AWARE that he was going to be spending months away from home, not just across the UK but over in the States, Jay McGuiness had a way of taking his closest friends with him wherever he went.
Loading photos on to his phone just wouldn’t do.
“I got it because I’ve not seen any of my buds that I went to college with in Nottingham,” he says, outstretching his arm to reveal a tattoo. It’s a compass design with an initial at each point: PD, TW, JM and CG.
“It’s Paul McDowell, Trey Wright, me, and Chris Geffers,” says the 22-year-old, who grew in Farndon near Newark and attended a Catholic school in Mansfield.
“I moved out of home when I was 16,” says Jay. “When I was at school I was so shy.
“They were all a little bit older than me and I feel like I grew up with them.”
All four lived together in Carlton where they were attending MADD, the Midlands Academy of Drama and Dance.
“We only get to see each other like once a year now. They’re all over the place travelling as well, on cruise ships and the like.”
He adds: “Everyone was kind of after the same thing, but I got there first.”
At 18, while in his second year at MADD, Jay was travelling to London attending auditions for various dance and singing jobs in music and theatre.
“The one for The Wanted I actually found by searching on Google,” he says.
He moved in with the rest of the group – Max George, Nathan Sykes, Tom Parker and Siva Kaneswaran – in a house in North London in 2009 and set about writing and recording their debut album, The Wanted, for Island Records.
It went into the Top 5 two years ago and announced the arrival of one of the biggest boy bands in Britain.
Since then there have been two No. 1 singles – All Time Low and Glad You Came – plus the top 20 hits Heart Vacancy, Lose My Mind, Gold Forever (for Comic Relief) and Lightning with another Top 5 album, Battleground, following in 2011.
Last year, aside from a sold-out UK arena tour that came to the Capital FM Arena in February, the band focused on the US, where Glad You Came reached No. 3 and sold three million copies.
The trip was gruelling – but Jay said he had a really good time: “It was hard work. It was very scheduled. We were getting up early and sticking to a tight schedule. And we went all over. There is no national radio in the US so you have to visit all the key stations in each state.
“And it paid off. We thought it would take six months to get into the top 100 but we got to No. 3 pretty quickly.”
The Wanted became part of a new wave of UK artists cracking the US last year, including Adele and One Direction.
But the quintet have yet to tour the country playing live. Last year’s repeated visits were more promotional.
“The first TV we did was The Ellen DeGeneres Show and that really set us up over there. She wanted to be the first chat show to have us on. We had no idea why. We were thinking ‘she’s out of her brain!’.
“ But the crowd reaction was amazing and we got a load of confidence from that. Everyone realised that ‘OK, these guys are the real deal’.
“Then we were invited on Chelsea Lately and American Idol with Jennifer Lopez.
“She asked us to go to her album launch. We expected it to be a massive party but there were only 100 or so people there, all LA types.
“But she came and sat with us on our table for about 30 minutes. It wasn’t just a two-minute ‘hello’.
“And Tommy Hilfiger was there. We’d had a bit to drink and every time he passed us we’d start chanting ‘Tommy, Tommy...’. He probably thought we were idiots but since then he’s let us pick up whatever clothes we want from his stores.”
They managed to enjoy the little time off they had while in the US as well.
‘We went to a lot of bars,” admits Jay.
“We went to this one where they had a cow that you could ride. I’m not very good at riding a cow.”
You had to ride a cow?
“Not a real cow, like a machine cow. When you’ve had five pints, you just think, I am getting on that cow. Although there is video footage of me really failing badly.”
There were a few live performances during their visits to the US but they were more club PAs than actual concerts.
“Every state we went to we did a couple of clubs. The biggest crowd we got was like 1,500, but the average was about 500. That’s how we started over here in the UK. We used to do schools during the day and clubs at night.
“To be honest, those club appearances didn’t go down too well here. I mean, imagine you’re in a club and a boy band comes on that you’ve never heard of. People just wanted us to go away. But in America because of word spreading about us on the internet, people already knew about us, so all of those club dates were just rammed.
“Before we went out there for the first time, I genuinely thought it was going to be a slog and that nothing would happen.”
Another highlight of the year was back in the UK when they got the chance to perform before the First Lady, Michelle Obama, in London, soon after they’d taken part in the Olympic celebrations, running with the Olympic Torch and performing at the Torch Relay finale in Hyde Park.
“She was disarmingly nice,” says Jay. “She wasn’t putting it on. Just dead normal, wearing trackies and trainers.”
It was at an inner city school and The Wanted were the surprise guests.
“Security was really tight, obviously but they had no idea what was going to happen when we appeared. We went on stage and all hell broke loose with kids running up and down.”
Jay was back home in Farndon for Christmas with his mum, sister Eleanor and brothers Sean, Thomas (Jay’s twin) and Luke, who works with their dad, an electrician.
Mum played football for Newark Town Ladies but gave up after a knee injury. She’s a Manchester United fan because of George Best. Jay is both a Celtic (“because of my dad”) and a Forest fan.
It was because of his mum that he first caught the bug for performance, first trying Irish dancing, then joining her at a tap dancing class. Originally he wanted to be a West End star before the opportunity to become a pop star came up while at MADD.
“When I was at college I had a job in Nottingham city centre selling key rings in bars,” he says.
“You’d take a photo of a group of people then put it in a key ring. It was £3 per key ring and I used to get £1 from that.”
Visits home are rare and often brief as the group are still based in London. As well as the US, last year The Wanted travelled to Europe, Australia and Asia.
This year they have to finish their third album, provisionally entitled Third Strike - it’s due out next month - after which there’ll be more trips abroad and, he says, very likely another UK arena tour.
“Don’t get me wrong I love every day of it, but sometimes you just want to be able to wake up and say ‘actually, I don’t want to do anything today’”.
So it was a treat when his mum (who calls him James) flew over to see him in Chicago as a surprise.
“I’d not seen any family for about seven months at that point. Me and Max were just going into the hotel gym and my tour manager said ‘come downstairs, your aunties are here’.
“I have a couple of aunties who live in Chicago but I was just getting into the gym so I said ‘ask them to wait or come back in an hour or so.’ But he kept insisting so I was in a right strop.
“Anyway, I walked into the hotel lobby and there was my mum. She never flies anywhere. She doesn’t do stuff like that. So it absolutely floored me and I broke down like a baby.”
He adds: “My mum is my inspiration. She’s pretty bad ass.”
For more about the band go to www.thewantedmusic.com. You can follow Jay on Twitter: @JayTheWanted.