive Mix: Broken homes. Even a father falsely accused of murder. How the X Factor winners tipped as the new Spice Girls overcame their troubled pasts
The winners of The X Factor 2011 were set to work yesterday — performing dozens of interviews at a frantic pace and smiling for the cameras until their cheeks hurt.
Little Mix will barely have a chance to take off their false lashes or gold trainers for the next two weeks. The media juggernaut will be thundering along on full power until Christmas Day, when they hope to notch up a Number One single with a cover of Damien Rice’s Cannonball.
The girls — Jesy, Perrie, Leigh-Anne and Jade — are being sold as a modern day Spice Girls, and have had dozens of potentially money-spinning approaches from beauty and clothing brands who want to be associated with them. Early predictions suggest they may earn millions from music and endorsements.
Little Mix: Little Mix: Jade Thirlwell, Perrie Edwards, Liegh-Anne Pinnock, and Jesy Nelson are tipped as the new Spice Girls
But while Posh, Ginger, Sporty, Baby and Scary Spice were stage-school kids brought together by an advert in The Stage newspaper, the story of the families behind the Little Mixers is altogether more intriguing.
All four come from broken homes. And Jesy has a father who was once imprisoned for murder — though the conviction was later overturned.
Perrie’s father, meanwhile, is a long-haired rock wannabe who has rubbished The X Factor; Jade has been dabbling on the fringes of success for years, having had two previous attempts at The X Factor; while Leigh-Anne was simply a waitress in Pizza Hut.
Three of the girls have described being bullied at school and say they want to use their fame to promote an anti-bullying campaign.
Here’s the story behind the four ordinary girls who are set for stardom…
JESY NELSON, 20
Jesy Nelson has not seen her dad for 15 years
Raised in Romford, Essex, Jesy has thrived despite having a father who left the family home.
John Nelson served time in prison after being convicted of murder in 1986.
He was 20 and unemployed when he got into a fight outside Lautrec’s Disco in Dagenham. Amateur boxer Paul Reidy was stabbed three times, and later died.
Witnesses saw Nelson squirt ammonia in the faces of two others at the scene, before allegedly stabbing Reidy. He denied charges of murder and affray.
There had been a fight outside the court between the two families as the trial began, so the judge at the Old Bailey took the unusual step of banning any relatives or friends (except for immediate family) from the courtroom because he feared a further ‘serious breach of the peace’.
The murder verdict was overturned on appeal not long afterwards, and he was released after serving time for affray.
Having married his childhood sweetheart, Janis, while in prison, he set up home with her in Romford and they had Jesy and three other children — Jade, Jonathan and Joseph. They separated a few years later.
Nelson now runs a garden centre in Hornchurch and a fencing business. Asked about his past and his daughter last week, he said: ‘Count me right out of it. I’m not interested in talking.’ Jesy says she hasn’t seen him for 15 years.
Mother Janis is a Police Community Support Officer in Canvey Island, and also works for the ambulance service.
Though Jesy attended the after-school club Danceworks Studios in Romford from the age of 12, she had little performing experience before trying out for The X Factor, and would not even perform in front of her family.
Her mum Janis said: ‘She only decided a couple of weeks before the audition to start sing- ing.’
Jesy, who is single, had previously been working as a barmaid at the sports bar Goals in Dagenham.
At the beginning of the series, Jesy — who is a size 10/12 — suffered from cyber-bullying on Twitter over her weight, and cried on the show.
‘The comments really got to me. I knew I’d get nasty stuff said about my weight. These girls are a lot tinier than me,’ she says.
Yesterday, however, Jesy insisted she would not lose weight for fame. ‘You just have to embrace who you are. I’m not going to be a size six in six months time,’
Janis said that her daughter had been bullied at school for being ‘quirky’, and moved five times.
‘As a mum it was horrible to have to watch your child suffer. She developed a skin condition and alopecia because of the stress. She still has bald patches because of it.’
PERRIE EDWARDS, 18
Perrie Edwards: Her musician father slammed X Factor but he now admits she is living her dream
Perrie is from South Shields, Tyneside. Her father Alex is a singer who tours the Northern clubs circuit — and can be seen bare- chested with long, rock star hair in publicity shots for his group, Alexander’s Palace.
Though he once slammed The X Factor and called those who don’t play their own instruments ‘muppets’, his band’s Facebook page was flooded with congratulations from his friends yesterday after his daughter’s success.
Alex, from Hartlepool, has been performing Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and The Journey songs for 20 years — though Alexander’s Palace remain unsigned.
‘I do not think that there is a word to describe how proud I feel of Perrie at the moment. She is living her dream — and my own,’ he says.
He and Perrie’s mother Debbie split up when their daughter was small. She has an older brother, Jonnie, serving at the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton. He was given leave to watch the finals at Wembley over the weekend.
Though Perrie is said to be shy, on holiday in Benidorm aged nine, she surprised her family by performing in a karaoke competition.
Debbie, who used to be a singer, but works as a teaching assistant, then encouraged her to overcome her shyness.
Perrie performed numerous times at South Shields’s Mortimer Community College, which she attended for five years.
Artistic director John Stephenson said: ‘She is a small person with a huge voice. She blinded us with her many talents.’
Before winning the competition, she had been waiting to start a performing arts degree, but her mother insisted she should audition for The X Factor — and bribed her by saying she’d buy her an iPhone if she did.
‘Because she’s so shy I worried she would struggle as a solo singer. But with the other girls she’s doing brilliantly,’ says Debbie.
Debbie and Perrie’s stepfather Mark split up during the filming of The X Factor — he blamed his wife for travelling back and forth for the show.
‘She hasn’t got time for the marriage,’ said Mark, 47, who has known Perrie since she was four. ‘No one has really seen how good Perrie is yet.’
Perrie had a boyfriend, but they broke up after she flirted with former X Factor competitor Andrew Merry of The Risk.
Since then she has been linked with One Direction’s Zayn Malik. She denies that they are an item.
LEIGH-ANNE PINNOCK, 19
Leigh-Anne Pinnock had a tough upbringing and up until recently was working in Pizza Hut
Raised in High Wycombe, Bucks, by her teacher mum Debbie, Leigh-Anne won The X Factor while taking a year out from higher education. She had been working at Pizza Hut in Uxbridge to fund herself.
Like Jesy, Leigh-Anne had a tough upbringing, which she says has only spurred her on to succeed. ‘I used to get teased at primary school,’ she said yesterday. ‘Boys would say I was ugly and as I got older it was: “You can’t sing, you’ll never make it.” But I kept going.’
Last year, her mother agreed that she could take time off to see if she could make it in showbiz before going to university. She has two older sisters, Sarah, 22, and Sian Louise, 27. Her mother and father, John, divorced two years ago.
Leigh-Anne and her sister Sarah used to put on shows for their family and pretend to be Spice Girls when they were children.
‘She’s always loved singing. She had a karaoke machine when she was little,’ says Debbie, 47, who works at Harlington Community School. ‘She’s always written her own songs. I wanted her to go to university so she would have a back-up if music didn’t work out.
‘My perception of the show was that hundreds of thousands of people turn up, and that they seem to pick silly ones who are funny on telly, but I realised if she didn’t give it a go she wouldn’t be happy.’ Leigh-Anne’s father is a former professional boxer, who now works as a mechanic.
‘I think she takes after me,’ he said. ‘I haven’t got a bad voice and I’ve done amateur theatre.’
Last month, Leigh-Anne became an aunt when her sister Sarah had a son, Kailum, whom she is yet to meet. Like Jesy, Leigh-Anne is also single.
JADE THIRLWALL, 19
Jade Thirlwell tired out for X Factor twice before, making it as far as Boot Camp in 2008
Jade grew up in a modest, three-bedroom former council house in Laygate, South Shields, with her brother Karl and her mother Norma (who split up from father, James, when Jade was younger), a business manager at a community school.
From the age of nine, Jade attended a performing school, called Performers. She has been on The X Factor twice before — making it to boot camp in 2008 aged just 15, when she sang Nelly Furtado’s I’m Like A Bird. Cheryl Cole, then a judge, rated her.
She was barred by her mother from applying in 2009 so she could concentrate on her exams, and passed 15 GCSEs, mostly A* grades, and was head girl.
As with her fellow bandmates Jesy and Leigh-Anne, Jade was bullied.
‘I used to be the school swot, and kids threw stuff at my head because I was doing better than everyone else. They’d laugh, but I’m here now.’
In 2010, she returned to The X Factor for another unsuccessful try. Then this year, having taken her A-levels, she decided to try again. ‘I was worried about rejection a third time. The first two times were so stressful,’ says her mother.
‘I didn’t know if she, or even I, could bear to go through it again. But she begged me, saying: “Mum, it’s something I have to do.” Thank God I let her!’
One of her best friends is 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry, another local singer whom she met while performing in youth clubs. They used to do duets together.
Four years ago, Jade starred in a theatre production of the Disney film High School Musical, in the lead role of Gabriella.
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Company founder John Staw, 51, said: ‘As soon as Jade opened her mouth to sing at the audition, she got the part.
‘She was so captivating in the role that everyone remembers children waiting at the stage door for her autograph.’
She was working at the same South Shields theatre company, coaching the younger students, before entering The X Factor.
Delia McNally, from Jade’s secondary school, St Wilfrid’s RC College in South Shields, said: ‘We always believed she had the makings of stardom.’ She won the Pride of South Tyneside Young Performer of the Year contest in 2010.
Jade is the only one of the four girls to have a long-term boyfriend, Ben, an electrician. They have been dating for two years.