GETTING through to the finals of Britain’s Got Talent was more than just a lucky break for Dean Kelly – he insists it has kept him out of jail.
Growing up on a tough council estate in Stockport, he admits to having had scrapes with the law – while his brothers have spent long stretches inside for a range of offences.
Dean, 20, says he would certainly have joined them had he not been picked for a band by the man who put Take That together, Nigel Martin-Smith - even though they went on to be beaten by a performing dog.
“We are four normal-ish kind of lads trying to make something of ourselves,” says Dean. “I’ve got all I could have asked for – and I feel on top of the world.”
Singing about knives, crime and the realities of growing up in some of Britain’s toughest neighbourhoods, The Mend brought a touch of grit to Saturday evening TV.
The lads were brought together by Martin-Smith after auditions in schools and council estate community groups, and were whittled down from more than 100 hopefuls.
Dean was looking for an alternative to the life of crime which had ruined his brothers’ lives. His bandmates have similar stories to tell. Rapper Kris Evans saw a 16 year-old friend killed in a knife attack; former choirboy Craig Worsley from Preston was hospitalised after being beaten up by thugs; Kris Evans, also from Manchester, was also a victim of bullying; and Jayme Kontzle from Crewe, was raised by his grandfather after his mum died in a car crash and he was abandoned by his abusive dad.
“This group has given us a lifeline,” says Dean. “Obviously, if I hadn’t got into this group I’d have got into trouble. I am not doubting that.”
In contrast to the products of many TV talent shows, The Mend come across as the real deal; a genuine bunch who are unafraid to say what they think. There’s certainly nothing scripted about Dean’s answers. He is, he admits, just a lad who got lucky.
“We all come from working class backgrounds and from similar crowds,” he says, talking from Martin-Smith’s Manchester office.
“I was worried about how we would come across,” he goes on. “I come from a rough family and was brought up in a small council house with six of us.
“I’m the youngest of four lads. I’ve seen a lot of things. My brothers have not done the nicest things and a couple have done time in jail. My oldest brother is 30 and has done nine years. I’ve tried to keep out of trouble, but have seen the police a few times.”
He also got into trouble for skipping school. When his mum ended up in court because of his truancy, he paid her £1,000 fine with money he earned from working at a printing company.
“Through my school life I was always working,” he says. “But entertainment was my thing, and I funded it from my own pocket. My dream was to be a singer. I also liked writing lyrics and poems.”
That talent is now put to good use as the band’s lyric writer, putting into words many of their shared experiences.
Originally called ASBRO, they changed their name as it was deemed too negative, settling on The Mend because, Dean explains “it has mended everything for us and fixed a lot of things that had gone wrong.”
When they entered Britain’s Got Talent, no one – least of all the lads – expected to get through to the finals.
“It was such a buzz,” says Dean. “There were lots of different people and we felt out of place. But, in a weird way, we were the ones in place.”
Despite being taken under Martin-Smith’s wing, Dean admits to never having heard of him before the deal. “I didn’t even know who Take That were,” he laughs. “And I definitely wouldn’t have listened to them when I was growing up.”
So, to what does he attribute their appeal? “I’d put it down to hard work,” he says. “You don’t get anywhere easily in life. We have had to work, work, work!”
That work ethic not only landed them a record deal but a support slot for 2011 X Factor champions, Little Mix on their first national tour.
It has also earned them a loyal following, much of it from girls. For a bunch of regular lads like The Mend, it’s a dream come true. “We try to keep our noses clean as much as we can,” he says, sounding coy. “But having the attention is amazing. Most of the girls go for Kris and Jayme, but I get a bit of attention sometimes – though more when we first came off the show.”
That was despite losing out to Pudsey the Dog, who went on to win the contest.
“We did get beaten by a dog,” laughs Dean. “But I don’t hold a grudge. You’ve got to love a dog, and it was good. If we’d lost to another group, it would have been much more ‘ouch!” With a dog you can laugh it off.”
On Tuesday the lads support Little Mix at the New Theatre. So how, I wonder, are they getting on with the girls? “They are really nice and we all get along,” he says. “We’ve even been to the cinema and bowling with them.
“They are good at what they do, but very different to us; they are a bit more polished.”
And has there been any romance? “I’m not going to say anything,” he laughs. “But Kris probably has. As for me.... well, I’m working on it!”
- The Mend support Little Mix at the New Theatre, Oxford on Tuesday. Tickets have sold out.