A year on from wowing Craig Revel-Horwood, Shirley Ballas and Motsi Mabuse with his street dancing abilities and Charleston, the 22-year-old finds himself in the process of relaunching his pop career – and opportunities to once again make an impression on millions of TV viewers clearly matter.
Manrara’s mentoirsh nod of approval suggested HRVY had done a good job.
Reflecting on the NTAs experience at the O2 a week later, the singer – born Harvey Leigh Cantwell – says: “It was so good to be back up on stage again. It had been a long time and it was very scary, I was very nervous. The scary part was there was Ant and Dec, Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross at in the first rows. I didn’t want to look at them because I’m a fanboy too much – but it was really good fun.”
As far as nerves go, he says they’re not uncommon. “I get nervous with everything I do, just because I care,” he explains. “If I didn’t then it would show that I didn’t (care). So they’re good nerves.”
HRVY’s latest single, Runaway With It, derives its instantly recognisable hook from Shanice’s 1991 hit I Love Your Smile. It seems cross-generational appeal to audiences on Radios 1 and 2 was “exactly” what he was hoping for.
“I didn’t know the song really but I heard it in a shop and I thought the ‘du du du doo duduooo’ was really catchy,” he says. “Chris Brown had also sampled that part [in his song Undecided] – that’s why I did it.
“My friends and my producers knew it from the first time round, so I thought, ‘OK, cool, if we put it in our song hopefully it can get that cross-generational appeal to people.”
The video for HRVY’s previous single 1 Day 2 Nights referenced the Martin Scorsese black comedy The Wolf of Wall Street. The opportunity to pay homage to one of his “favourite movies of all time” was, he says, too good to resist.
“During lockdown I watched a lot of films with Leonardo DiCaprio in it, I just think he’s really cool. When we got asked what we wanted to do with the music video, I didn’t just want to do a typical club video, I wanted to do something a bit more interesting. I love recreating movie in music videos and I just thought Wolf of Wall Street would be a really good one to do and it was good to end up being Leonardo DiCaprio for a day.”
The two recent pop bangers are, however, not especially representative of the rest of his forthcoming album, he reveals. “The rest of the stuff is a lot more chilled, I suppose, which I like,” he says. “It’s what I listen to and what I love the most.”
HRVY’s first steps into the pop world actually came when he was just 14 years old. In 2014 he toured with Little Mix and three years later signed to Virgin EMI. Despite the fact that his family, from Kent, are “tone deaf”, he says his dad’s love of music gave him the bug too. “He would play U2 and Pink Floyd and all these amazing artists as I was growing up, so it was always a very music-filled household, but no one could sing.”
His own musical forays were a happy “accident”, he says. “It was the only thing I was good at. My brothers were great at football and I tried it, I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t the best. I started posting videos on the internet and then it somehow became my career. I was just very lucky.”
In his mid teens HRVY presented the CBBC programme Friday Download. He believes the prior experience was useful in preparing him for the 2020 season of Strictly Come Dancing, in which he and partner Janette Manrara went all the way to the final.
“It teaches you how to be in front of a camera,” he says. “In terms of helping, I felt like it definitely did now, looking back on it. It’s scary when there’s loads of them pointing at you...and you don’t want to mess up. The pressure is on when you’re in front of the cameras, so I felt like it definitely helped there.”
Manrara was, he says, “the best of both worlds” as a dance partner. “She had a really good balance – being strict but also having fun. She said to me, ‘You don’t want to take the fun out of this. It is a competition but it’s a fun competition, we’re not in a real-life professional dance contest.’ She was great. She definitely worked me hard but at the same time it was fun.”
Despite all the Covid restrictions, HRVY clearly relished being part of a show that brought joy to millions during difficult times. “Everyone was watching TV, everyone was bored (with lockdown), no one was doing anything. It was so special that I could have been a part of that series. I think it will be one that will be remembered for a long time. The cast were amazing on it and I’m so happy that I could do it. And looking back, you know what, I didn’t do too bad.”
Strictly has helped to raise his profile too. He says “different people” now approach him when he’s out in public. “When I’m in the supermarket a lovely elderly woman will come up to me or mums saying ‘You’re so lovely’ – that’s really nice to have that,” he says. “When I see my younger fans, they always say ‘My nan loves you as well’. I’ve definitely crossed generations now.”
The most important discipline he learned was “patience”, he says. “I usually want to perfect something really quickly and you can’t do that when it comes to dancing, especially ballroom and latin, so it was patience and probably perseverance because it was really hard.”
A year on from Strictly, HRVY has switched record labels to BMG and finally gearing up to release his long-delayed debut album in 2022. He says he was “glad” it didn’t come out last year, as originally intended. “It was my decision. It was during the Covid pandemic and my whole heart wasn’t in it, it had been pushed back quite a few times and the songs on it were getting older, Strictly was coming up and there was a lot going on. I thought I’d rather just leave it and come back to it when I’m ready and I love it, and I’m so glad that I did because I’ve made music that’s so much better and I’m very happy that happened.”
HRVY plays at Leeds Beckett University Headingley campus Students’ Union on October 21. hrvy.com