Cancer, Creative Control And That Infamous 1D Feud: How The Wanted Bounced Back

In September, the five members of British-Irish boy band The Wanted performed on stage together for the first time in seven years. To fans, it seemed as though everything was business as usual, right down to their hairstyles, each distinct from the other. But a lot had changed. Most were now in their thirties. Some were engaged or married with kids. Some had embarked on solo careers. One of them was a Strictly Come Dancing champion; another had given the show his best shot. And one of them had brain cancer.

It was Tom Parker who brought the band together for a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He announced his diagnosis – a terminal and inoperable brain tumour – in October 2020. Titled “Inside My Head”, alongside a Channel 4 documentary of the same name, the concert was Parker’s attempt to raise awareness of the lack of funding for brain cancer research. The response to the event, he says, was “incredible”.

“It was a worldwide response,” he says, during a video call with his four bandmates: Jay McGuiness, Siva Kaneswaran, Nathan Sykes and Max George. He and McGuiness vie for the position of group joker; Parker edges him out thanks to his screen name, which reads: ‘Is it cancerrrr????’. “I think that’s the beauty of social media these days,” Parker says of the fundraiser. “And that was our intention – to try and raise as much awareness as possible about this disease.”

The atmosphere during the concert was “probably the most special” the band had experienced, George says. “The build-up, being in that historic building together… There was a conflict of emotions because it was pure ecstasy at times, but also we just wished we were here in different circumstances.” Parker makes it easier on the band due to his extraordinary outlook, George says, as the others nod. “The way he acts it’s like nothing’s going on, in those moments you forget,” he continues. “It was an incredible night, and it was all because of Tom.”

In many ways, The Wanted ticked all the boxes of your classic pop band. They were put together by the industry masterminds behind girl groups The Saturdays and Parade, via a nine-month process where thousands of wannabes auditioned. They performed around the world to screaming fans. And they had a shelf-life, ultimately going their separate ways in 2014. But they stood out from their peers, too: their music was played unironically in clubs; they were a little older – in their early twenties – and therefore had a touch more grit than your average baby-faced group; and they wrote some of their own songs, including on their No 4 self-titled debut album. It received surprisingly positive reviews, considering most “serious” critics make a sport of eviscerating bands like The Wanted. They had a broad appeal, too. In his review for The Independent, Simon Price wrote: “Their front-loaded debut, penned by the A-list of pop songwriters (Cathy Dennis, Guy Chambers, Taio Cruz), covers all boy band bases, from the Coldplay-meets-Akon smash ‘All Time Low’ to Westlife-esque ballad ‘Heart Vacancy’.”

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While many other critics might have been primed to slate them, The Wanted managed to defy expectations of what a boy band could do. “I think we proved a lot of people wrong the first time round,” Parker says. “People were surprised by how much creative input we had. I know we were essentially manufactured but we still wanted to keep as much creative control as possible. That’s the same now.” He’s referring to the new singles the band have written for their just-released Greatest Hits album, including the house and EDM-influenced banger “Rule the World”, which captures the thrill of clubbing many have missed during the pandemic.

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