When Daniel Wakeford broke into song on hit reality TV show The Undateables , he instantly melted hearts around the world.
At 6ft 4ins, the autistic 30-year-old cuts an imposing figure.
But he showed a tender side when he performed his moving, self-penned song The Black of Lonely on the Channel 4 programme.
Although he struggles with speech and understanding others, Daniel discovered as a teenager that he can express himself through songwriting.
And now, thousands are flocking to see him in action at sell-out gigs.
But there’s one face in the crowd that is extra special to him – that of his long-term girlfriend, Lily, whom he wooed on the show.
After nearly a year together, Daniel speaks with excitement about their future.
“Lily likes me on the telly, and now she’s being my girlfriend,” the fan favourite told Mirror Online with a smile.
“It feels so lovely when I’m with her. It’s been nearly a year now.”
Lily is a regular fixture in the crowd whenever Daniel performs – something he is increasingly doing as his music career takes off.
Once a painfully shy teenager, he had written songs about his desire to find a girlfriend before he met her.
And his mum, Carol, had even set up a dating agency for people with learning disabilities to help him find ‘the One’.
Now, Daniel grins broadly whenever Lily’s name is mentioned.
The TV legend was accompanied by his girlfriend at the launch of his new album, ‘That’s How I See It’, in his hometown of Brighton last month.
And he and his band have since embarked on a nationwide tour.
Mum Carol, 60, said she and Daniel’s dad, Barry, 69, are proud of their son’s achievements.
She said: “We’re just so proud of what Daniel has achieved with his music.
“I think back to when he was young and he was very shy, and now he’s entertaining thousands of people who love him for who he is.
“It’s so important too in changing society’s perceptions of what people with learning disabilities can achieve.”
Carol added that she has been delighted to see Lily at Daniel’s side.
She said: “To see his relationship with Lily blossom has been wonderful.
“She loves coming to Daniel’s shows and cheering him on from the front – and Daniel always likes to dedicate one of his songs such as ‘I Love Girlfriend’ or “A Song for You” to her…”
And Daniel loves the attention that comes with his newfound fame.
Sitting in the office of Brighton-based charity Carousel – which helps people with learning difficulties develop their creative skills – he said: “Everything is really great when I’m being a famous star.
“I love meeting my fans.”
He first started working with the organisation in 2009, having discovered a love for singing while at school.
This passion was nurtured by staff at Carousel, which employs musicians to help embrace clients’ musical talent.
And over the past year, Daniel has spent hours in a recording studio creating new material.
“It was so wonderful to my life,” he told us.
“I was a little bit nervous, I used my powerful voice and my soft voice.”
Fortunately, the hard work has paid off, with hundreds of thousands of people listening to his music on Spotify.
One track, Playboy Girls, has amassed 145,000 streams on the music app.
“It’s a beautiful sexy song, like being at the Playboy mansion with Hugh Heffner,” Daniel smiled.
“Everybody loves hearing that song.”
He has been hailed for presenting a positive image of disabled people, with his success opening doors for others.
Guitarist Gareth Evans, who performs as part of the Daniel Wakeford Experience, said: “He’s really unique for an artist with a learning disability, there’s no one else that I’ve worked with yet who’s been able to take control of their career like this.
“It’s a real success story. Daniel has grown up honing his craft and now he’s doing massive shows.
“It’s fantastic, people recognise him as a musician and as an artist.”
When told that his upcoming London show – at the O2 Academy in Islington – had sold out, Daniel laughed and cheekily said: “Of course.”
Among his fans is famous rocker Frank Turner, who described a recent show as “an absolute delight, sheer joy and showmanship with wonderful songs”.
And BBC DJ Marc Riley deemed Daniel “a legend and an inspiration”.
Now, whenever he performs, the crowd sings his lyrics back at him.
“It feels really great when I sing, my fans sing really really well,” Daniel enthused.
The crowd favourites, predictably, include The Black of Lonely, which he penned when he was just 17.
“They really like it,” Daniel said.
He now has two albums under his belt – 2016’s The Song of Gigs and his latest longplayer.
Gareth, 36, said: “It’s been lovely to see how it’s blossomed and how much Dan has gained so many fans.
“It’s a real pleasure spending time in Dan’s company, he’s a really fun friendly guy and he’s massively talented.
“It’s no surprise people are enjoying it.”
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