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Unlike other superstars, Harry Styles has till now managed to stay away from a bad boy image Image Credit: Shutterstock

There comes a point in the career of any musical icon when they transcend from being merely wildly popular with their original target market (usually teenagers), and arrive on a plane of universal, if begrudgingly given, respect.

It would be fair to say that Harry Styles is currently enjoying his transcendent period, 12 years after bobbing on to the stage to audition for Simon Cowell on The X Factor.

Then 16 and a schoolboy born in Redditch, Worcestershire, and later raised in the village of Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, he introduced himself as working in a bakery and about to start college. Sixth form didn’t happen: Cowell fused him and four other boys together to form One Direction, which became the biggest – selling British boy band of all time before going on indefinite hiatus in 2016.

Styles – always the coolest, always the most precocious – was inevitably ‘1D’s’ solo star in waiting. But six years on, nobody could have foreseen quite how skilfully he’d dominate the world.

The music has been well-received and, by all accounts, it is far better live; such is his sheer charisma. His “no rules” fashion sense has seen him become the first man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue. Even his acting debut, in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, was accomplished.

But even more impressive is how, through it all, Styles somehow seems... really nice, kind and polite – and to be enjoying himself.

Pick a male superstar, from Elton John to Robbie Williams, and they generally spent at least a few years being wretched egomaniacs at their peak. As did Jagger, the man Styles is so often compared to – and who recently huffed: “He doesn’t have a voice like mine or move on stage like me; he just has a superficial resemblance to my younger self, which is fine.”

Not so Styles, who has avoided becoming an addled brat and instead chosen to tiptoe a trickier path: winning over the masses without being blandly commercial. His motto is “treat people with kindness”. Sid Vicious he is not but, crucially, he’s not Ed Sheeran either.

Harry with the other members of One Direction. Always the coolest, always the most precocious, Harry was inevitably ‘1D’s’ solo star in waiting Image Credit: Shutterstock

“He was as sweet and charming as a young man can be... I was quite taken with his fine manners,” actor Julia Roberts said, recalling meeting him on a talk show. Stevie Nicks said he’s “the type of person you’d wanna live next door to”. Even Joni Mitchell gave him an approving nod on Twitter recently.

Tracks from Styles’s new album feature on both the BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 playlists, and dominate the charts. Already this year he’s had sold out two nights at Wembley Stadium – surely a first.

The family

As origin stories go, it’s not the grittiest – but then David Bowie and Jagger grew up in uneventful middle-class suburbia, too. Styles’s parents, Desmond and Anne, divorced when he was young. Harry and his older sister, Gemma, now a writer and designer, were raised by Anne and her two subsequent husbands.

Though he and his father got along well in what sounds a solid, happy childhood, Styles is particularly close to his mother, now a philanthropist with 2.6 million Instagram followers, and has appeared in joint magazine shoots with Gemma. They were both at his Brixton gig recently.

The music

Styles is a co-writer on all his songs, working with a tight core team of songwriters, Tyler Johnson and Thomas Hull (known as Kid Harpoon). Not quite Keith Richards... though it has no doubt helped him become one of those rare beings who managed to make the leap from poppy boy band to credible solo artist, taking his old fans along while appealing to new ones.

His self-titled debut solo album was released in 2017, topping the charts in the UK and the US, selling a million copies in that year alone, and earning Styles a Brit award.

The music of Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Paul McCartney and the sounds of Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon infused his first two albums, meaning his fans span the generations. His latest overlays these influences with dollops of Prince and Wham! too. He’s also not afraid to embrace artists otherwise seen as cheesy, to wit April’s Coachella duet with country star Shania Twain, instantly making her hip again.

His latest record is a charming, gooey party album with a heart. Yes, lead single As It Was has shades of A-ha’s Take On Me, and the song Boyfriends shares musical DNA with Simon & Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock. It really doesn’t matter: many of his fans weren’t alive when these songs were hits the first time around.

Yet Styles’s greatest achievement is that his songs appeal to everyone. Three-year-olds love him, teenagers adore him, grown women go gaga for him and even most music critics think he’s great. And that’s no mean feat.

Fashion

If you haven’t clocked the evolution of Harry Styles style, he’s the reason your teenage son might be wearing nail varnish or pairing his T-shirt with a set of pearls. The Brixton get-up was relatively low key – polka dot T-shirt, leather trousers, Adidas trainers and big, beaded necklace – but he knows how to set the internet alight with calculated fashion performance.

There was his turn at the 2019 Met Gala, where he donned a lace blouse and pearl earring, and his 2020 Vogue cover wearing a ruffled dress. He even has his own brand of make-up and nail varnish, aimed at men, called Pleasing.

Harry at the sets of Dunkirk, his acting debut Image Credit: Shutterstock

The particulars of the Styles wardrobe are fine-tuned by his stylist, Harry Lambert, and he’s something of a muse to Gucci designer Alessandro Michele, who has dressed the star in various exuberantly gender-fluid ensembles from floral suits to spangly catsuits.

Styles, however, is also fond of serious tailoring – a pink suit he wore in 2017 was crafted by the elder statesman of British suiting, Edward Sexton. He has also been known to give young designers a platform, for instance British fashion wunderkind Steven Stokey-Daley, who told The Daily Telegraph, “Harry pushes boundaries like no one else today.”

So, if the Gen Z man in your household is looking particularly experimental, you know who to thank – even if fans of Bowie, Prince, Jagger and Boy George know it’s nothing new.

Celebrity connections

Styles splits his time between Los Angeles, New York and London. His LA friends are many and various, from Adele to Kendall Jenner, but among the closest are two other expats: James Corden and his producer, Ben Winston. The latter, who directed many One Direction music videos, made Styles godfather to his daughter, Ruby. She can be heard at the beginning of his current No 1 single, As It Was.

The relationships

Sitting alongside Anne and Gemma in the circle at the recent concert in Brixton was reportedly Olivia Wilde, the American actress and director, whom Styles has been dating for around 18 months. Wilde, who has two children with the actor Jason Sudeikis, is 10 years his senior. She and Styles met during the filming of Don’t Worry Darling, which she directed and he’s starring in.

Wilde is one of many famous women with whom Styles has been linked over the years. For a few months, when he was 17 and she 31, he dated the late TV presenter Caroline Flack. Then there was Taylor Swift. Then the model Camille Rowe. Of course, perceived sexual ambiguity is as much a part of being a musical icon as eyeliner.

The Daily Telegraph

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