Courtney books place in Mills & Boon history
Londoner Courtney Hayles has said he is "shocked" at his Mills & Boon Man of the Year 2016 competition win.
The Battersea-born actor and motivational speaker's prize includes gracing the cover of the romance publisher's Valentine's Day book, It Had To Be You, by Barbara Hannay and Nikki Logan.
Hayles beat 300 other entrants in the inaugural nationwide hunt to find a new romantic hero judged by ex-Loose Women presenter Denise Welch, Strictly Come Dancing professional Robin Windsor and Rosie Nixon, editor of Hello! magazine.
He hailed the win as "amazing".
"I was completely shocked and over the moon. I felt, and feel, amazing. I'm on top of the world. My face is on a book. It's amazing," he said.
"Every time I look at the book, I'm still like 'Wow! That's me'. I can't believe it."
W hen asked about being one of only a few black cover stars for Mills & Boon, Hayles said he was "part of history".
"I don't feel I have any greater responsibility than anyone else that could have won," he stated.
"It's a positive and it's good. It shows that having that sort of diversity, of putting the average Joe on a national book with the legacy that Mills & Boon have, and still hold, is amazing for anyone.
"I feel like I'm part of history: I feel like I'm part of a brand. I feel like I'm part of the new step forward and I think I fit perfectly with all the other faces."
Family and friends have fully embraced his win.
"There was lots of laughter and lots of hugs. You would think we'd won the lottery the way they celebrated," he revealed.
"It made me feel special. My mum is so proud. The reaction from my family, the celebration, it's from pure and utter love. Whenever they see me, they say 'What's going on, Man of the Year?'. My name is no longer Courtney!"
Hayles insisted romantic fiction still had a place in the information age.
"My mum was an avid reader of Mills & Boon books. I never really understood it then, but now? I'm an old romantic and I think they hold a relevance today," he said.
"People don't always have time to explore love and vulnerabilities and strengths and weaknesses or to describe how someone makes them feel. I don't think it's old or a dying breed: Mills & Boon is still current and it will always be here. I don't think they should ever stop."
The jovial winner intends to bask in the moment, saying: "I'll go to shops, stand by my book and I'll do the same pose!
"I won't play down the fact that I'm Mills & Boon Man of the Year 2016 otherwise I'd be the wrong person to have been crowned with the title.
"I think it's something to be proud of so I'll be utilising it as much as I can. I've got so many people to thank for putting me in this position so I owe it to them to enjoy the fact that I am immortalised on a book."