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Craig David is caressing the curves of an imaginary woman. ‘I remember doing my first appearances,’ he says, snaking his left hand in a backwards ’S’ and thrusting his hips forwards. ‘You’d have guys with the champagne bubbling nice and the girls feeling sexy. The vibe was just right.’
Back in the early noughties the singer was the pop face of UK garage, racking up sales of eight million for his debut LP ‘Born to Do It’. He was also my biggest pre-teen crush. I remember watching his 2001 Wembley DVD and feeling giddy as he showed off his dressing room with a smirk, saying: ‘That’s where Craig gets naked’. Watching it back now, he has all the subtlety of an emoji wink-face. But to the 11-year-old me, he was a heart-throb in a baggy Adidas zip-up.
My bedroom was covered in posters. My Nokia ringtone emitted a polyphonic ‘Craig David all over your BOINK’. I even had a fansite on Freewebs where I posted facts like: ‘Craig was the goalkeeper on his school football team!!’ and uploaded photos scanned from magazines. I hoped eventually he’d find my site, realise I was his biggest fan of all time, and ask me to be his girlfriend. This never happened.
Fast-forward 13 years and I’m sat opposite the 34-year-old in a hotel lobby at Heathrow Terminal 5. His demeanor nowadays is that of a hyperactive teenager posing as a yogi. Like our surroundings, everything about him is pristine; his hair is perfectly groomed and his shop-mannequin muscles puff out the chest of his asymmetric sportswear set. When we take selfies together, he pulls an identical face in every one.
‘I’m not in that testosterone-fuelled place any more’
Nowadays, Craig’s swapped Number One hits for bodybuilding, a DJ career (in clubs and for Capital Radio) and a Zen vibe. By which I mean he’s wearing a watch that just has the word ‘now’ written on its face. He explains animatedly: ‘If I catch a glance of it, it puts me back in the mix, otherwise you get lost in the future.’
Focusing on the present seems to be a source of calm for Craig, who struggled with the pressure of success in the past. ‘You’re 250,000 copies ahead of Destiny’s Child in the midweeks and your ego’s inflating,’ he recalls, pulling a knee up to his chest like an awkward kid. ‘You get a Number One, but as soon as the midweeks come back round, you’re Number Two. It’s like a yoyo.’
The star learned the hard way that things don’t always go to plan. Subsequent albums never came close to the success of ‘Born To Do It’, and thanks to ‘Bo’ Selecta!’ his name became a cruel national punchline. It could all explain why Craig uses rambling self-help spiel to answer more difficult questions. Tellingly, he claims his life was changed by Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’, the same Oprah-endorsed ‘guide to spiritual enlightenment’ that Paris Hilton took with her when she went to jail in 2007.
This pseudo-spiritual attitude doesn’t fit neatly with the shiny white penthouse he calls home in Miami. It’s all very ‘Cribs’: as seen on his Instagram, it has a terrace with outdoor beds, club-style mood lighting and a white grand piano. There are motivational messages printed on the walls – ‘live your dream and share your passion’ – and floor-to-ceiling photos of bikini babes. There used to be more women on the walls, but he’s taken them down because he’s ‘not in that testosterone-fuelled place any more’. In fact, while the singer used to have a rep for being a ladies’ man, it seems his attitude is changing: ‘It’s healthy to appreciate women,’ he says, ‘rather than objectify, which in the past I may have been more inclined to do.’
Craig’s flat has become home to his series of TS5 parties, named after his apartment number. They began as a simple pre-club warm-up – just drinks and an iTunes playlist – but have grown from a pre-lash session to a free weekly club night. Diddy’s been known to show up, though most of the crowd is ‘handpicked’ from Miami’s big clubs by Craig’s promoter friends. ‘I’m not there messaging backwards and forwards sorting out the guestlist,’ says Craig. ‘It’s like: “Tell me if you can come by 9pm and be thankful you got invited at all!”’
Craig both DJs and MCs at the nights, ad-libbing over a mix of laptop-generated R&B, garage and house bangers. ‘I thought, there has to be more to DJing than picking up the mic and saying “let me see your fucking hands in the air”,’ he laughs. ‘I know there’s big tunes I can play. I know I can sing if I want to. It’s a lose-control thing.’
‘He makes visitors swap their shoes for rubber-soled slippers’
Craig David’s apartment in Miami, venue for the original TS5 parties.
Though he talks about losing control, Craig has extreme structure in place for most parts of his life, from grooming to fitness and mindfulness. He also has meticulous party rules. He bans red wine and dark-coloured Coffee Patrón tequila in case of spillages. (Sensible.) He also makes visitors swap their shoes for ‘funky’ rubber-soled slippers that ‘look like shoes you’d rock at a club’. (Less sensible.) And he ensures a ratio of seven girls to every three boys to make women feel ‘empowered’. (Erm, yup.)
Now, the singer’s bringing TS5 (sans slippers) to London – not in a swanky West End club, but the surprising location of Oslo in Hackney. Riding the rediscovery of garage culture by new-schoolers like Disclosure, David reckons his return to the UK will be silky smooth: ‘People are like: “We want some champagne again, in a glass and maybe we could just sing some vocals?’’’ he says. ‘I almost didn’t have to do anything’.
It takes me until right at the end of the interview to pluck up the courage to tell Craig about my fansite. I’m physically cringing as I talk about it, but feel a lot less crazy when he lets slip that he once got stalked all over Europe by a fan playing the guitar. (I make a joke about that being me. He looks afraid.) And, while my crush on the singer is definitely long gone, I can’t help but feel a wave of childish glee when a WhatsApp message pops up on my phone from him a couple of days later: ‘Got you locked in. Craig x.’ Turns out, he’s a big fan of wink-face emojis. Who’d have guessed?
Craig David presents TS5 comes to Oslo on July 16.