Fame rise takes singer Ollie by surprise

EMMA LEE Norfolk singer Ollie James is getting a long-awaited taste of pop stardom as the frontman of the top 10 dance music act hi_tack. EMMA LEE caught up with him.

EMMA LEE

"It's head-in-the-clouds stuff - but I'm trying to keep my feet on the ground," says Norfolk's latest up-and-coming pop star Ollie James.

It's been a manic few weeks for the 23-year-old singer from Brundall.

Just before Christmas he was asked to become the frontman of the dance music act hi_tack. And in the space of a few days he's appeared on two of TV's best-known music shows, done personal appearances at nightclubs up and down the country and has seen the band's track, Say Say Say, storm into the top 10.

"I had dreamed of doing Top of the Pops," he laughs. "And I'm not sure it's really sunk in yet that I've done it.

"I had to be at the Top of the Pops studio at 8am - and I'd only had a few hours' sleep after performing at [the nightclub] Fabric in London. And by 8.30am, I was doing a run-through".

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Ollie got into music as a teenager while at Thorpe St Andrew School.

Like starlets Myleene Klass and Hannah Spearritt, he went on to study performing arts at Yarmouth College.

"It was two of the best years of my life. It's full of like-minded people. It was great to be studying something that you love doing," he says.

Ollie was spotted by a talent scout when he played a lead role in one of the college's end-of-year productions - Jon Conway's Edge of Heaven - and quickly found himself performing in a pop tribute show at some of the country's biggest theatres.

He and fellow cast member Laura Mantin - the sister of national weather presenter and former EDP Saturday magazine writer Becky - were chosen by the Telstar label to sing on a track under the name Dream Kids. The record didn't take off as hoped - but a romance between Ollie and Laura did. They've been together for five years, and they now share a house in London.

Laura has gone into fashion PR, and Becky, who moved to the capital from Norfolk last year, lives a few doors away.

Undeterred when his first chance at the big time didn't work out, Ollie joined a boy band called Addictive.

The band toured schools and supported big-name acts including Blue and Atomic Kitten.

The group separated just over a year ago, and Ollie, whose real surname is Durrant but who uses his middle name as his stage name, was asked by the production team who had formed the band to carry on with them as a solo artist.

He started writing and recording his own material.

His favourite artists include George Michael, Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder and he describes his music as "dancey and soulful".

He did some modelling, session singing and acted in adverts to earn extra money while he was recording his demo.

The bosses at Gut Records heard it and were impressed, and it gave him the big break for which he had been looking.

"The MD really liked my stuff," he says. "Just before Christmas they called me up and said they needed someone to front Say Say Say - a singer that could hit all the high notes.

"The record had started to get a lot of airplay - Radio 1 was playing it and DJ Judge Jules was a fan and it was really gaining momentum, so they really needed to work quickly.

"I took it away and learned to sing it, then I went back to the label a couple of days later and had to perform it in the boardroom, which was a bit nerve-racking.

"They called me up and said they wanted me to front the record. It was fantastic and I said that, of course, I would - I jumped at the chance.

"It was a really lovely Christmas because I knew things were going to take off in the new year," he says.

By the new year, Say Say Say had made it on to Radio 1's 'A' list, making it one of the station's most frequently played tracks.

The record was released on January 16 and went into the top 10 - at number eight - in its first week. This weekend it climbed to number four.

As well as Top of the Pops, Ollie has appeared on the Channel 4 music show Popworld, and his girlfriend and their families all got together to watch him make his debut.

With the record taking off in other countries too, Ollie could be set to do some globetrotting.

"We might be going to Germany. And there's even been talk of going to America, although I'm trying not to get too excited in case it doesn't happen.

"I'm also hoping perhaps to release some of my own stuff. But I'm just enjoying it at the moment. I have been working hard towards this for a long time. It's quite a nice feeling," he says.

Say Say Say is in shops now.

Visit www.olliejames.com

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