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From Wolverhampton to global superstar: Where did it all go right for Liam Payne?

By Mark Drew | Music | Published:

As a member of one of the biggest boybands of all time, Liam Payne is among the UK’s richest people under 30.

Surprise gig by Liam Payne

It’s been quite a journey over the last 10 years. It is one which catapulted a schoolboy from humble beginnings in Wolverhampton to superstardom and saw him swap a home in Bushbury for a mansion in LA.

For Liam, it truly has only gone in one direction.

He may have enjoyed the success and riches that have come his way but the big houses, fast cars and celebrity partners never made Liam forget where he came from.

It was as a fresh-faced 16-year-old that Liam auditioned on the X Factor in 2010, a decision which would transform his life on an unimaginable scale.

He had actually auditioned two years earlier but suffered heartbreak at the Judges’ Houses stage.

He was told by Simon Cowell not to give up on his dream, and it was advice he followed as he returned two years later.

Those not well-versed in X Factor history may not know the boys who went on to become One Direction and take the pop charts by storm actually auditioned as individuals, only to be put together later when the music mogul sensed they could fill a gap in the market. And fill it they did.

Liam Payne during his time on the X Factor

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The rest, as they say, is history.

Liam, alongside bandmates Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik, went onto to become some of the most famous Brits of the 21st century as they released a succession of hits, gained a global, mostly young, fanbase and jetted off on tours around the world.

The Wolverhampton-born star is listed as the eighth richest person in the UK under 30, behind the likes of Ed Sheeran and Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, and is worth an estimated £44 million.

It may be something of a stretch to compare the early 2010s One Direction hype to Beatlemania in the 1960s, but for the time – and for those boys at the centre of it all – the sudden surge to fame may have felt similar to what the Fab Four experienced.

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And they could not have been prepared for what was to come. Sure, the young singers entered the competition with the aim of achieving their dreams but, as many who have had their 15 minutes of fame only to quickly fade into obscurity will attest, success on the X Factor is no guarantee of a flourishing career in the cut-throat music business.

And Liam’s fame, and the intense interest in his personal life, would explode to a whole new level when he and fellow singer Cheryl Cole became something akin to the modern-day Posh and Becks, the new star couple. It hasn’t all been rosy.

He has previously spoken about his problems dealing with fame, and opened up about how he turned to drink to try and cope with it.

Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Harry Styles of One Direction

The break-up with Cheryl was also played out in the press.

There were questions about what would happen to the boys when One Direction split in 2015 but Liam remains relevant five years on thanks to a successful solo career, most notably reaching the top 10 with Rita Ora and the smash hit For You, the soundtrack for the Fifty Shades Freed movie.

Huw Bishop was there when it all began for Liam.

The 71-year-old was Liam’s headteacher at St Peter’s Collegiate School in Compton, Wolverhampton, as he was embarking on his dream to become a singer.

And Mr Bishop joked how he was partly responsible for his pupil’s career taking off. He had to give permission for Liam to take time off school for the ill-fated trip to Simon Cowell’s house in Barbados in 2008. Mr Bishop, who was principal at St Peter’s from 1997 to 2010, told the Express & Star: “I had to sign the papers to release him from school.

“That’s when I became aware of this talent and the fact he had been singing outside school.

“I remember his mother telling me many years later after one concert – I always met up with Liam after every concert I went to – what if I had refused to sign the leave of absence form? I said that was an interesting one. I said I wouldn’t not have signed it. Simply because if the boy has a talent he needs to have the opportunity."

Cheryl and Liam Payne

Mr Bishop casually mentions the fact he has attended One Direction concerts. It’s perhaps hard to imagine The Rolling Stones inviting their headteachers along to a gig but it is another sign of how Liam has not forgotten about where he came from and those who helped him along the way. He was a VIP guest at one of the final One Direction gigs in 2015.

Mr Bishop, who remembers Liam as a quiet, hard-working pupil, believes it is his way of recognising St Peter’s and what the school did for him.

“The school was a very close-knit, family community,” he said.

“The relationship between the staff and pupils was very strong. Kids used to come back into school after they left and tell us what they were doing. That sort of relationship was there.” Another example of the star giving back to his home city is his support for The Way Youth Centre, off the ring road. It emerged in 2017 he had quietly donated £3,000 as part of his ongoing backing for the service.

He has also helped secure more than £15,000 in crucial funding to help keep the centre, of which he is an ambassador, going by encouraging his fans around the world to donate towards it. He paid a visit himself in 2017.

Chief executive of The Way, Carla Priddon, said Liam’s support over recent years has been invaluable.

“Because he cares about us and talks about us it galvanises his fans’ support,” she said.

“It’s absolutely amazing. There is no way those people, the majority of whom are in the States, would ever have heard about The Way if Liam hadn’t championed us as a cause close to his heart. It really does mean a lot to us.” She added: “It enables us to carry on working. We’re open every day of the week, it enables us to do hot meals for a pound, it enables us to give away free memberships to young people who can’t afford the £5, lets the activities happen.

Liam Payne is now a global music sensation

“It’s never been ring-fenced, so we’ve never said it’s paying for this activity but obviously any money we do get goes straight to the young people and providing the service that we do.

“He could support any charity he wanted to and he has chosen, as one of the charities he supports, to support The Way and support young people in Wolverhampton coming through the city.”

Ms Priddon believes Liam’s achievements and the way he conducts himself and gives back to his home city make him an inspiration for other children.

She added: “For a normal young person from Bushbury to be on the global stage doing something he presumably loves, anything’s possible for our young people as well.” Liam has also used his vast wealth to ensure his family are looked after, famously buying them a new house in Codsall as an upgrade on the home he grew up in.

It’s been quite a journey, and one that shows no signs of slowing down yet. As well as his successful solo career, there are growing rumours of a One Direction reunion tour.

And Mr Bishop, who may hope for more VIP treatment should that be the case, said: “He seems like a real decent man. Obviously he’s a megastar now but I don’t think that will have changed Liam anyway because his feet are firmly on the ground.

“I have always thought Liam has acquitted himself as a really nice guy with no pomposity or arrogance. That’s the kid I remember when he was 11.”

Mark Drew

By Mark Drew
@MarkDrew_Star

Group Head of News

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