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British songwriter Wayne Hector is the man behind some of the biggest pop hits to have reached the upper echelons of the U.K. chart and beyond over the last 20 years. Prior to being presented with an Ivor Novello for International Achievement last week, thanks to success with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Jess Glynne, Olly Murs and One Direction, he sat down for a chat with HITS, for reasons we’re still trying to fathom.

Hector had his first Top 10 hit in 1996 in “Forever” by Damage after trying and failing to launch a career as an artist himself. Damage were signed to Jazz SummersBig Life Records and A&R Steve Marshall was the one to spot Hector’s talent for tunes.

“Forever” was the first collaboration between Hector and fellow writer Steve Mac, and led to Hector writing “Flava” for Peter Andre which reached #1 and made him the man to call if you wanted a hit. Writing for Boyzone led to Westlife, and, alongside Mac, Hector is described as the “creative force” behind the band, who went on to sell 50m records worldwide.

It was while working with Westlife that Hector formed a relationship with SYCO boss Simon Cowell and President Sonny Takhar, who have supported him ever since, teaming Hector with their artists including Ella Henderson, Olly Murs, Il Divo, and One Direction. Their loyalty has paid off; Hector has helped artists signed to the Sony subsidiary sell in excess of 100m records.

Takhar said Hector’s “killer instinct for world class melody, coupled with his masterful grasp of words made him very special,” at the Ivors last week. “You are a shining example of what is possible for every young British songwriter. You’ve done it all – both here in the U.K. and in America,” Takhar continued.

“You’ve gained the love and respect of every artist, songwriter, producer and A&R executive. And beyond your world class ability as a songwriter, you remain the nicest guy in the business.”

Songs written by Hector during the last two decades have notched up a total of 380m record sales and he’s had 30 #1 singles. Other names he’s written with include Donna Summer, JLS, James Blunt, Paloma Faith, Blue, and Jason Derulo. Hector is managed by Jackie Davidson, who has been looking after him for 25 years. Projects he’s working on this year include new Columbia U.K. signing Samm Henshaw, and albums from Kodaline, Murs and Blunt.

Hello Wayne, congratulations on your Ivor! It's been 20 years since your first Top 10 hit. How has the songwriting industry changed during that time?
When I started it was much more about what you could do that was different. As a writer you’re trying to avoid chasing the trend because people want stuff that feels like a hit, which is great, but you’re also trying to focus on writing a great song. Before you could write that and have it on an album, now people just want something to sound like hits. I guess that’s down to the way music is consumed on streaming services, which is more single than album led.

You’ve worked with a lot of different artists during your time, what is it that makes you want to work with someone?
For me it’s all about tone of voice. If you look at anybody in the history of successful music, all of the megastars have one thing in common; they have their own tone. Within two seconds of hearing them on a record you know who it is. It doesn’t mean that they have the biggest voice, it just means that there’s something about the frequencies in their voice that make you want to listen to what they’re singing.

Can you name some executives you respect? You seem to have built a close relationship with Simon Cowell and Sonny Takhar at SYCO.
Simon and Sonny have not only given me a lot of chances, they’re also unbelievably loyal. Most songwriters go though periods of time where you’re not the flavour of the month, but they’ve always been supportive and I thank them a lot for that. Then there’s Nick [Raphael] and Jo [Charrington] at Capitol U.K., I love their honesty. One of the things I always appreciate with A&R people is when they are completely blunt and honest, it doesn't matter if you don’t like the song, just tell me you don’t like it, or what you don’t like about it. Nick and Jo can always explain what it is they don’t like about something which is very valuable as a writer.

You work in both the U.S. and U.K. markets. What are the biggest differences between the two?
The challenge is always making those connections in the states for me. You have to take the time to be out there and meet the A&R staff and other songwriters to get on those projects. It’s not very easy to write a song here in the U.K. and to get it looked at seriously by people out in the U.S. unless you have relationships. I’d always advise people who are trying to break America to spend time out there to meet people and get connected.

Tell me some of your songwriting tips…

I always start a song from the chorus, I think that finding an interesting turn of phrase is super important, especially in today’s market and then working backwards. If you start at the chorus, you know what you’re talking about and can then write out from there. Secondly, and probably most importantly, I work harder now than I did when I started. Your work ethic has got to be ridiculously tight. The more work you put in, the more chance you’ve got of getting something out of it and the more you learn during that process. I’m still picking up tips from other people so I don’t think that process ever ends. The minute you think it’s ended is the minute you start going downhill.

Radio has played a big role in breaking some of the songs you’ve written, what do you make of the assessment that BBC Radio isn’t diverse enough from its charter review?
When I was growing up, the beautiful thing about British radio was that it was very eclectic. You didn’t really have stations segregated into genres like pop or reggae, mainstream radio was all of those things. So I was bathed in a wash of different sounds and different artists and I do miss that a little bit nowadays. I think that a move back towards that can only be good. It will expose more young minds to sounds that they may not have considered before.