How viral twins escaped shadow of drugs to make Phil Collins big again
THEY’RE the twins who have become famous for their joyful reaction to hearing Phil Collins’s classic rock ballad In The Air Tonight for the very first time.
As the three-and-a-half million people who’ve seen the YouTube video know, Tim Williams’s jaw drops in amazement and his brother Fred looks equally blown away as the drums kick in.
Now, thanks to the 22-year-olds from the former American steel town of Gary, Indiana, the legendary 69-year-old British rocker has soared to number three on the iTunes song sales chart.
An astonishing 39 years after its release, In The Air Tonight is a monstrous hit again, just behind the brand new releases by modern artists Cardi B and Darius Rucker.
It’s a stunning result for the likeable brothers, who have captured hearts all over the world by filming their priceless reactions to classic songs they’ve never heard before and post the clips on YouTube.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Sun from their makeshift studio, Tim and Fred say they never dreamed they would garner so much world-wide attention.
They’ve had comments from as far away as New Zealand.
Tim said: “I never thought we’d get this big, but we’re doing this to show people that it's ok to listen to different types of music.”
Behind their popularity, however, is an even more inspiring story of how music became an escape for the American twins whose family members struggled with drug addiction.
Their own mother spent two years in prison.
“I’m so proud of my sons because they’ve channeled their energies into doing something positive and not fallen into gangs, having babies or drugs,” says Tiffany King-Richardson in an exclusive interview with The Sun.
As a young mother, she reveals, she struggled with addiction and her behaviour had drastic consequences for the twins as well as their two other siblings.
“I was addicted to crack cocaine – I was on it for years – and I ended up in prison between 2008 and 2010”, says Tiffany.
“The boys were nine when I went to prison and 11 when I came out.
“My father is a pastor and he kept the children for those two years, so they didn’t go into the system, and I got them back straight away.”
On her release from jail Tiffany, 43, turned her life around and has been drug-free for 11 years.
Now she helps others, mostly people addicted to opioids and methadone, at a rehab clinic. “I’m an addiction recovery coach and a court-ordered mentor,” she says proudly.
The work is tough but rewarding, she adds, because the family’s hometown of Gary is one of America’s most disadvantaged.
Once prosperous, it has suffered catastrophic social and economic problems due to the restructuring of the steel industry and overseas competition.
Like many communities in America’s Rust Belt, it has high unemployment. Many young people attain only basic levels of education.
An estimated third of all housing in the city is unoccupied or abandoned.
Most importantly, Tiffany says, she wanted her children to learn from her mistakes.
She says: “From my own experiences, I’ve taught my children to have their own voices and I think I’ve instilled in them the values they need to be successful adults.”
She was determined that the twins complete their education and both boys enrolled as students at Indiana State University to study criminal justice.
However, a year ago, Tim decided to discontinue formal education and Tiffany admits that she was disappointed and worried – at first.
“He came home and told me he had this idea of creating a YouTube channel where people would watch him listening to various songs for the first time,” she recalls.
“I said to him: ‘How are you going to earn a living doing that? That’s something you do on the side, for fun’.
“But he was absolutely determined. I told him: ‘ok, you can do this for a year and see if it works out but if it doesn’t, you’re going back to college again.”
The shrewd and loving mother also told her son that he would have to find a job in his hometown to support himself while he worked on his YouTube channel.
Now, says Tiffany proudly: “Timothy puts his all into YouTube but he also works 40 hours a week in the local addiction clinic, talking to people, taking their vitals and doing all sorts of rehab stuff.”
Fred has remained at college and joined in on the fun while at home during the pandemic.
Both boys have set up a makeshift studio in Tim’s bedroom – often with an unmade bed in the background.
Every day they settle side by side into comfortable chairs bought on eBay and listen to four or five songs, chosen from suggestions made by their 343,000 subscribers.
More than 3.1 million people watched their hilarious reaction to In The Air tonight, which went viral.
In the memorable clip, the twins clearly don’t know what awaits them, but their interest is piqued.
“What’s this about?” wonders Tim, about 15 seconds into the song.
“Let’s see,” Fred replies.
A few seconds later, Tim comments: “This is like a WWE entry. I could see somebody walking down to the ring to this.”
When the famous drum break happens, the twins are overwhelmed.
“I ain’t never seen nobody drop a beat three minutes in the song,” Fred says. “That was cold!” Tim gasps. “I ain’t gonna lie, Phil – you got me on that.”
Some 2.2million people have watched the video of the first time they heard Dolly Parton, singing Jolene.
“I love the storytelling behind it…. This is a banger,” comments Tim before saying solemnly that Jolene shouldn’t take anybody else’s man.
The twin’s reactions prompted the country superstar to join in the fun and Tweet: “No point in begging…Jolene already stole those two.”
The brothers have also listened Frank Sinatra, The Carpenters, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones. Elton John, Queen, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath.
About to listen for the first time to Abba singing Mamma Mia, the boys thought the band was actually a girl called Abby.
Soon, however, they’re dancing around in their seats in full Abba-mania.
Listening to Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma was their first experience of opera.
They go quiet and listen respectfully. “I’m listening to this for the first time – it was a good experience,” comments Tim.
When Tim hears the late, great Nina Simone sing her anthem of liberation Feeling Good, he says the recording gives him goosebumps and observes astutely: “Boy, that voice sounded like it’s been through some pain.”
Tim told The Sun: “We’re black and we’re supposed to listen to rap and that’s it. We want to change that. Music is for everyone and there ain’t no colour to it.”
Fred says they want to spread the word to vulnerable young people that music – all kinds of music – can bring joy. “I’d like to be a public figure, somebody who can inspire”, he says.
Though millions of people around the world have been listening to their You Tube Channel, the boys say they are not raking in money.
“We’ve posted about 940 videos so far but at lot of the material is copyrighted so we don’t get anything for it,” says Tim. “We’re doing it because we love the music.”
Their proud mother says her sons change when they listen to music.
Tim, who often wears a du-rag on camera, is the most expressive and opinionated of the duo on the videos. In real life, however, he’s the more reserved of the two, says his mother.
“But when he listens to music, it’s like somebody hit a switch in him – he’s totally dedicated,” she adds.
“Fred is more outgoing and sociable but when he listens to music, he’s very serious and quiet. They both give it their all.”
She believes her sons have gathered so many fans because it helps others recapture the thrill of listening to a great song for the first time.
Among their fans are David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones who Tweeted of the In The Air tonight video: “Cracking up. Loved this!”
“I think it brings back memories for people but also its about seeing their genuine joy in discovering music. I’m really glad my boys are doing what they love in life.”
The twins plan to keep listening to music that they’ve never heard before in order to broaden their musical education and build their brand.
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Asked what they’re going to listen to next, the pair look at their list and reveal it’s the Spice Girls.
Tim mispronounces the name of the group’s hit song Wannabe and reveals that he doesn’t even know they are a famous girl band.
Look out for their review on YouTube.
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