Back with a sixth album after four years in the wilderness, Craig David is a new, relentlessly positive pop star. But what’s it really like to be him? Ben Homewood does some probing
Craig David swims towards a camera phone perched by the edge of a perfectly blue swimming pool. His pecs glisten in the Turkish sunlight and he talks for 30 seconds about his “wicked” hotel and how excited he is about that evening’s show.
Welcome to Craig David’s Instagram feed – a place where enthusiasm knows no bounds and you can never have too many photos of sweets and chocolate. “Brought this to the mastering session,” reads the caption beside a snap of the 35-year-old cradling a giant bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. “If you’re gonna do it, do it BIG!” Craig – famous for 1999 garage classic ‘Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’, diarising his sex life on ‘7 Days’ and selling 7.5 million copies of debut album ‘Born To Do It’ – peppers each post with catchphrases like “Wicked!”, “Feels good around here!” and “Oh man!”
He uses two within five seconds of striding into a plush air-conditioned room at his new record label’s west London office to plug his sixth album ‘Following My Intuition’. “Oh man!” he shouts. Then, he reaches into his Louis Vuitton holdall – which contains several large bottles of Evian, some muscle powder and a book – and says: “Wicked. Just grabbing one of these bad boys then let’s do this!”
Water in hand, he manages to sit down (but not still) on a leather chair. He doesn’t even wait for a question, immediately gushing into a monologue about how grateful he is to be here. David does this a lot. The walls around us are padded, presumably for soundproofing against the speakers in each corner, but it could just as well be for the Southampton R&B singer to bounce off.
Craig David wasn’t always so content. He followed ‘Born To Do It’ with four increasingly underwhelming albums before relocating to Miami in 2012. There he fizzled away, becoming known primarily for his outrageously pimped apartment, bodybuilding fetish and being the butt of comedian Leigh Francis’ Bo’ Selecta! impression. Unsigned and disillusioned after getting the girls, lifestyle and red Ferrari he’d always dreamt of, he needed a way out. “I was seeking happiness through everything else but music,” he remembers.
For a while, even reality TV seemed viable. “Thankfully my manager didn’t talk me into Big Brother or I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!,” he says. “They come with crazy money and you think ‘Wow, maybe that will resurrect…’ Nah! That would have been the nail in the coffin. I needed to do live music again.”
Enter TS5. Conceived in his Miami penthouse, Tower Suite Five, TS5 started life with David improvising over turn-of-the-millennium garage and dance tracks while his mates got pissed. After being broadcast first by Kiss FM and then Capital Xtra, it morphed into something of a rave roadshow – David MCing, DJing and mixing his hits with different beats, splicing ‘Walking Away’ with Dr Dre’s ‘Still Dre’, for example.
Then came the revival. TS5 debuted successfully in the UK at poky east London venue Oslo last June, David moved home and within months he was a viral sensation, racking up seven million YouTube plays by Craig-ifying two Justin Bieber songs – ‘Where Are U Now’ and ‘Love Yourself’ – live on BBC Radio 1.
His renaissance has gone so well that he’s about to release a garage/R&B record that, like ‘Born To Do It’, showcases his pristine voice and innate way with a three-minute love song. Plus there’s a 15-date arena tour to come next year. Fans new and old have seen it all unfold via Instagram – from taking TS5 to the festival circuit to giddily signing thousands of ‘Following My Intuition’ inlays. It’s all very positive, but do the selfies and videos hint at loneliness on the road?
“This year I feel like I’ve had this freedom,” he says, like it’s a ridiculous suggestion. “I love it. I relish performing.”
His parents witnessed first hand just how much he loves it when he headlined May’s Common People festival in Southampton. “My mum was tearful and even my dad was smiling. ‘What must this be like for them?’ I thought.”
It’s a good question – what must it be like for mum Tina, who worked in Superdrug, and dad George, a carpenter, to see their boy back in the game? “We didn’t really have conversations at the time. I was in the eye of the storm. They give me unconditional love – they’re happy if I am,” he says, reaching for the Evian. It’s surprising he can stop grinning long enough to swig it.
Probing for any leftover insecurity merely prompts him to parrot answers he’s given in interviews since 2015. The kind of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” club, and “take the bricks out of the suitcase” phrases that make sense of the fact he used to wear a watch that merely said ‘Now’.
Those answers feel redundant today. Craig David is happy; that’s it. To find out what he’s about, listen to ‘Follow My Intuition’ – it supports the idea that he’s putting himself out there and “not playing some character or being derogatory towards women”. He’s having a laugh, too, replacing the F-word with the ‘boink’ noise from ‘Re-Rewind’ and referencing when The Daily Mail mistook him for Drake on ‘Couldn’t Be Mine’.
Or better still, you could just ask him. Do so and he’ll reveal he’s single, loves a peshwari naan and always makes time for socialising. “Bruv, you have to! Lose that and you’re in a world that’s not real. I’ve been there. If I can’t have a pizza or a pint and watch the football, then what is it?”
Suddenly he stands up and drains his Evian, letting the question hang. “My man, I need to piss, I won’t lie! That was great, next time!” he says, and bounds out of the room like the delirious entertainer he was born to be.