Wes & Curtis Nelson: Brothers in Arms
Photographer: Joel Smedley / Stylist: Kiera Liberati / Words: Carl Escoffier
Head to Head bridges the gap between the world’s finest footballers and their best friends by bringing them together to share stories and experiences as well as giving them the opportunity to find out the answers to the questions they’ve always wanted to ask.
Following on from Emile Smith Rowe and Zech Medley and Ezri Konsa and Yxng Bane, we investigate the competitive nature between brothers Wes and Curtis Nelson in a very special episode of Head to Head.
Wes is trying to shoot basketballs into an arcade hoop machine. Curtis, in response, is psyching him out any way he can, hand waving, guarding him like an NBA centre, and at one point, untowardly using an air hockey paddle.
This is what the two brothers are like, and apparently, always have been like. Despite completely different careers, one a rocksteady centre-back in the Championship, the other a chart-topping singer, their competitive nature is obvious.
It’s no secret that talent runs in the veins of the Nelson family, so we wanted to put the two of them to the test. For this edition of Head to Head, we had both brothers compete in a series of arcade games and a classic quiz to see who would claim the crown in the Nelson family.
Wes and Curtis grew up in Staffordshire, England, each with their own goals of making it big. Although he didn’t share it with many people outside of his immediate family, Wes’ ambition was always to make music.
Curtis meanwhile signed for Stoke City as a schoolboy. Aged 9, he was thrust into a position of responsibility as one of the best emerging football talents in the region. After spending seven years at his hometown club he joined Plymouth Argyle where he remained for the next 8 years, later joining Oxford United before settling in at his current club Cardiff City.
While Curtis honed his craft on the pitch, Wes studied to become an Electrical and Nuclear Systems Design Engineer. Although it’s a far cry from his current chart-topping status, he did it to emulate his father.
Even though sport was a big part of both of their lives growing up – their cousins Ashleigh and Alexander are both Olympic sprinters, and there’s a real depth of athletic talent throughout the family – there was little pressure to ever go down a specific path.
“I was lucky to have a lot of role models,” says 23-year old Wes. “My brother, my dad being an entrepreneur, my cousins are both Olympians, my uncle is a kickboxer, the other is a footballer.” But for Wes, it wasn’t about the jobs or the success, rather “what stood out was the fact that everyone was so happy and loved what they did.”
As the games start, the drive is there, right from the get-go for both brothers. Their energy, focus and enthusiasm comes from their upbringing of competing constantly. Whether that be juice drinking races while waiting for dinner or Wes using his black belt in Muay Thai kickboxing to level the playing field with his older brother.
It speaks of the intimate nature of their relationship. It may have been a shock to many when Wes, known for his appearances on certain reality shows, began to put out his own music. But for his brother he always knew that was his passion. Growing up, Wes would put on shows for his family, sing in the shower and pretty much sing anywhere and everywhere he could before being told off.
Although Curtis moved out from an early age to play academy football he always “looked after” and kept an eye on his younger brother. Curtis’ leadership qualities extend onto the pitch as he has captained his previous two clubs, and now, in his second season is an important cog in Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City. A music career never beckoned the centre back though. “I can’t sing for shit,” he says with a more than straight face, “but seeing what Wes is doing with his music is more pleasing to me than trying to do that myself.”
The word focus comes to mind when talking to Curtis, his posture, tone and steady presence speaks of his professionalism. “All he’s been allowed to do is football, and nothing else,” says Wes. In contrast, Wes’ bouncy and larger than life persona comes from him having enjoyed the freedom of doing a multitude of things. A self-confessed learning addict, Wes’ drive comes from his ability to explore new worlds and successfully turn his hand to whatever he chooses.
It also directly explains Wes’ dream of becoming a musician. Despite the career opportunities he’s been afforded and has had much success with, music was always his calling. His first song See Nobody hit the charts at No.3 in the UK, later becoming gold certified. Meanwhile, his latest track Nice to Meet Ya featuring Yxng Bane is still in the Top 40 weeks after release and has become a huge international hit charting in the top 10 in Germany, Austria and Sweden as well as becoming a viral smash in Russia.
When asked how he is able to focus all of his energy on his music, Wes puts it down to the ever-changing nature of songwriting. “With music, your interpretation and inspiration constantly changes. The music at the start of your career will be completely different to your music a year later, or six months later, I’ve seen it in mine already. My sound has changed and my perception of music has changed.”
Curtis meanwhile, has had to be disciplined and consistent throughout his career. As an older brother and one of the most reliable centre-backs in the Championship, his ability to do the simple things consistently well sets him apart. He spends most of his time with the young loanees at Cardiff, the ones who are sure to set the Premier League alight in the form of Harry Wilson and Sheyi Ojo by “keeping them grounded, focused, and on track”. One wonders whether this comes with the territory of being an older brother to Wes.
That’s not to say Curtis doesn’t know how to have fun. He’s very calm and considerate, playing down his brother’s eccentricities while having a laugh with everyone on set. It’s a release from the intensity of professional football and Curtis knows that “as soon as the season finishes, you have to distract yourself and go away from it.” Whether that be spending time with your friends, or slamming a hockey puck past his brother.
After three games and an intense head-to-head quiz, Wes eventually comes out victorious. Despite a multitude of taunts throughout, Curtis is humble in defeat. Wes however, not so much, sprinting around the studio, pumping his arms like he’s just scored a screamer. It’s clear how much the win means to the younger brother.
However, the pride that emits off both brothers is remarkable. When they talk about each other’s achievements, wins or losses, it’s clear to see they are each other’s biggest fans and fiercest rivals.