The N-Dubz star talks fishing, Freddie Mercury and publicly shaming himself
N-Dubz frontman Dappy might have a chequered rep, but he's never happier than when he swaps the mic for a rod and spends a few quiet hours at the water's edge. Alexi Duggins joins him.
‘Fishing is everything to me,’ says Costadinos ‘Dappy’ Contostavlos, as he perches himself by an algae-mottled pond on Hampstead Heath. ‘I’ve been doing it pretty much since I come out my mum’s womb.’ We settle down beside a leaf-strewn path, and the lead singer of N-Dubz drops his line into the water. We’re all set for a full day of angling.
Or maybe not. ‘HOOIIIICCKKK-PITTT! I’m gonna be sick,’ groans Dappy, 20 minutes later. ‘Must have been that lamb chop I had last night. I fried it, like a mad man,’ he pants, as he hunches next to a hedge. ‘Bruv, if I didn’t feel like this, I’d be enjoying it. But right now, I’m just not.’ Looks like we’re not going to be catching many fish today.
‘My metabolism’s fucked,’ he groans. ‘I’ve been in the studio for four months solid recording my debut album, going to sleep at 7am, waking up at 6pm and hardly eating. I’ve lost all my weight, man.’ He’s not wrong. While Dappy’s never exactly had the physique of a heavyweight boxer, looking at him today – one of his first public appearances in months – he’s so skinny that you suspect he’d struggle to win a punch-up with a chihuahua. Bizarre, really, for a man who has an upcoming court case for an affray charge.
Then again, Dappy’s not exactly the most predictable of people. A blinged-up, platinum-selling UK urban artist as an angling aficionado? That’s a bit like discovering that Ol’ Dirty Bastard was keen on crochet.
Nonetheless, Dappy appeared on the cover of Total Carp (‘The UK’s Biggest-Selling Carp Magazine’) in 2011, and angling is so important to him that in the same year he nearly released an N-Dubz fishing DVD called ‘Reel Big Fish’. Why’s he so into this sedentary pastime? ‘It’s something I always used to do with my pops.’
It’s not just a love of fishing that his dad passed on to Dappy. Until his death from a heart attack in 2007, Byron Contostavlos managed N-Dubz and helped fund them by working in a Camden barber’s shop. And as one-time bassist with flamboyantly sideburned ’70s pop-rockers Mungo Jerry, he clearly gave to his son a love of music from previous decades.
‘Music will never be the same as it was in the ’80s,’ reckons Dappy. ‘It was all so natural and epic then. Now everything’s digitally edited.’ Sure is. Including most of Dappy’s back catalogue. ‘Not any more, man. N-Dubz was electronic, but now the majority of it is live. I want that big, one-take feel.’
Whether or not he’s achieved it is debatable. His first solo single, ‘No Regrets’, took its lyrical lament – ‘I messed my life up’ – to Number One, but it’s also a slice of Auto-Tuned synth balladry. Still, there’s no denying the ’80s credentials of the rawked-up riff-rap follow-up, ‘Rockstar’: a collaboration with Brian May. The video saw the fuzzy-bonced rocker bizarrely lurking in the shadows of a warehouse while teens honked on bongs at a house party. ‘That’s life, though, innit?’ chuckles Dappy about the bong smoking, before catching himself. ‘Not that I take drugs any more. Working with Brian was one of the biggest moments of my life, though. Made me want to buy a wig.’
So who else would he like to work with? ‘Right now? Gaviscon!’ he winces, bending over and clutching at his stomach. ‘Bloody lamb chop.’ How about actual musicians? ‘Phil Collins: we have similar top-line melodies. Or Freddie Mercury. He was the greatest performer of all time.’
A reflection of Dappy’s agent appears on the water’s surface and we pause as the singer engages in his dream collaboration with a bottle of antacid. Soothed, his mood turns reflective. ‘There’s a lot more to me, man. People might’ve seen me on “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” and thought I was a joke,’ he says. ‘But I’m not stupid, innit? I know all my times tables. I know how to spell. I know how to read and write. I could tell you some next shit about the Illuminati and then you’d think: Shit, this guy knows a lot.’
But a reputation for being a joke is the least of his worries. In January 2010, an N-Dubz appearance on a Chris Moyles radio phone-in saw him secretly copying down the number of a texter and later bombarding her with abusive phone calls and texts (for which he subsequently apologised). A few months later, he was caught on CCTV taking mephedrone in an Essex nightclub. And in 2013, he’ll go to court for that affray charge over his alleged involvement in a petrol station brawl last February. Is he the unlikely bad boy of UK urban music?
‘That Chris Moyles thing is the worst thing I ever done, definitely,’ he sighs. ‘I looked at her messages, went “Aargh!” and took my phone out,’ he sighs. ‘I wish I’d never done that. I grew up in a negative environment, which has given me a lot of anger. But hopefully scandals about me are a thing of the past now. I’m a good human being and I’ve got a warm heart.’
It’s tempting to scoff. But in person, it’s very hard to doubt his sincerity. Revolting as his public persona at times might be, he is astonishingly sweet face to face. He punctuates answers by throwing his arm around me. Even as he runs off to dry heave, he wheezes, ‘Keep asking, bro. Keep going: whatever you want.’ His PR rep brings her mum down to meet him and he greets her enthusiastically, despite his obvious pain.
Eventually, though, it all proves too much. ‘Bruvver, is it all right if we stop? I’m really starting to feel it. I just need to sit down and maybe try to bring something up.’ And with that, his agent starts packing up Dappy’s fishing rods for him, while the singer laments his inability to fish (‘If I had my line in the water now, I’d be so excited I probably wouldn’t even listen to you’) and insists on hugging everybody farewell. Just before he leaves, he offers a final thought: ‘Anyone who says that badman can’t fish is wrong,’ grins Dappy. ‘Not that I’m a badman. I keep fishing reel. Reel. Geddit?’ Then he runs off to retch over another bush.
Dappy’s debut solo album, ‘Bad Intentions’, is released Oct 22 2012 on All Around the World/Island.