Last month, Tom Walker took home the trophy for British breakthrough act at the 2019 Brit Awards (aka the British Grammys)
Tom Walker is the latest British export you should add to your playlist.
The Scotland-born singer-songwriter, 27, rose to fame across the pond with his 2017 single "Leave a Light On" — and he’s ready to take the states by storm with his new album What a Time to Be Alive, out now.
Having fostered a passion for music from a young age, Walker graduated from the London College of Creative Media. After years of hustle (and busking on the street!) he scored a record deal. With his gravelly vocals and raw lyrics, Walker has become one of the most promising rising talents in the U.K. And last month, he took home the trophy for British breakthrough act at the 2019 Brit Awards (aka the British Grammys), edging out strong competition including Ella Mai and Jorja Smith.
Below, everything you need to know about the up-and-coming singer — from his happy engagement to fiancée Annie, to meeting one of his musical heroes (Ed Sheeran) and the royal family!
The royals are fans.
Okay, not exactly. But he has spent time with them. Last year, Walker performed at the annual Royal Foundation dinner, where he got to meet Prince Wiliam, Princess Kate, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
“That was just, like, crazy. They were all so lovely to me and aware of my career and what I was doing,” he says. “They were just so elegant and knowledgeable and graceful and all the things that you would expect the royals to be — they fully lived up to it.”
Adds Walker: “I was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I didn’t know what to say to them. I just shook their hand. I didn’t know what to do with my hands in the picture. It was that kind of awkward … It was so funny, I was chatting to William and Kate, and I said, ‘Oh my god, you look so gorgeous, your dress is amazing!’ And he joked with me, like, ‘All right, mate, calm down!’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, very sorry!’ They were a good laugh. They felt like real people, not just like royalty; very down to earth.”
He’ll soon be a married man.
Walker recently proposed to his longtime girlfriend Annie, 27.
About six years ago, Walker met his bride-to-be while on vacation. Going through a heartbreak at the time, he decided to join a friend on a ski trip in France, where he was introduced to Annie, who recently earned a master’s degree in nutrition and works as a healthcare advisor.
“It was a 24-hour coach journey back to the U.K. from France, and we ended up sitting next to each other because my best friend I’d gone with ended up getting with her friend that she was with, so he was sitting with her and we swapped seats and then we sat together and chatted for the whole journey back,” he recalls. “I stayed at her place, and after three days I was like, ‘Cool, I’m going back to London now, but if you ever wanna come, just hit me up.’ And the next weekend, she was there. And the rest is history.”
Indeed. Walker and his soon-to-be wife — who has inspired some of his new music — couldn’t be in a better place … even if they don’t see each other as often as they’d like.
“We did long-distance for two years; two years of me driving every weekend 200 miles to see her and back. That’s what 'Just You and I' is about — us doing long distance, it would be really hard, but we were making the absolute most of it,” he says. “It’s kind of cool: Because we did long-distance for two years, when I’m away touring now, we’ve already done that thing where we’re away for a long time. And then when we do see each other, we make the absolute most of it. It was almost like training.”
Adds Walker: “When we met, I had no job: Now I’m doing what I’m doing, and she’s been with me for the whole journey, so she totally understands the dedication, the work, the crazy f—ing hours; she understands, which honestly it couldn’t have worked out better.”
He got into music at an early age.
Walker thanks his dad for introducing him to a wide range of artists from a young age.
“My dad took me to loads of concerts when I was growing up. My first concert I can remember was AC/DC when I was 9 years old, in Paris. It’s a good first one!” says Walker.
“Me and him went to Foo Fighters and Muse and B.B. King and Underworld and Prodigy and Slipknot — we went to see Slipknot because he wanted to go see Slipknot, not because I wanted to see Slipknot,” he adds. “We went to see classical gigs and jazz gigs and all sorts of. My dad was a real inspiration. And obviously I had my mates around; we were listening to Sum 41 growing up, and Green Day.”
Walker knew he wanted to make music of his own after one fateful rock show.
“Ever since that AC/DC concert I was begging for a guitar for two years. Eventually my dad bought me a guitar for Christmas, and then I just went from there, man. I bought a drum kit a few years later and bought a bass, started producing, started singing,” he says.
Walker adds: “The town I grew up in, there were no musicians to play with, it was just me; the town I grew up in there was two shops, like a paper shop that sells confectionery, sweets and stuff, and like a farm supplies and a petrol station. That was literally it. So there was nothing to do, so I spent my whole time in my bedroom making music. I didn’t do it because I was like, ‘This is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life.’ I just loved it.”
He kept his cool when he met Ed Sheeran.
When Walker was attending college, where he studied songwriting, he discovered another contemporary influence: Ed Sheeran.
“I went to London once a week for eight weeks on the train there and back — I was listening to Ed Sheeran,” Walker reflects. “He was breaking through at the time. He’d just come out with ‘You Need Me Man, I Don’t Need You’ on YouTube, and I thought: ‘If this ginger kid who’s sick at writing songs can do this on a loop pedal with an acoustic, then why can’t I do it?'”
Then, as Walker was putting together his debut album, he met Sheeran at a recording studio through their mutual collaborator, Steve Mac.
“I was so nervous, I didn’t know what to say. In hindsight, I dunno if I should have been like, ‘Yo, we should write a song together right now!'” Walker says. “But I didn’t know what to say to him because he’s one of my writing heroes, the reason I started doing this. I was all sweaty and nervous.”
He used to be a photo booth attendant at weddings!
After earning his songwriting degree, “I busked around London for a year, also working as a photo booth attendant, which is like the guy that goes down to events, babysits the drunk people, shows them how to work the photo booth,” Walker says of his previous side-gig. “So I did that for a year, and that was four events that were five hours a couple of times a week. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was just working on music constantly, trying to break through.”
He embraced his signature beanie-and-beard look for a very practical reason.
“Well, I shaved off all my hair ‘cause I was getting sick of it. I didn’t have the best hair in the world, it was definitely thinning, and I decided to just accept defeat gracefully, very early on. I definitely had two or three years left. So I just thought: ‘Fuck this,'” says Walker, laughing. “I’ve seen pictures of my dad with a Donald Trump kind of wisp on the go — I was like, I’m not doing that. I shaved it all off.”
Adds Walker: “God, it’s easy now: I just wake up in the morning and put on a hat. It’s great!”
Tom Walker’s debut album, What a Time to Be Alive, is out now.