On 25th December 2011, Gareth Malone and his Military Wives' Choir were named the clear winners in the race to reach the Official Christmas Number 1, beating other contenders X Factor winners Little Mix, TOWIE, Stacey Solomon and Alex Day to the most esteemed singles chart of the year. Their song 'Wherever You Are' - a moving song composed by Royal Wedding composer Paul Mealor and consisting of lines from the wives' love letters to their serving husbands in Afghanistan - caught the hearts of the nation.
The choir’s rise to the top has seen an extraordinary month for the 100-strong choir from Devon (formed from RMB Chivenor and RMB Plymouth) who have performed to royalty, dignitaries and celebrities, including singing their single 'Wherever You Are' at No.10 Downing Street, the Sun Military Awards, at HMV Oxford Street and on several TV shows. The choir formed for Gareth Malone’s BBC ‘The Choir: Military Wives’ series and was produced by Twenty Twenty, a Shed Media company. The BBC documentary told a moving tale of how music brought the women together while their husbands were serving in Afghanistan. It changed their lives forever.
This win for the amateur choir marked several firsts in the UK Official Charts – it is the first ever classical piece to make pop No.1 and also the first No.1 for Decca Records in 45 years, since Tom Jones in 1966 with ‘Green Green Grass of Home’. Gareth Malone and the Military Wives Choir became the first recipients of the Official Singles Chart Number 1 Award, launched by the Official Chart Company to mark the 60th anniversary of the UK’s Official Singles Chart in 2012.
‘Wherever You Are’ sold 556,000 in the first week alone and reached Platinum sales in its second week, raising significant funds for the two nominated military charities SSAFA Forces Help and The Royal British Legion. The single outsold Little Mix by almost 5 times in Christmas week (meaning that even had the single gone directly head-to-head with the X Factor winners, the Military Wives would still have won). Furthermore, the landslide victory saw the choir sell as many records as the rest of the top 12 chart put together. The single has had the biggest-selling first week since Alexandra Burke’s ‘Hallelujah’ in 2008 and the 7th biggest since electronic records began in 1994.
The Military Wives choir were already the only artists to overtake the X Factor winner as the bookies’ favourites for Christmas No.1 since the ITV show began in 2004. ‘Wherever You Are’ become the fastest-selling song for 3 years, beating sales of Rage Against the Machine’s famous X Factor defeat which racked up 502,672 sales. In fact, in a millennium that has so far been dominated by TV talent competitions, this is the fastest-selling single not to have emerged from that TV format.