Leeds DJ making all the right moves

Tom Zanetti
Tom Zanetti
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Whether you’ve heard of Tom Zanetti or not, chances are you will be doing in the near future. Neil Hudson talks to the Leeds-born DJ and producer

For someone so young, Tom Zanetti has already achieved quite a lot. At 29, he has a platinum selling record - You Want Me - not to mention successful collaborations with Ministry of Sound. He’s owned a restaurant, is in the process of buying a nightclub in his home city of Leeds and has just brought out his own clothing line, The Heartbreaker Club. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s friends with most of the Love Island cast from series 1-3 (his partner is Hayley Hughes) and has none other than Idris Elba on WhatsApp. And tonight, he will be hosting a masquerade ball at Aspire, home of the original Yorkshire Penny Bank and which hosted the MOBOs after party in 2015. The red carpet event will be something of a showbiz-fest by all accounts, drawing in leading music movers and shakers, footballers from Leeds United and Manchester United, numerous reality TV stars from the likes of Towie, The Only Way is Essex and Love Island. A second Hallowe’en event at Leeds Mission, taglined Inzombiefest, which begins at 11pm and runs right through to eight the following day (last entry 4am in case you need to know) has already sold out its 2,000 tickets.

Tom Zanetti

Tom Zanetti

But for all this, Tom is at relaxed and down to earth a person as you are likely to meet. Born Thomas Byron Courtney on July 2, 1989, he grew up in Gipton with father, Darren and mother Julie, along with his brother and sister, Josh and Rosie. His parents split when he was four and Tom took his mother’s maiden name, Zanetti.

“I had that name throughout school,” he tells me over the phone as he’s leaving a meeting in Manchester. “Then when I got older and into music I just thought it sounded pretty cool.”

He’s still in touch with both his parents. Indeed, his father worked as a DJ and Tom remembers going to gigs with him and soaking up the musical influences.

“My grandparents are Irish and Italian, so there was a lot of music in my house. I remember listening to Bocelli with my grandfather, my mum used to play MoTown and there was the baseline dance music from my dad. It’s something I had a passion for from a young age, it just clicked with me.”

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But it’s not all been plain sailing for Tom and despite his age, he has suffered more than his fair share of setbacks. He freely admits, for example, to being expelled from school and despite joining Tinshill Learning Centre, he left with no qualifications. Then, at 16, he became a father…

“I had to grow up fast,” he reflects. “All my mates were going out and partying but I was at home feeding my son five times a night but it’s not something I would change. I love my son to bits and since he was born, I’ve worked every single day to try and give us both a better life.

“I’ve been a labourer for bricklayers, roofers, scaffolders, I had a milk round for a bit and worked 12 hour shifts in a factory. One of my other jobs was nailing pallets together, I would get these huge bits of wood and my job was to knock nails into them and throw them onto a pile. I used to leave work with one arm bigger than the other.”

For the formative years of his son’s - Deaconn, now 12 - life, he lived with his partner Lizzie, with whom he started the massively popular club night, Insomnia, the catch being it starts at midnight and runs until 9am. He has taken the night all over the world but it was a regular sell-out at Bank, Wakefield. Then, in 2010, Lizzie tragically died in a car accident.

“It was a real blow,” he recalls. “It was strange because my grandfather and uncle also died in a car accident on the same stretch of motorway the year before. I had to carry on for my son.”

Enter Tom’s entrepreneurial spirit, which seems unquenchable. If Alan Sugar was looking for an apprentice from the suburbs, Tom might well fit the bill. “I’ve always been creative,” he tells me. “When I was a kid I would sell sweets and cigarettes and then use the money to go buy more. I used to go knocking on doors on my estate selling clothing.”

Some years ago, he bought Leeds tapas restaurant La Fuego but due to a number of unforseen problems - one of which included the chef being hit by a bus on the opening night - it closed, leaving him heavily in debt and, for a time, homeless.

“I had to sell my house, my car, I had no money and my son and I were homeless for a while. I was just getting back on my feet from that and I managed to write off a friend’s £300,000 Ferrari, which set me back again.”

But Tom is not one to stay down for long. Despite leaving school with no GCSEs, it seems his hard work is finally paying off. Last year, his single, You Want Me, sold over 1m copies and he says, there’s more where that came from.

“I made that about six years ago but then it only started getting airplay about three years ago and then it just went platinum. It’s a great feeling but it’s also what I love doing. I love being creative and working with producers, I’ve got good ideas and when we’re in the studio, we just gel.”

His DJ-ing has brought him into the sphere of none other than film star Idris Elba, who he now lists among his friends.

“He’s a DJ as well and we just got to know each other, I sent him some of my stuff and we got on, I now have him on WhatsApp. I’ve also sent him some of my acting clips and he said he liked them.”

Which brings us to the next string in his bow - in 2010, he appeared in a low budget film Road and this year he has a part in Amar Adatia’s Dead Ringer. But it’s the music which makes his heart beat at the moment.

“I love Leeds, I’ve partied all over the world, in Dubai, Ibiza, the French Alps, Mozambique, but there’s something special about Leeds. It’s always a good night out, no-one is pretentious and there’s a love of baseline, which I grew up with.”

He adds: “I’ve always tried to put me and my son first, to give him a better life and I pride myself on being a family man and I’m so proud of him.”

Tonight’s event, a first for Aspire, will add a touch of glitz and glamour to Leeds but don’t expect Tom to stay in one place for too long. His clothing line is up and running, he has his own production company, Sleepin’ Is Cheatin’, his own record label, Sic Records - a collaboration with Warner Music - and in February, he has plans to open his own nightclub in the city he calls home. You heard it here first.