As Busted split, one question remains: 'Which one is going to be the new Robbie Williams?'

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The Independent Culture

The question hung in the air unasked, but it was only a matter of time. As the multimillion-selling, Tory-supporting boy band Busted told the world the bad news that their legion of pubescent fans had feared for months, it was finally raised. "Which of you is going to be the new Robbie Williams?"

The question hung in the air unasked, but it was only a matter of time. As the multimillion-selling, Tory-supporting boy band Busted told the world the bad news that their legion of pubescent fans had feared for months, it was finally raised. "Which of you is going to be the new Robbie Williams?"

It was, famously, Williams not Gary Barlow who went on to enjoy massive solo success after the 1996 split of Take That. Barlow may have written all the songs, but that amounted to a hill of beans in the cold wind of a solo career. Busted member James Bourne, 21, was ready with the answer: "No one is going to be Robbie Williams," he insisted.

Everyone knows that the band's public-school educated lead singer Charlie Simpson,19 - the one that all the girls fancy - is best placed for solo stardom. His band, Fightstar began their UK tour at Warwick University last night. It was his decision to leave that prompted the formal announcement that Busted had busted, made at a hastily arranged press conference yesterday.

The record-company driven boy band has a long pedigree, dating back four decades to the Monkees. In the Eighties there was Bros, while the Nineties saw the genre reach its apotheosis. Take That became the most successful British band since The Beatles, then there was E17, while Boyzone enjoyed five years of success before spawning the daddy of them all, Westlife. Brian McFadden's group sold more than 30 million records. But there were plenty of failures too. Upside Down foundered spectacularly, while in recent years the spin-off acts from television's Popstars: The Rivals saw One True Voice and Phixx suffer an early demise.

But as Gary Barlow found, solo success when boy band members become men, can prove elusive. This has made the announcement of the split a crucial part of managing a band's transition to maturity.Outside, in the cold of Soho yesterday a small gaggle of tearful, teenage girls had travelled from as far as Swindon and Wolverhampton to stand about mournfully.

Inside the Soho Hotel, their heroes explained how much they didn't hate each other. They were still "best mates" and there was no truth to claims that they were no longer talking. In fact, depending on how skint they were, they could even reform in the not too distant future. Reality TV was also an option, they joked. But the passing of a teeny-bop band is no laughing matter. When Take That broke up, the charity ChildLine laid on a special helpline to help fans over their grief. Busted, to their credit, not only play guitars, but are aware that their army of infatuated followers would be hurt by the news of their demise.

But it was clear that the boys were hurting too. Blond-haired Simpson may have been the last one to join, but it had been a case of one out all out, they said. Bourne added: "It's sad that Charlie feels the way he does, but we respect his decision. No one has begged anyone to stay, that would just be kidding ourselves. This decision is the right thing. It's the best thing for the three of us. We're not going to carry on because Busted needs to be remembered the way Busted was."

Simpson, who said he wanted to concentrate "100 per cent" on his new musical project, was prepared for the angry comments that were clogging up the forum on the band's official website. By yesterday afternoon the postings on the message board ran to more than 70 pages, ranging from deep hurt to deep fury. "If our fans are angry then I understand. But I want to thank them for being so amazing over the past three years," he said.

In commercial terms, Busted have been one of the jewels in the crown of the record company Universal. Even though they failed to crack the US market, their two albums sold more than a million copies each. Eight singles have made the top three, including four No 1s.

They leave an unusual legacy for a boy band, having disclosed their political allegiance in an interview with Tatler in October. Simpson said he said he preferred the Conservative philosophy and Matt Jay, 21, the third member of the band added: "I am not going to be ripped off any more. From the financial position I am in now, I am a Tory boy too."

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