In a manufactured town, Popstars feel at home

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The Independent Culture

What better place for a manufactured band to meet the public than a manufactured town. Milton Keynes, the town built in the Sixties to a grid plan yesterday came face to face with Hear'Say, which was also built to a grid plan.

What better place for a manufactured band to meet the public than a manufactured town. Milton Keynes, the town built in the Sixties to a grid plan yesterday came face to face with Hear'Say, which was also built to a grid plan.

Milton Keynes (though not actually a city) is bidding to be the European City of Culture. And it may even help their application to say they hosted the pop sensation of the year.

Nothing so vulgar as singing took place yesterday; but this group, which graduated from ITV's Popstars programme, has sung only one song live. Concerts are passé; and as Hear'Say are guaranteed to be number one this weekend with their first release Pure and Simple, they may realise that performing live is surplus to requirements.

But the fans don't seem to mind; fame is the spur to miss school; and getting an autograph from any of the five faces from the television was a sufficient spur to cause several thousand of Milton Keynes's schoolchildren to queue outside Woolworth's in the shopping district.

First in line, a mere six hours before the group's arrival, were Andrew Rattcliffe 12, and his brother, Peter, 11. Andrew, a wannabe pop star with his own karaoke kit, had a special reason for braving a six hour wait: an affinity with Noel. "Noel's birthday is four days after mine," he announced. Spooky huh?

Their mother Sandra, making sure they were comfortable before she went off to work, admitted: "They are missing school. I said they could have permission. And they have watched Popstars since the beginning." You can't argue with that; though maybe an Ofsted inspector would. But there would be a lot of kids to round up. By four when the band arrived, there were about seven thousand fans waiting.

One might have hoped that some of the unsuccessful Popstars might have had fans to come and shout abuse - narcissistic youths who liked mouthy Darius; supporters of fat Claire from the Milton Keynes weightwatchers club. At least when The Beatles dropped Pete Best as their drummer, George Harrison received a black eye from a fan of Best's. But these days no one queues to see a loser.

What was unusual about yesterday in the history of fans meeting pop groups was that the pop group seemed to be the more excited. As Hear'Say came down the escalator in Woolworth's to be greeted by their fans, the group spotted the merchandising dolls of themselves that went on sale for the first time yesterday.

As they saw the £14.99 miniature replicas they let out a communal "Wow, look at those!" Fans wore "Nigel, Pick Me" T-shirts, harking back to the television auditions by Nigel Lythgoe. The atmosphere was a mixture of mutual hysteria and mutual corporate pleasure and profit.

And if Hear'Say fancy making Milton Keynes the scene of their first gig, the town's council boasts an "events plateau" in the "public realm" - or a bandstand in the park, as we used to say in the days before Popstars met Milton Keynes.

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