Gary Barlow

For the talented Take That star, selection as an X-Factor judge in 2011 was vindication of his position as arguably one of the finest pop songwriters in contemporary music today.


Gary Barlow was born in Frosham, Cheshire, in 1971 and quickly displayed a propensity for singing and dancing that is still with him today. He was the second son to Marge and Colin Barlow and found himself immediately fascinated with pop music, deciding to learn the keyboard upon hearing the Depeche Mode single 'Just Can't Get Enough'. Writing in his autobiography, Barlow explained: "I was one of those kids that's forever dancing in front of the TV looking at my reflection."

It would surprise few that he was already writing and recording his own songs by the tender age of 15, and had employed his first showbiz manager by the time he was 18. Always driven by a determination that was equalled only by his talent, Gary didn't take to success immediately. In fact, the first single he properly recorded – 'Love is in the Air' – which he recorded under his first stage name of Kurtis Rush, was never even released commercially.

But it wasn't long before the Cheshire boy was making waves in the industry, having been put in touch with casting agent Nigel Martin-Smith, who was keen to start a boy band. As the driving force behind the newly formed pop act, Barlow would soon taste stardom on a global level. Not only is he credited with being the principle writer for the majority of the group's songs, but he was also the main voice around which the other members – Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams – were framed.

Making their first appearances in 1990, Take That started out performing Barlow's unreleased songs. To begin with, they focused on mainstream pop and R&B, but found greater success as they ratcheted up the tempo and moved into the more 'dancey' territory that characterised most of their output in the years up to 1996.

Under Barlow's stewardship, they enjoyed their first major success with the single 'It Only Takes a Minute', which reached number seven in the charts in 1992. This was quickly followed up by 'A Million Love Songs' (also reaching number seven) and 'Could It Be Magic', which reached number three and enjoyed success in Germany, Ireland, Australia and Sweden. These singles were enough to propel their first album, 'Take That and Party', all the way to number 2 in the albums charts. This was the last time a Take That album would peak so low – their subsequent five albums all hitting the number one spot.

In the following years (1993-1996), every single became a major hit, as 'Pray', 'Relight My Fire', 'Babe' and 'Everything Changes' all reached number one consecutively. With 'Back for Good', 'Never Forget' and 'How Deep is Your Love' also topping the charts, Barlow and company seemed to have hit the magic formula for both critical and commercial success; something their legions of young fans would attest to at every one of their live performances.


 

But all was not well within the group, with the egos of Barlow and fan favourite Robbie Williams increasingly clashing. The latter decided to leave the band as their 'Greatest Hits' collection was topping charts, while Barlow increasingly chose to focus on other projects – lending his vocals to Elton John's soundtrack for the Disney film 'The Lion King'.

In 1996, the band split, and Barlow was predicted to embark upon an incredibly successful solo career, being heralded as the "new George Michael". With his first releases, Barlow seemed to pick up where Take That had left off, but he soon found it hard to maintain this momentum, particularly as he faced a public backlash, as a result of the media constructing a battle between him and Williams, following the release of Robbie's single 'Angels'.

Receding from the limelight, Barlow instead turned his talents to songwriting and producing. He wrote songs for Delta Goodrem, Donny Osmand, Atomic Kitten and Charlotte Church. Barlow further cemented his reputation as a songwriter through collaborations with the likes of Christina Aguilera and Elton John.

In 2006, Take That reformed minus Robbie Williams after they returned to the top of the charts in November 2005 with a new compilation 'Never Forget'. Barlow was able to pick up where he had left off with hits including 'Patience', 'Shine' and 'Greatest Day' all reaching number one. They enjoyed sell-out tours for albums 'Beautiful World' and 'Circus'. In 2010, Robbie rejoined the band after struggling to maintain the success of his own solo career, ahead of the release of their sixth studio album 'Progress'.

Things continue to go from strength to strength for Barlow, who is now a five-time recipient of the Ivor Novello award for songwriting. In 2011, he was named on the new-look judging panel for X-Factor. It wasn't just the nature of his appointment that vindicated his status as a leading figure in contemporary pop music, but the 'who' he replaced, with Gary filling in for the main force behind the show, Simon Cowell.

Since the launch of the eighth series of the show, Barlow has become a firm fan favourite despite the immense pressure on his shoulders to recreate and rejuvenate what has been an incredibly successful formula. He has made sure not to let his new status and power go to waste either, roping in pop superstars Lady Gaga and Coldplay for the BBC Children In Need Rocks Manchester show in 2011. Barlow also released a solo album in 2013 called 'Since I Saw You Last' which went to number two in the charts behind One Direction's 'Midnight Memories'.