James Arthur proved that it’s the talent, not the look in his secret busker performance dressed as an old man, which drew a big crowd in London. The Platinum hitmaker played three of his songs fully in character as ‘Big Willie McNolty’, complete with a Scottish working class accent, wrinkles and a bushy grey beard.
Although he didn’t have any youthful good looks on display, it seems his voice and passionate performance was enough to win listeners over, with quite a crowd appearing at Waterloo Station to watch his performance. The video, shot by BBC Radio 1, was also popular online with the clip clocking up an impressive 19 million views.
The BBC had Arthur compete with London buskers The Tailormade, who Boris Johnson called “the best buskers in London” (yes, really). During his time as Mayor of London Johnson met The Tailormade and gave them his mayoral approval, so clearly Arthur had his work cut out for him.
The former X Factor star rose to the challenge though, collecting £33 over three songs, compared to the £30 collected by The Tailormade, who also performed three Arthur songs. The BBC is rather fond of this social experiment, and they also had former X Factor star Olly Murs do the same challenge, also disguised as an old man, which you can watch below.
The performance seems to suggest that people can indeed appreciate talent without the need for a pretty face to back it all up. Maybe that’s something the industry can learn from. However, not everyone was convinced that was the case, as several people pointed out that at least some from the crowd instantly recognized Arthur from his soulful, emotive tenor.
The no-frills performance also really highlighted how Arthur is the real deal, as he sounded amazing despite having to perform solo with only a budget busking setup. Fans online noticed this, with comments like “He’s incredible without a studio behind him. Just the fact that he can go out there in the cold without anything other than a guitar and his voice and sound that amazing blows my mind.”
Other fans commented on the raw power of the pop star’s voice, saying “when James was singing you could feel it in your soul. The hairs on your neck stand up, you get goosebumps or hot flashes. Only true emotion and beautiful vocal cords can accomplish that.”
Arthur, who is now 35, was born on March 2, 1988, in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire. He broke into the music industry at age 24 by winning the ninth season of The X Factor, and subsequently the most commercially successful artist to emerge from the series.
His self-titled debut album, released the year after winning the competition, went Platinum in the UK, as did his follow up Back from the Edge. The latter album also became his first number one hit in the UK and yielded his biggest hit to date, “Say You Won’t Let Go”. The song is also one of the most popular songs on all of Spotify with 2.4 billion streams. If you would like to see more from James Arthur, you can subscribe to his YouTube channel or follow him on Instagram.