George Shelley on X Factor: Musical talent runs in Union J star's family
X Factor pin-up George Shelley showed star promise from an early age – filling plastic bottles with rice to shake while joining in family singing sessions.
Even when just a toddler, George, now 19, was always keen to be part of family get-togethers, getting mum Toni Harris to fill up bottles with rice to use as a maraca.
The former Weston College student, getting national attention as his band Union J battle it out for the X Factor crown on the hit ITV Saturday night show, comes from a musical family.
His granddad Dave, a retired policeman, has performed in many bands and still, at the age of 75 plays his accordion at old people’s homes.
His uncle Tim and his brother Tom are drummers and his uncle John is a singer/songwriter and mum Tony also plays the guitar and used to perform regularly at pubs, clubs and festivals.
Mum Toni, a former nurse, said: “We have a musical family and his granddad Dave was a real rock and roller.
“George, even as a young boy, always wanted to join in and used to pretend he was playing on the drums, using a saucepan and a wooden spoon.
“We also used to make instruments by filling up washing up bottles with rice. He has always loved singing, dancing and playing instruments and enjoyed drama and being in plays.
“He has always been the sort of person who could pick up an instrument and play it – a talent he got from his granddad.”
George was encouraged to audition for the X Factor by friend Emily Tollner, but kept his bid for stardom quiet from his family during the early stages.
It was only ahead of the final audition that he told his mum Toni and she accompanied him to London where he was told he had made it to the show’s boot camp stage.
George impressed the judges by performing with his guitar and at boot camp he was put in a boy band.
Sadly the original band didn’t get through and George thought his X Factor dream was over until one night when he was sat chatting with his mum at home in Clevedon.
Toni, who is currently unemployed after suffering a stroke last year, said: “The phone rang and George mouthed to me ‘It’s the X Factor on the phone.’
“Someone from the show had rung up asking him back. His face was so taut – he was so tense.
“He turned to me and said he had an hour to call them back and if he agreed he had to be in London the next morning.”
George has been working around the clock since making it through to the live shows as part of band Union J.
“It’s been really hard work,” added Toni. “They work very hard and get very tired, but he’s loving every minute of it. He loves the judges and says they are all really supportive.
“But the one thing he does want is a home-cooked roast dinner.”
The families of the contestants were left on tenterhooks while they were at the judges’ houses.
Whether they got through or not was a closely-guarded secret, only revealed when they flew back into Gatwick Airport.
Toni said: “We were all there sitting in Costa Coffee waiting for the contestants to get off the plane.
“We still at that stage didn’t know whether they had got through.
“But then I saw George and he shouted ‘yes’ and then there was lots of hugging and kissing.”
George, who is named after an elderly gentleman his mum used to care for when she worked as a nurse, was studying graphic design at Bath University when he decided to audition for X Factor.
Although music has always been his passion, he had intended to qualify and travel to America to work in a leading graphic design house.
Toni split from George’s dad Dominic when George was three. George has two brothers and a sister.
His brother Tom, 29, lives in Australia and is a drummer in a band and has just recorded his first single.
His other brother William, 23, is a royal marine based in Cardiff and his sister Harriet, 16, is at Weston College studying A-levels.
He went to Happy Hours Day Nursery as a toddler before going to Yeo Moor School and then onto King Alfred School in Burnham-on Sea- to study his GCSEs.
Toni watches her son on TV at home each Saturday night and then drives up to the Wembley studios each Sunday for the results.
And she has already encountered small crowds of girls gathering outside of her seaside home.
She said: “It’s weird sitting at home on a Saturday night watching my son on television.
“When I go up there I’m always like, ‘are you eating? Have you lost weight, are you OK?’ But he’s loving every minute of it.”
So far George, who has already become a pinup for millions of female fans, has refused to undergo the re-styling which other contestants have enjoyed.
Toni added: “He’s had facials but so far he has refused for them to cut his hair.”
GEORGE SHELLEY PICTURE SPECIAL