The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life
‘Exposure to violence left me numb to it’
How To Be Narstie
Ebury, priced £14.99
Tyrone Lindo, aka Big Narstie, has gone from selling drugs after school at age 13, to forging a career as a grime artist and TV personality with a talent for comedy, collaborating with Ed Sheeran, Craig David and Robbie Williams among others. The ‘King of Base’ has also crossed humorous swords on his Bafta-nominated eponymous chat show on Channel 4 with the likes of Stephen Fry, David Mitchell and others with more privileged backgrounds – but Narstie gives as good as he gets, and viewers love him for it.
Yet the 34-year-old rapper knows he could so easily have faced the same fate as his Brixton schoolmates, who he says are serving long jail sentences or are dead.
Now, the grime artist once destined for a life of crime has written his first book, How
To Be Narstie, a part-memoir, part-guide to life, including a foreword by his friend Ed Sheeran, who is godfather to one of Narstie’s two children.
Sheeran writes: “Over the nine years of knowing him he’s never minced his words and is brutally honest with me; no beating around the bush, just straight to the point.”
The same can be said of the book. It’s really funny in places, but behind the humour it’s clear his life has been tough and violent. It was hard to return to those memories when writing, reflects Narstie, who has bipolar disorder.
“When you get to a certain stage in your life, you want to put it behind you,” he says, devouring a burger as he talks.
His mother, to whom he remains close, was an NHS nurse. His father, who died three years ago, ran clubs in the West End and would take his young son along. He’d whip him with a weightlifting belt if he misbehaved.
“I was scared of him and it’s affected the way I bring my children up,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘That cycle isn’t going to be passed on’. It was his story, not mine.”
“I’m a trying dad [he means a dad who tries],” he continues. “I’d never been a dad before. Five years ago, all I cared about was myself. Every day’s a learning curve, but as long as you’re 100% trying, working at it trial and error, and taking a bit of advice, that’s what I do.”
His Jamaican parents split up when he was six and Narstie didn’t have any contact with his father throughout his teenage years. This was the point, he says, when he lived the life of a ‘barbarian’, selling drugs, getting into fights, stealing and terrorising richer kids. He was caught up in a culture of violence. “The exposure to violence made me very numb to it,” he explains. “It becomes normal. If you’re taught that when someone upsets you, the first thing you should do is to hit them, and that any situation can be handled with brute force, you become a record playing that story.”
He notes in the book that he saw one man get his head blown of, he won’t elaborate today, and on another occasion, Narstie himself narrowly dodged bullets.
His older brother ended up in prison when Narstie was in his teens, he still visits him and says they have a good relationship. But his mother urged her younger son to get out of Brixton, fearful he would go the same way.
Ironically, being sent to a detention centre after a fight was his saving grace, he reflects. It was here he was introduced the 409 Project in Brixton, a charity working with teens. He also got help from the pastor