Videos: The Suffolk pop megastar you've never heard of

LIKE any proud father, Geoff Gleave loves to tell his friends what his children have been up to.

Jonathan Barnes

LIKE any proud father, Geoff Gleave loves to tell his friends what his children have been up to.

But even he can scarcely believe the extraordinary success story to be told about his son Charlie Winston, who is fast becoming one of Europe's biggest pop stars - despite being virtually unknown in the UK.

Singer-songwriter Charlie, who was raised in Bungay when his parents ran the town's King's Head hotel, has had a number one single and album in France, where he has outsold artists such as U2, Michael Jackson and Coldplay.


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The 30-year-old is currently enjoying a spectacular summer in which he has headlined major festivals across Europe, drawing a bigger crowd than even Bruce Springsteen managed to one of France's top music events.

“I think we've all been surprised by how successful he has been - it's phenomenal, extraordinary,” said Mr Gleave, 64, who still lives in Bungay.

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“I must have bored my friends to tears with my stories. Soon I hope everybody will be asking me about him, rather than just me bragging!”

Mr Gleave, who was a professional musician himself, had an insight into Charlie's new found fame this summer when he joined him on his tour bus - after cycling from London to Paris.

“I had a hip operation last year and I was in a bad way after that. I decided I wanted to get fit again so I thought I'd cycle over to see Charlie.

“When I told him about it he said 'I've left my bicycle in London and I'd like it so can you come over on that?' and so that's what I did.

“It was an incredible experience to see his life now. He's a huge superstar over there and it's hard to get your head around that it's your son.”

It is not the first time Mr Gleave has seen one of his children achieve success in the music business.

His son, Tom Baxter, 35, is an acclaimed singer-songwriter, who has released two well-received albums.

Daughter Vashti Anna (the three performing Gleave children use their middle names as stage surnames), 28, is also forging a career as a singer.

Eldest son, Joe Gleave, 37, is also involved in the music and film business and is Charlie's business manager.

“I'm immensely proud of them. They all went off to London and I've watched their careers develop. It's great to see after they have worked so hard for so long,” said Mr Gleave.

Charlie, who spent many years as a working musician, songwriter and composer in London, saw his stock rise after signing to former Genesis star's Peter Gabriel's label in 2003 and moving to Paris. His stylised music, which blends pop, soul, folk, blues and jazz, and relentless gigging across Europe built up a loyal fanbase that has seen both his album, Hobo, and single, Like a Hobo, hit number one.

Charlie, whose mother Julie lives in Wickham Market, is now looking to repeat his success back in his homeland, with debut UK single In Your Hands out this week.

“He's excited about playing in England. He knows it's a difficult market but he's not worried about it,” said Mr Gleave.

“He's not particularly keen on being a pop star - he's a songwriter and composer foremost - but he's very natural with it, he hasn't been affected.

“He's not a big-headed sort of chap; he just has confidence in what he does. If he's not a huge hit over here then his opinion is 'so what?' He's very chilled out about it.”

CHARLIE Winston's incredible rise to fame on the continent is due to years of hard work - and a spot of babysitting.

He grew up surrounded by music while his folk singer parents Geoff and Julie - who once appeared on TV show Opportunity Knocks - ran the King's Head hotel in Bungay, hosting an eclectic range of gigs and events.

Former Bungay High School pupil Charlie moved to Southwold with his mother after his parents split in the early 90s and left for London at age 17 to go to university in London to study music.

He spent years as “a yes man”, writing, composing and arranging music for everything from the BBC Concert Orchestra to television adverts, while singing and playing - bass, piano or percussion - with a number of bands.

In 2003, he was introduced to Peter Gabriel while recording bass guitar for his brother Tom's band at Real World Studios in Wiltshire and became friends with the ex-Genesis frontman's daughter Melanie.

A year later - while babysitting Gabriel's son - Charlie gave him an EP of his music, which led to a recording contract and a support slot on the star's European tour.

Gabriel even produced Charlie's debut album Make Way, but the record suffered from a distinct lack of promotion from distributor EMI.

Struggling to make an impact in the UK, Charlie booked himself gigs across Europe and relocated to Paris. His reputation grew when his cover of the Spencer Davis Group classic I'm A Man was used for a Volkswagen advert featuring a singing dog.

But his biggest break came when his song, Like a Hobo, was used for a jingle for the prime-time French show Le Grand Journal.

His album, Hobo, released on French label Atmospheriques and produced by David Bowie cohort Mark Plati, went to the top of the download and physical charts after its release in January and has now gone platinum.

Charlie - known for his trademark Trilby hat - has headlined major music events across Europe this summer. His bill-topping turn at the Vielles Charrues festival in Brittany drew a crowd of 55,000 people, while the night before fellow headliner Bruce Springsteen only managed 44,000. “It's hard to believe that I was given the bigger gig and more people turned up,” he said afterwards.

He also spent some time in his homeland in July, appearing on GMTV and national radio stations, ahead of the UK release of the Hobo album next month. As well as a frenetic schedule of concerts, promo and interviews, Charlie also finds time to write an insightful blog on his website - www.charliewinston.com.

This month, the BBC Magazine named him as one of 10 Famous Britons You've Probably Never Heard Of.

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