‘I don’t know why I’ve never met the Queen’
Scandal, women, business deals, charity work: rapper P Diddy has packed a great deal into his 38 years. But one ambition has eluded him, he tells CELIA WALDEN.
The sun is slipping into the sea, the bars of Monte Carlo are filling with people toasting their first aperitif of the night, and P Diddy is ordering breakfast.
“I went to bed at noon,” he deadpans, “so 7 p.m. seems as good a time as any to have the first meal of the day.”
We are aboard the Maraya, a gigantic boat the rapper has chartered for a month in the Mediterranean. The handcrafted white leather Fendi upholstery is littered with prone bodies — P Diddy’s entourage — lost in contemplation or incapacitated by hangovers. Only Derek, P Diddy’s minstrel-like stylist, is still in party mode, doing a neat little samba around the deck.
There is a touch of awkwardness as a barefooted P Diddy — dressed in the sheerest coral cashmere sweater and a pair of white linen trousers, beneath which he doesn’t appear to be sporting any underwear — allows me to choose where I want to sit. The entourage look up, intrigued, and there is a collective sigh of relief as I leave the top seat vacant. As everyone should know, P Diddy — a.k.a. Sean Combs, P Diddy, Puff Daddy, Puffy, the Didster — will always sit at the head of the table.
The former bad boy from Harlem turned one-man conglomerate is estimated to be worth more than $500 million. He’s the proud owner of a record label, a clothes brand, a men’s fragrance called Unforgivable, a film production company, two restaurants, and a fledgling acting career.
So it comes as a surprise to realize that P Diddy is just plain shy. The 38-year-old gazes into the mid-distance, twitching his foot nervously, throwing the occasional wary look my way. Overall, he behaves less like a global mogul than a schoolboy on sufferance.
The first few questions elicit minimal responses: “I really wanted to become best known as an entrepreneur,” he replies when I ask what there is left for him to achieve. “Now I’ve done that.”
A few more machine-gun Q&As and I’m beginning to fear the worst. Then a funny thing happens. Taking a swig of the cocktail placed before me, I choke on the industrial-strength mix. P Diddy starts to snigger. The entourage follows suit, and everyone relaxes.
“You know what motivates me?” he volunteers. “That as a young African-American I know that any deal I do helps to change the perception of minorities. I don’t know if I’m the most successful black man ever, but I feel I’m pretty good at what I do. And I don’t gauge my success on money; I gauge it on how many people I can employ and help with their lives. I employ 3,000 people — that means I’m helping 3,000 people with their bills every week.”
It is a world away from his insalubrious origins. When he was three, the hip-hop star’s father, Melvin, was shot dead in his car. P Diddy later discovered he was a drug dealer; in his words, “the biggest hustler of his time. He was a good man and all that, he was just hustling.”
P Diddy’s mother, Janice, kept her boy off the streets by making sure he completed his edu- cation at a Catholic school, something which he says instilled beliefs he will forever hold dear. “I was brought up as a Catholic — I was even an altar boy,” he says, “but to be honest I don’t follow a religion now. I just follow right from wrong, so I could pray in a synagogue or a mosque or a church. I believe that there is only one God.”
Belief in a celestial being is not so much a comfort as a necessity for P Diddy, surrounded as he has been throughout his life by death and violence. In 1991, while working as a music promoter, an overcrowded concert resulted in nine deaths.
Six years later, his best friend, fellow hip-hop artist Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G.), was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.
In 1999, P Diddy was charged with aggravated assault on a rival record company executive. Later that same year, shots were fired while P Diddy and his then girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, were partying in a New York club. He was indicted for weapons violations, acquitted, and broke up with Lopez.
“It’s been hard,” he says, “but I’ve dealt with it all through God. I did go to see a couple of people, just to talk. I had to, because that’s how hurt I was inside. I was in real pain.”
I ask whether anyone still leaves him starstruck.
“I’m totally jaded,” he says. “Although actually that’s not true, there is one person I really want to meet: the Queen of England. I don’t know why I’ve never met her.” He looks affronted. “She’s never invited me to the palace — not yet, anyway.”
Derek appears and signals that it is time for P Diddy to get ready for his night out.
“It takes me two hours to get ready,” he says, “worse than any woman I’ve ever been with. I take a long bath and then moisturize with oils and cologne when I’m still wet so that it all seeps into my pores — then I air-dry by dancing around to James Brown.”
As we kiss goodbye, I have an afterthought. Does anyone still call him by his name, Sean? “Just my mother,” he says. For everyone else, he is one of any number of characters.