Tinie Tempah is telling an interesting tale. ‘So, I’ve got Prince William, the future king of England, in a sweaty man-hug,’ he marvels. ‘I’ve got no Tshirt on, just come off stage and I’m dripping wet, and Kate is looking a bit worried because she knows her hug is coming next.’
The double-platinum-selling rapper pauses for a sip of his Green Machine health drink, as the members of his Shoreditch club discreetly eavesdrop upon his showbiz story, this one set in 2010 at the Big Weekend in Bangor, Co. Down. These days, manhandling royalty is all in a day’s work for Tinie, hip- hop superstar, entrepreneur (his Disturbing London clothing business is booming), raconteur and expert networker. The man is so well-connected he could almost come with free wi-fi.
As Tinie talks, something he does with consummate ease and charm, the glittery names trip from his lips like so much stardust. Chris Martin gives him songwriting advice (‘he told me that when you think you’re completely finished, write one more song and it will be your best’), Brad Pitt reminds him of the importance of humility, Pharrell Williams offers his record producing services, Helen Mirren raps with him (‘she’s got a supersexy voice’), he compares conquest notes with Harry Styles, shares hairstyle tips with Lewis Hamilton and Rihanna still gets him a little hot under the collar. ‘She is beautiful,’ he croons. ‘Tall, good skin, great eyes, smells lovely.’
So how did a studious second-generation Nigerian immigrant from a London council estate get to be the guest with the giltedged invite? Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, the name on his passport, is neither tiny nor especially temperamental. Of average height, muscular build, Tinie has the respectfully sincere but enthusiastic demeanour of a hipster vicar on youth-club detail.
His parents – ‘my real heroes in life’ – came to South London from Ibusa in Nigeria in the late Eighties. Father Patrick was a barber turned social worker, mother Rosemary is a human resources officer for the NHS. Young Patrick and his three younger siblings – Kelly, Kelvin and Marian – grew up ‘street-wise but very aware of gangs’. He saw his first gun, wielded by an older boy, at an under14s nightclub. ‘The sound it made was very real and really frightening. We all ran like hell.’
He was a bright young man with a plan, and a hard worker. A schemer not a dreamer. Yet his parents’ hopes for Patrick’s academic future were dashed when he announced his intention to pursue a career in grime – an unpromising musical genre comprising urgent electronics, fractured rhythms and aggressive vocal grandstanding – under the nom-du-rap of Tinie Tempah. ‘That was a difficult whole N-word issue is complex. It’s not a way to describe conversation,’ he recalls with a shudder. ‘My dad a black person, of course, but it depends on the context. went very quiet. But I was determined to make it.’ I might use it around my friends but that wouldn’t be in
It paid off. In 2009, he secured a deal with Parloa negative way. It fits within the culture. But it should phone Records and celebrated ted by taking never be used a as a term of abuse. Ultimately, high tea at Claridge’s. This heralded black people peop have to decide how they the dawn of Tinie’s tongue-ine-inwant th that word to affect them. cheek struggle with the class ass H He says he’s ‘becoming more system. Seemingly overnight, t, cel celebrity savvy’ these days. he went from high rise to o ‘L ‘Like when I met Brad Pitt high status: dressing like a a and Angelina Jolie. They’re Savile Row dandy, speakboth very beautiful people, ing like Stephen Fry (‘clearin every sense – the aesthetly and intelligently’) and ics are amazing – but I wearing large spectacles always look for humility in that he didn’t medically t these kinds of stars and they require. The gentleman rapre really are humble people. per, was born. Th They offer you hope that you
This afternoon, Tinie, 25, has can reach r the heights of stardom once again confounded expectapectawithou without becoming a real a-hole.’ tions. He turns up not in bespoke oke finery He’s no not quite so sure about Gary but a black tank top, torn trousers users and pre preBarlow Barlow. ‘That tax t thing is a bit annoying,’ loved trainers. His manner is more business than bubhe frowns. ‘I respect him as a songwriter but not as bly. It becomestaxpayer.’plain he wishes to address the burning a topics concerning a young black man in Britain today.
‘I think the whole UKIP thing is just sad,’ he states flatly. ‘It’s a load of old b*******. We’re way too intelligent for that. It’s 2014, for God’s sake. Anyway, if you removed all the immigrants from the workforce what would happen? Total collapse.’
And racism. ‘I’ve always felt racism comes from deep insecurity,’ he says. ‘I once came back from a Catholic pilgrimage with my mum and we were walking through the car park to the coach. There were these drunk white guys outside the pub, and they started singing, “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” I thought, that’s cool. Then they sang, “It’s getting black in here, so take off all your skin.” I wasn’t scared or offended. I felt sorry for them. It’s meat-headed, cowardly behaviour.’
And Jeremy Clarkson? ‘I’ll have to sit down and watch the tape myself before judging him,’ he says. The
And Harry Styles? Whatever do you talk to him about in the front row of a fashion show? ‘The models, obviously,’ he says. ‘Sometimes you can talk about the clothes but that’s a bit of a poncy conversation to be having. Who wants to discuss fabrics when there are all these hot girls walking past you? You talk about who is the fittest one.’
Is there a Mrs Tempah? Or are there merely many temporary Miss Tempahs? ‘I don’t want there to be too many more temporary Miss Tempahs,’ he says. ‘Initially, it was amazing – blonde ones, dark ones, tall girls, short girls – but the novelty wears off. And you’re dealing with people’s feelings after all. It isn’t just physical. It isn’t a sexual free-for-all any more…I’m growing up.’