The youthful dance troupe Diversity were catapulted to fame in May when they beat Susan Boyle in the final of Britain's Got Talent.
20 December 2009 - Fourteen-year-old Perri Kiely knows what he wants for Christmas. 'A nice holiday,' he says, without hesitation, 'somewhere hot.'
It is a fairly modest request given what he has been up to in the past year. While most of his teenage peers have spent 2009 playing on their Nintendo Wiis and tagging iPhone photos of one another on Facebook, Kiely has been hard at work. "Yeah, it's sometimes tough," he says. "I get homework sent from school." Favourite subject? "Breaktime," he grins.
Kiely is better known as the small one with the big hair in the 11-strong street dance troupe Diversity, an act that stormed to victory in the May final of ITV's Britain's Got Talent in front of 15 million viewers. Diversity won the public vote with a frenetic, step-perfect dance routine devised by the group's choreographer, 21-year-old Ashley Banjo, that beat the hotly tipped favourite, singer Susan Boyle, into second place. The prize was £100,000 and a chance to appear in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance.
"We split the money equally 11 ways," says Banjo. "Most of us bought MacBooks with it. Some of us spent it on holidays. Nothing too big." They say meeting the Queen was one of the highlights of the year. "She said to me that I get thrown about a lot," says Kiely, whose diminutive stature and flexibility mean he frequently ends up being the one who does all the mid-air somersaults. "Then she shook my hand."
Since winning the show, Diversity have barely paused for breath. They have appeared at several music festivals, been interviewed by Larry King and tickets for their 2010 UK tour sold out within 24 hours. In September, they performed outside 10 Downing Street for the prime minister, when Perri fell on his head while executing a backflip. He is keen to downplay the incident now. "The blazers we were wearing were really slippery material and when I jumped to the left, I slipped over," he says. Did it hurt? "A bit. Not much." Apparently Gordon Brown was "really nice" about it.
It is all a long way from Dagenham, the Essex town where Diversity was formed from a motley collection of friends in 2006. The group comprises three sets of brothers and their four friends and its members include a telesales operator and a bathroom installer. Banjo has deferred his degree in natural sciences at Queen Mary, University of London for a year to concentrate on his dancing.
The son of a former boxer and a dance teacher from modest backgrounds, Banjo has become something of a poster boy for fixing "broken Britain". "I've been in the studio or on stage every day since winning Britain's Got Talent," he says, sitting on a circular red chair in a BBC dressing room before the troupe perform on the Top of the Pops Christmas Special. "It was my parents and dancing that kept me off the streets and out of trouble. It was purely down to always having something to do – something I loved doing."
He says one of the best things about their unexpected fame is being able to ask for Krispy Kreme doughnuts on backstage riders. Kiely has more healthy tastes. "He loves vegetables," says Banjo. "We get a tray of sandwiches and he'll eat the salad from around the plate." Kiely nods vigorously. "It's true. I eat too many vegetables." A hard-working teenager who eats his greens? Thank goodness Perri Kiely can dance. Otherwise his credibility would be rock-bottom.
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