Teen dream that came true

They're 19, live at home, are the biggest pop idols since East 17 and a re very, very nice. John Lyttle has a Coke with PJ and Duncan Some time soon they plan to use the names they were born with `Did you see Byker Grove at the start? I was crap, man, crap'

Rising pop idols PJ and Duncan are talking about their day. Loudly. Well, not that loudly. But we are in the lobby bar of London's Park Lane Hilton and around us are serious people. Serious people in business suits, in Chanel, in fur, in good tast e. They stare. Oh dear. Teenagers, obviously. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Fun. That's it. And those accents. Geordie, surely? At the Hilton? How ... unexpected.

Neither PJ nor Duncan clock the response. When you're hot (five hit singles and one gold album, Pysche, in the past 12 months) you don't. Hell, when you're 19 you don't and PJ and Duncan are both famous and 19.

"We've been shopping today," says PJ. "We bought new trainers, the both of us. Look. Great, hey?" Legs are lifted to display the footwear. Neat. "We did bags of shopping. 'Cause we got a photo session on Saturday. Is it for Germany? Could be for Germany.The new single's out there. Not sure. Don't know. Anyhow, we had to get different looks so the stylist will have a choice."

Duncan starts chatting about doing Top of the Pops yesterday and how it takes time, two run throughs and two rehearsals, and PJ breaks in to say how yesterday he kept missing his camera and the cameraman had to "do this". He mimes the contorted pose the poor man was forced to adopt and Duncan cracks up. Really, sweetly, sincerely cracks up. The bar man looks over. They did order Cokes, didn't they?

PJ and Duncan like being pop stars. In fact, the thing about PJ and Duncan is that they like everything. Getting the right gear, girls screaming at them and not at Take That or East 17, attending the Smash Hits party to collect a Best New Act Award and being the last to leave. "Everyone thought we were party animals, you know, out every night, but all last year we were on the road, going from gig to gig, to this club and that club," PJ says. "We stayed till the end because we hadn't been out for ages." Still, they even like being on the road in their smelly van. To repeat: they like everything.

No, revise that: PJ and Duncan don't particularly enjoy being known as PJ and Duncan any more. Those are the names of the characters they played on the BBC children's programme Byker Grove for six years, until leaving late in 1993, and their music company thought it best to launch them as their alter-egos. Duncan appreciates why - "That's who we were known as" - but some time soon they plan to use the names they were born with, exchanging Duncan for Declan Donnelly and PJ for Anthony McPartlin. Names for grown-ups, because they are "Declan and Anthony, or Ant. Most of the the music mags already call him Ant. That's who he is."

But that's the future. Here's the past. "We met on Byker Grove," says PJ. "We just clicked. We've been mates ever since." It's easy to see why. It's a classic Likely Lads scenario. Duncan's the quiet - well, the quieter one, the youngest of seven children, the one girls want to (s)mother - and PJ's the oldest of three, the only boy, the stud as cheeky chappie: "Did you see Byker Grove at the start? I was looking at some old tapes. I was crap, man, crap."

It couldn't work better if it was scripted, right down to the loving families they both still live with. "My Mum," PJ says, "you'd love her. The plumber will call and she'll tell him who her son is. `He's that PJ. He's had hit records.'" Duncan laughs. His Mum "points out the gold record" to anyone who comes into the house while he waits for the ground to open up. They both hoot. They love their Mums: "Our Mums are great."

Their Newcastle agent wants to keep them unspoilt. "He threatens to break our legs if we get `extravagant'," they say. But it's actually their families who keep heads from swelling, especially their sisters, who know all about how teen idols should conduct themselves, thank you, and can't quite credit that their brothers are the focus of adolescent lust and media mania. Duncan has moments of doubt too. "Some mornings I look in the mirror and I wonder who I am. Who's that face? Why are girls screaming atme?" PJ gives him a funny look. But if Duncan can't talk to PJ about it, he can always share his angst with God. "I'm a Catholic and it's important to me. I lie in bed at night and I have someone to talk to. It's my faith. I'd feel less without it. Simple, really."

Faith has certainly been required. Whichever way you cut it, the past six years have been extraordinary. The boys have been through it all: the auditions designed to suction non-professional working-class locals off the streets of Newcastle and into television, having to learn to act on the trot, dealing with public recognition.

What Duncan remembers most, however, is that his teachers suddenly turned cool, told him he wouldn't amount to anything and that he must abandon acting. "I was in the headmaster's office and he asked how much money I was getting. I said that was private.My parents left the choice up to me. I chose Byker Grove."

There have been sacrifices, though. The pressures of celebrity caused a final break between PJ and his girlfriend Nicola Bell, who played Debbie Dobson on Byker Grove: "When you're touring you can't have a relationship by phone. I'm terrible on the phone." And Duncan lost his main squeeze, actress Claire Buckfield (Jenny in 2.4 Children) for the same reason. Duncan says the record company told them this would be a tough year and they'd have to work hard and give up things, but, still, you know . . . .

The other sacrifice might be music itself. Three years ago the lads were Indie music-crazed.They worshipped Inspiral Carpets and the Stone Roses. Today the songs have titles like `Why Me?'" and `Eternal Love' and `Let's Get Ready to Rhumble' (sic) - the latter was a great pop single, but hardly indie flash.

"Our fans are young girls, 10, 11, 12 and that's what they're into," PJ adds. "They're so honest. They'll tell you what they hated." And it's not as if taking the commercial route has hurt their "credibility". PJ and Duncan are hip with everyone from theSun to the NME. Pre-packaged as they are, they also seem authentic. They seem to be having fun. They seem to think it's all rather a happy accident. "That's it!" says PJ. "The album cover [gaudy, bright, deliberately cheap] is meant to be a joke. Us dressing up as the Pet Shop Boys, that was a joke. We just decided to do it.

They're right to trust their instincts. One reason they're successful is that they are, in a sense, their own audience. They know the desires and hopes of their fans because they've been there, indeed, are still.

"I remember watching Top of the Pops when I was a kid" PJ says, admiring his new trainers. "I dreamed that one day I would be on it. And I am. It's wonderful. Everything I imagined." Duncan nods and wonders if he should have another Coke.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Louis van Gaal
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own