The nation’s favourite Croydon van driver came home last night to give fans a special performance and rally even more support before the X Factor final this weekend.
Crowds of at least 600 Ben Haenow fans braved the wind and rain outside Croydon’s Whitgift shopping centre yesterday evening to hear the 29-year-old finalist sing live on the streets where he used to “knock about” as a kid.
As the bookies favourite to win, the vast support from local residents is unsurprising. Michelle Blackman-Asante, 23, said: “I came because he’s local. I’d like him to win but I’m kind of rooting for Andrea.”
Andrea Faustini, the pug-loving Italian with a powerful voice, was the favourite to win very early on in the competition. Additional finalist, Fleur East, who reached Number 1 on iTunes this week, became one to watch only after an impressive performance at Simon Cowell’s house.
X Factor fans will be no stranger to the curse of first place however, with the success of many previous winners being overshadowed by their runner-ups.
If Haenow does win the competition, 53-year-old Frances Courtney is not worried about his career: “Ben is definitely going to win, he’s so different to the others. He’ll be successful, he’s got so much determination.”
Unsurprisingly, the audience was predominately made up of female Haenow fans bearing homemade “We love Ben” banners. But families with young children on fathers’ shoulders and groups of teenagers also had a strong presence at the show.
Nicole Howard, 19, who was at the performance with friends, said that they “like Ben because he’s hot.” She said: “He is really talented though, my whole family is rooting for him to win.”
But the screams of excitement that rang through North End weren’t just for Haenow. Rachel Ecott, 17, told Eastlondonlines: “I’m here for Simon, I just want to take a selfie with him”
Ecott wasn’t the only one who had come to the event for a glimpse of Cowell. Amongst the cheers for Haenow to come out and sing, the shrill wail of a woman in the crowd could be heard very clearly: “Simon Cowell, I want to marry you. Please. Simon, I am here!”
An hour of waiting in the drizzle and chanting various renditions of “We want Ben” was interrupted by a brief speech by leader of Croydon Council, Tony Newman.
Newman was initially met with boos from the increasingly restless audience. They quickly turned to cheers however, when he asked the crowd if Haenow was going to win the X Factor and assured us all that “Croydon is proud of Ben”.
Finally Cowell, Haenow, his mother and his grandmother made their way onto the stage and greeted the eager crowd of supporters. With his team on stage behind him, Haenow sang two songs from his time in the competition, John Lennon’s “Jealous guy” and The Beatles’ “Come Together”.
The audience was left slightly disappointed by the short show as many expected an hour-long performance.
Simon thanked the audience for their patience and support, telling them: “We’re going to try and bring the X Factor trophy to Croydon for the first time.”
Haenow, who used to perform at local pubs in a band with his brother Alex, is often referred to as one of the “most genuine” contestants in the competition.
Having lived the “rags to riches” fairytale that we all know so well, it’s unsurprising that so many people from his hometown are behind him.
The X Factor final will be shown on ITV1 on Saturday December 13 at 8:30pm and Sunday December 14 at 8:00pm.