From Rihanna lip-syncing to his embarassing dad: why Tom Holland is Hollywood's most lovable new star

Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland - Rex Features
Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland - Rex Features

Tom Holland has undoubtedly led something of a charmed life – but he makes up for it by being undoubtedly charming.

We don't, we hasten to add, mean that the 20-year-old Brit is charming in a smarmy, over-anxious-to-please way. Nor do we mean that he's charmingly attractive (although his young fanbase will very likely disagree). 

Instead, there's just something inherently likable about him: he's like a schoolboyish, less posh, slightly less vulnerable Eddie Redmayne, with a cheekier edge, and a skateboarding, street-dancing past.

Tom Holland in 2013
Tom Holland at the Empire Film Awards in 2013

Looking back, it would be easy for naysayers to claim that the rising star's entire career has been founded upon luck. After attending a local street dance group in his native Wimbledon, he took part in a showcase at the Richmond Dance Festival at Richmond Ballet School in 2007. He was an amateur, simply enjoying a hobby (it was a cool hobby at the time: dance troupe Diversity had won Britain's Got Talent just a few years before). But something about him caught the eye of the school's headmaster, who spoke to his dance teacher, Lynne Page.

Page was friends with the choreographers working on the West End production of Billy Elliott – she had also helped train Jamie Bell for his role in the film – and decided to put Holland forward to audition for the show.

His parents duly took him along...but, as his father, the comedian Dominic Holland, later recalled, it quickly became apparent that the 11-year-old was thoroughly out of his depth.

"At the audition in a studio near London’s Borough Market on a wet Sunday morning, hundreds of boys made up a long queue of hope," Dominic later wrote, in  a piece for the Daily Mail. "The other boys wore leotards and sat in the splits position. Tom wore shorts and sat cross-legged. He didn’t have a chance. Within moments of Tom taking to the stage it quickly became apparent to the choreographers that Tom couldn’t dance. ‘Next!’"

Remarkably, however, Billy Elliott director Stephen Daldry had seen Holland's audition, and intervened on his behalf, telling his colleaguess that Holland's lack of advanced skills didn't matter. They'd simply have to teach him ballet.

Tom Holland in 2017 - Credit: Rex Features
Tom Holland in 2017 Credit: Rex Features

Daldry had obviously spotted something in Holland: an ability to imbue Billy with the necessary character that was more important any technical prowess. Two years later, after extensive training, Holland made his debut in the lead role, which he shared with three other actors.

It was a breakthrough that would prove pivotal: while not all West End child stars go on to become film actors, the casting certainly helped launch Holland's Hollywood career.

Ar the time, however, it's clear that Holland simply felt lucky: a video of the young star preparing for the role is, quite simply, adorable. In it, he's all energy: excited, eager and – cliché alert – very, very down-to-earth.

Fast forward a few years, to 2010, and Holland was cast in the film The Impossible, alongside Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. The movie came out in 2012, and the actor was soon being hailed as a talent to watch, named as one of 2013's Breakthrough Brits at the Baftas.

Now, of course, Holland is globally famous for being (okay, playing) Spider-Man, a life-changing role that was announced in 2015....although Holland himself, rather engagingly, found out the news the exact same way as everyone else did: through social media.

"I was in my bed scrolling through Instagram. It had been about a month since my audition. And Marvel just posted a photo saying go to our website and find out who the next Spider-Man is. I went on the Marvel website on my computer and there it was: The new Spider-Man is Tom Holland. I went ballistic, like absolutely nuts," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

 We first saw him in the part in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and later this summer he’ll be getting a film all to himself, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War

His performance in Civil War, in which he forged a bond with Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, emphasized his youthfulness: previous Spider-Men Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both in their mid to late 20s when they took on the roles, while Holland's Peter Parker was a convincing high schooler.

Of late, however the star's off-screen activities have been getting him just as much attention as his on-screen ones...and even eclipsing his Spider-Man fame. 

Like most people his age, Holland is "on" social media, regularly updating his followers with photos of his life and his suitably adorable dog, Tess (because of course he has an adorable dog).

Tv days with Tess

A post shared by ✌️ (@tomholland2013) on Jul 19, 2016 at 9:25am PDT

Little Tess �� if only you understood FaceTime ❤️

A post shared by ✌️ (@tomholland2013) on Jul 15, 2016 at 10:30am PDT

But his appeal goes much deeper than that.

A recent drag routine to Rihanna's Umbrella, performed as part of MTV's Lip-Sync Battle, is a great case in point.

Tom Holland's full performance of Rihanna's “Umbrella" on Lip Sync Battle.

— peter parker (@fcukspiderman) May 8, 2017

In it, Holland is exuberantly, delightfully confident: hopping about to Gene Kelly's Singin' In The Rain, before stripping down to a corset and fishnets.

Perhaps the best thing about the routine, however, is the fact that Holland clearly relishes being on stage: the grinning pre-teen who eagerly chatted about the "cool moves" he was getting to do in Billy Elliott is very much still in evidence.

Take, too, the video below, in which Holland visits a hospital, dressed as Spider-Man, and chats with a young patient.

So far, so standard Hollywood do-gooding – but things don't go to plan, after the child tells Holland that he prefers Batman to Spider-Man, and then decides to say "poo poo". Holland's response, which he manages to pull off without breaking character, is spot on.

In short, he's a star who seems to actually enjoy entertaining people.

Even having a mortifyingly open, proud-as-punch Dad just helps the actor seem more likable.

As a comedian, Dominic Holland has been very (read: excruciatingly) honest about how he feels about his son's stellar career.


He's even written and publish an e-book titled  "How Tom Holland Eclipsed His Dad", the tone of which appears to  veer between a slightly cringeworthy awe ("I manned a BBQ on a beach in Thailand and handed a sausage to Ewan McGregor"), wry humour at how his own career hasn't panned out quite as planned, and genuine love and pride.

It is, in essence, a very Dad-like book: funny, but not quite as funny as it thinks it, embarrassing, and oddly endearing all at once.

But it's continued existence (just £3.23 on Kindle) suggests that, at present, there's no danger of Marvel's latest action hero forgetting where he came from, or – we hope – losing his everyday appeal.

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