How Bahrain shaped 'X Factor' star's life  


BRITISH singing sensation James Arthur may not have been the success he is today if it wasn't for the four years he spent growing up in Bahrain at a key stage of his life, his mother told the GDN in an exclusive interview.

The 24-year-old's name was on everyone's lips after he swept to victory in the UK version of popular television show The X Factor just over a week ago.

But it was in Bahrain where his talent first started to shine through and his mum, Shirley Ashworth, said she first realised he would go far after seeing him as a 12-year-old in a school performance of The Pirates of Penzance at the Awali Hall.

James was a pupil at the British School of Bahrain (BSB) from 1997 to 2001 and was playing a leading role in the famous stage show.

"James started to show his potential back then," remembered Ms Ashworth.

"He was football mad back then and was captain of the BSB team.

"I think the time I knew he would be something big would be when he did a play, The Pirates of Penzance.

"He first started showing his vocal ability when he played the role of the Major General - he was 12 years old at the time.

"He also won singing competitions as well as other competitions in school.

"James wasn't what I would call an academic, but he loved his English and would write pages as well as he was excelling in drama.

"He was a popular boy back then and had a lot of friends. He was very blond and had blue eyes, so girls were a little wild for him.

"Every school play he would audition for and he would either get the lead or the second role."

Friends and former teachers will remember him as James Rafferty, who moved to Bahrain in 1997 as a nine-year-old with his mother, stepfather Ronald Rafferty and sister Shian after his stepfather got a job as regional manager of Rockwell Automation.

They came here from Dubai and Ms Ashworth, who later went through a painful divorce, personally thanked those in Bahrain who had supported him throughout.

"I would like to give recognition and thanks to friends and the people of Bahrain for their support of James," she said by telephone from the UK.

"I know many of the friends we have had there and my children's friends have been in contact throughout the whole competition and we really appreciate the support.

"My son and daughter used to go to the British School of Bahrain when we lived there and James went there until we left in 2001.

"The day of the (X Factor) semi-finals, one of the judges said that he (James) showed a lot of respect on stage and that is a trait that I believe he got while he was in Bahrain."

In fact, she went as far as to say that his time here was one of the most crucial factors in his development.

"I have a massive, massive love for Bahrain," she added.

"I have nothing but praise as the country was so good to us and very good for the kids.

"It was in that time, when James was between nine and 14, when he took on those parts of himself that everyone commented about during the competition.

"He learnt a lot of respect and gratitude while he was there."

Ms Ashworth recalled that the family, from Saltburn in the northeast of England, took time to settle into their new lives in the Middle East when they arrived.

However, she said they now looked back on that time as the kind of life people only dream about.

"Coming from a regular northeast town there was a huge change in culture, but the heat is the thing I really remember," she said.

"When we first arrived we were put in these apartments in the middle of summer and it was hot.

"It was myself and James who were the most homesick and it lasted about a year, but then we all moved to a nice villa in Saar and settled in.

"The move meant that the children started to live a much better life, which they loved.

"They had a group of friends and they are still in contact with them now.

"They used to come home and go swimming in our pool. It was a different life for them.

"It was the kind of life that you only dream of with maids, drivers and the children in private schools."

However, while his time in Bahrain provided a solid platform for James, the tougher years that followed also helped shape him into the singer he is today.

Ms Ashworth described how the family - which by then included another sister Jasmine - was massively affected by her divorce from Mr Rafferty.

She had moved back to the UK with the children because both she and her own mother fell ill, but six months later her husband filed for divorce - leaving them without a regular income.

Ms Ashworth said the fact that James lost his most prominent father figure, Mr Rafferty, and the difficult times that followed forced him to harden up.

"So when Neil, one of the judges, said he sings like he has no choice I think the reason is the Bahrain back story," she said.

"His stepdad in Bahrain was probably the one that James classified as a father. They had the father and son life, spending a lot of time with each other playing a lot of football together."

In fact, she said the divorce affected James the most.

"I did expect that once he heard about James he would have given a call to congratulate him, but it never happened," she said.

"We all had a hard time, but James went through torment after the breakup because James related to him the most as an actual father.

"You see, he didn't know his (paternal) father because we split up a week after James was born."

Meanwhile, Ms Ashworth said she hoped to one day return to Bahrain with James - describing her memories here as some of the best she has ever had.

"I would love to come there with James and the rest of the family if we were invited," she said.

"We were always made very welcome by the people in Bahrain and coming from a regular northeast town, it was that much more special."

When asked if James had a message for his fans in Bahrain, she replied simply: "I did it!" [email protected]

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