At the age of 27, Aston Merrygold is a little young to be talking about the good old days.
But the former member of boyband JLS has plenty of happy memories of his hometown of Peterborough.
And now as he embarks on a solo career he’s dreaming of one great new day in the city.
Aston revealed he hopes to do a homecoming gig in support of his solo debut album Show Stopper.
His hometown has already played host to one of his career highlights to date, when JLS sold out a huge gig at the Embankment in 2011.
He said: “It was an amazing thing to sell out a gig of that size in my hometown. It was massive and to do that on my own would be amazing.’’
It’s a Monday morning and Aston is speaking to me on the phone from London as he begins the promotion for the next phase of his career.
I have spoken to him once before when JLS had reached the final stages of X Factor. Aston visited the offices of the Peterborough Telegraph to thank staff for the support given to the band.
There were no signs of a “big-time Charlie’’ then as he spoke politely to all and posed patiently for pictures with mostly female members of staff (many of whom claimed unconvincingly it was for their daughter/younger sister/niece etc).
Six years on and he comes across as just the same modest and unassuming character he appeared then – happy to chat not only about his new music but also about his childhood days back in the ‘boro.
It was the X Factor, of course, that propelled the former Jack Hunt schoolboy to stardom, but readers of the Peterborough Telegraph were already familiar with a boy who even at an early age appeared to be a star in waiting.
An early flirtation with fame and the pages of the PT happened in 2002 when he appeared as Michael Jackson in Kids’ Stars In Their Eyes.
It turns out that Michael Jackson is one of the artists who inspired his new album which was recorded in Los Angeles a long way from Ledbury Road and his old school.
He said: “Great artists like Michael Jackson inspired me.’’
Aston co-wrote the first single from the album the exuberant Get Stupid, a fine slice of urban pop.
“I wanted to do something that was fun,’’ he said, before promising that there will be “a few surprises on the album’’.
He’s hopeful that he will tour with the new album although that depends on how well it fares. But he promised that if he does tour Peterborough “100 per cent, will be the first place on the list.’’
He pointed out that the city was still in need of a good sized hall venue saying: “The city’s big enough for a big indoor space.’’
His affection for his hometown is clear despite having lived in London for the past 10 years and he still returns home regularly to see his family and friends.
“I was there yesterday,’’he tells me.
These days he keeps a low profile when he’s back in Peterborough, as it is difficult to go out and about in the city because of the enthusiastic reaction of fans.
He’s grateful for the support: “They took me to their heart and the love is real.’’
But he admits that it is a strange feeling not to be able to walk about unnoticed.
“It is strange,’’ he says, “I used to walk around each and every day.’’
Aston famously got a tattoo of the cathedral on his arm back in 2012 saying: “I may live away but I’m always going to be the lad from Peterborough.’’
He explained: “ I wanted something from the place I love. Outside the cathedral was a meeting place for my friends. So the tattoo was going to be the cathedral or the clock that used to be in the city centre.’’
Peterborough remains home to his family.His mum is his biggest fan and keeps his cuttings although as Aston says: “It’s more like a collection, now she’s got boxes and boxes.’’
I remind him of an early appearance in the pages of the Telegraph, but this concerned his sporting skill rather than his singing.
It was a report on the junior football pages involving a match between Yaxley Juniors Under 14s and Aston’s team PSV Juniors Under14s.
It read: “There are goals and there are great goals. And Aston Merrygold scored one that was quite simply sublime in this game.’’
Do you remember that goal? I asked.
“Remember it, I still have the cutting at home!’’
He added with a laugh: “I didn’t even know what sublime meant then.’’
So is he still “the lad from Peterborough?’’
“Yes,’’ he replies without hesitation, and you believe him.
Aston and JLS
Aston revealed he is still in regular contact with his bandmates from JLS – Marvin Humes, Ortise Williams and JB Gill.
He said: “We met up the other day. It was great to be together again just talking.’’
The band were runners-up to Alexandra Burke in the 2008 series of the X Factor.
They recorded four albums and had five Number 1 singles, selling more than 10million records worldwide.
They founded the JLS Foundation which raises money for a number of charities.
The band announced their split in April 2013 and played their last concert on December 22 of that year.
Aston said: “I started out on my own, but being in JLS was the best thing ever.
“ I got a great grounding, I learned so much from the boys and a bout the industry.’’
He said all of the band agreed it had been the right time to go their separate ways.
JLS are credited with holding the record for the biggest concert Peterborough has ever seen with an estimated 18,500 fans attending their gig on the Embankment in July 2011.
Just days before they split in 2013 the band made the top 10 in the Sunday Times rich list for young musicians with each member worth an estimated £6million.
Aston’s single Get Stupid is out on July 24 with the album to follow in October.