IL WHINGO; Fixed Grins ... Il Divo, from Left, Urs, David, Carlos and Sebastien with Anna Van Praagh. Below: Their Creator, Simon Cowell

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna van Praagh

Four slick-haired, sharp-suited Mediterranean hunks saunter into thecrowded book shop to gasps, cheers, even sobs. Il Divo, the world's mostsuccessful classical group, are here at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kentto sign copies of their group autobiography and meet their remarkably ardentfans, some of whom perhaps ought to be trying harder to stay calm.

'I had a heart attack before their last concert and couldn't go,' sayspensioner Angie Marchant. 'I couldn't believe it, I'd been excited about it formonths. Too excited, maybe.' Evie Kiddle, 78, has been an Il Divo fan since shefirst saw them on TV in 2004. 'They're so hot,' she says, shaking her head indisbelief, 'they shouldn't be let on the streets.' It's not quite the agedemographic I was expecting for a band said to pride themselves on having 'thevoices of the four tenors and the looks of Armani models'. But then Il Divo -Italian for 'divine performer' - seem to have confounded all expectations sincetheir debut in 2004. The only person who seemed to believe in them at all wasSimon Cowell.

After a two-year search of international opera houses and concert halls, thePop Idol svengali was convinced he had found his operatic supergroup in Spanishbaritone Carlos Marin, Swiss and American tenors Urs Buhler and David Miller,and French pop singer Sebastien Izambard.

Critics, even the group themselves, were dubious about Cowell's vision. Theirmaterial, which is mostly covers, is a strange hybrid of pop and opera. Staplesinclude Toni Braxton's Time Of Our Lives, Nights In White Satin by the MoodyBlues and Bryan Adams's Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman.

'I remember in my audition Simon played a couple of demo tapes,' Urs tells mein the car, en route to another signing. 'I said, "I'm a classically trainedsinger, a lyric tenor. And you want me to play that kind of music? Are youserious?" He said, "Yeah, that's exactly why I've invited people like you." 'Ithought, "Well, I can try to do that, but I don't think anyone will want tolisten to it."' The band's eponymous first album went straight to No1 in the UKcharts in October 2004, making it the first debut to reach that spot without ahit single since Led Zeppelin in 1969. It sold five million copies within itsfirst six months of release.

A year later their second album, Ancora, went straight to No1 both here and inthe United States, making Il Divo only the fourth British-signed band to pulloff that particular feat after The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Coldplay. Theirfirst world tour in January 2006 was a sellout as they played to more than500,000 fans in 18 countries.

But from within the Il Divo bubble, things are neither as easy nor exciting asthey look.

The four men are quick to tell me that the transition from solo careers tobeing part of a group has been tough. They didn't even meet until two daysbefore they started recording.

'It was like an arranged marriage,' says Sebastien, 34, the only member with noclassical background.'We all came from solo careers and had to learn to sharesongs.' Urs, who used to sing in the Netherlands Opera, admits the group will'never be best friends' but explains that they are united in their hunger forfame and fortune and their capacity for hard work. It wasn't until they arrivedin Japan on their first world tour that they realised how famous they were. 'Wewere at a Press conference and they put up the names of every country we wereNo1 in. There were 37,' says Carlos.

The reaction at Bluewater leaves little room for doubt. As we arrive, late inthe afternoon, we are told that fans have been waiting since 6.50am. We'reescorted through the bowels of the building to a room on the top floor, wherethe band are given ten minutes to rest.

'I'm so tired!' Carlos, 38, cries, his head falling on the table.

Down in the bookstore, the men take their seats and smile politely as elderlywomen fall over themselves to photograph them. …