Little Mix helped me come out – X Factor broke the mould with this superstar girl group

To Jade, Leigh-Anne and Perrie,

Before I congratulate you on 10 incredible years in pop music and bid Little Mix farewell (for now) as you finish your last tour, I want to tell you a little bit about me.

I have loved girl groups since I can remember. As a 1990s baby, the Spice Girls ruled my childhood. I quickly became obsessed with Girls Aloud and that followed with every girl group to pass us by since, no matter how long or short-lived they were. Sugababes, The Saturdays, Parade (remember them?), Fifth Harmony and everybody in between.

I was 16 years old in 2011 and insisted I wouldn't buckle and fall in love with the new girl group The X Factor were putting together. What was the point? They were only going to be sent home in the first live show, right? Wrong.

As each week passed, I watched as these four young girls grew into empowering women with each determined performance and I fell hook, line and sinker.

I screamed as Dermot O'Leary announced you as the winner of the show, practically seeing the horror fill my parents' faces as they realised they were about to spend a whole lot more money on yet another shiny manufactured band.

Manufactured you may have been, but they broke the mould when they made Little Mix.

Like those that had come before you, it was pretty much written in the stars that you would be yet another "one album and done" reality show winner, so where did it all go so right?

You had us on your side from day one. I think some girl groups try too hard to be cool, to be in your face, to be almost threatening, but here were four girls-next-door who just wanted to have a good time, who were vulnerable, and who wanted to take as many people as they could along for the ride.

You have filled the airwaves with your massive Girl Power anthems – Wings, Salute and Power to name a few – for over a decade, but you shine just as bright when you're being raw on deep cuts such as Good Enough, The Cure and Love Me Or Leave Me, the latter of which is finally getting its flowers on your stunning Confetti Tour.

As a gay man who has navigated his sexuality alongside your career (I actually came out to my family the day you performed Don't Let Go on The X Factor), I have never felt so seen by a band as I have you. Many have come along and pledged their allegiance to the LGBTQ+ community, but the work and allyship you have given us has meant the world. It may be almost seven years old, but Secret Love Song, Pt. II still covers me in goosebumps and brings a sting to my eye when I hear it live.

And it's not just tokenism, you truly do give people a safe space to be themselves – perhaps for the first time.

Last month, I saw your show in Newcastle and was sat a few rows behind a young boy and his mother. He was stood on his seat wearing light-up bunny ears and singing along to every word, you could see how free he felt as he acted out your hits, his face filling with delight every time each of you stopped to wave at him or blow him a kiss.

I have followed you religiously through every single campaign, album release and tour, queuing for hours to meet you at book and perfume signings – and even luckily bumping into Jade outside the toilet of Wembley Arena after a Saturdays gig.

The three of you have never been anything but gracious with your time, trying to form a real connection with your fans in those few moments we get together.

You have inspired me in so many ways over the years, so much so that your success was the subject of my university dissertation in 2016.

Your sisterhood has been just as much a factor to your success as your infectious music and, although there was a bump in the road a couple of years back, I think your willingness to overcome it has made people fall in love with you just that little bit more.

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I will be in attendance at your last show on Saturday night and, although I'm sure there will be tears, I will soak up every second of the last 90 minutes I will spend with my girlband, belting out your songs almost as loudly as you will be.

Of course, credit has to be given where it's due and Saturday night will also be a celebration of Jesy who gave nine years of her life to the band and was just as much a part of it as the three of you for that time.

As you appear from your pods to perform Sweet Melody one last time this weekend, I hope your hearts are filled with pride and happiness and not sadness.

Bask in every single second of that last performance and know that, as upset as we are there won't be new Little Mix music for a while, we are so thankful for the past 10 and a half years and respect that you need time to breathe, live a life without Little Mix and for Perrie and Leigh to enjoy time with their babies.

To quote one of your own songs, if we can't be happy with you, we'll be happy for you. 2011-Always xxx

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