Craig David says ‘Bo’ Selecta!’ impression was “bullying”: “There was no real accountability”

David has questioned the sincerity of Leigh Francis' apology, which came amid a renewed focus on the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020

Craig David has spoken about how he felt “bullied” by Leigh Francis’ impersonation of him on Bo’ Selecta!.

Francis, who’s best known as Keith Lemon, starred in the cult Channel 4 show between 2002 and 2009. The comedian caricatured David as well as the likes of Mel B, Michael Jackson and Elton John in a range of bizarre sketches.

His portrayal of David – whose catchphrase inspired the series’ title – was often said to have contributed to the ‘7 Days’ singer’s dip in popularity in the mid-2000s.

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“When the Bo’ Selecta! show was out, that period of time was hard processing for me,” David said during an interview with BBC Breakfast today (October 4).

“I didn’t know why a song like ‘Rewind’ – which was a cultural song that broke the ice for so many artists to come through – was now being ridiculed.”

He continued: “That was one thing, that I placed it as a music thing. But actually what [Francis] was doing was slowly bullying not only myself but Mel B [and] Trisha, and I felt there was no real accountability at that time.

“And I was young, between a rock and a hard place. [I was like], ‘Do we lean in [to it]’ …defence mechanism. ‘Let’s laugh it off – come on, let’s do a show together’. It didn’t work. Or, ‘[Should we] play the victim, and go there’.”

David added: “It’s just [about] having accountability. I have no grudge with Leigh, genuinely. It’s more the fact of: you need to be accountable.”

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The artist went on to question the sincerity of Francis’ previous apology. In 2020, the comedian said he was “deeply sorry” for his “offensive” portayals of Black celebrities including Michael Jackson and TV presenter Trisha Goddard.

David continued: “It just feels a bit of a coincidence that it happened to come at a time when George Floyd has been killed in broad daylight in America. To then have the Black Lives Matter movement… protests around the world.

“And then [Francis’ apology] comes as a reaction to something that really should never have gone there, in terms of ever putting a rubber mask on that’s blackface, which it was.

“And it’s just being accountable for that. I think that, ultimately, I never really spoke about that. And the coincidence of it just felt too timely. I feel emotional speaking about it, because I just felt like I was talking on behalf of so many people who’ve been bullied and experienced that.”

David said it was an “empowering” and “healing” experience to open up about the issue in his forthcoming book, What’s Your Vibe?.

Leigh Francis at the World Premiere of ‘Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’ held at the Odeon BFI IMAX Waterloo. CREDIT: SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Live News

In June 2020, Francis said in a video message: “I just want to say sorry for any upset I caused, whether I was Michael Jackson, Craig David, Trisha Goddard, all people that I’m a big fan of. I guess we’re all on a learning journey.

“Back then, I didn’t think anything about it, people didn’t say anything. I’m not going to blame it on other people. I’ve been talking to some people and I didn’t realise how offensive it was back then and I just want to apologise.”

The clip was captioned with a nod to Black Lives Matter: “Following recent events, I’ve done a lot of talking and learning […] I’m on a constant journey of knowledge and just wanted to say I’m deeply sorry. #blacklivesmatter.”

Trisha Goddard later said she’d received “vile abuse” following Francis’ apology.

Back in 2016, David spoke about reconciling with Francis two years prior. “It actually wasn’t [Bo’ Selecta!] itself which was the lowest point for me,” he recalled. “It was not being able to put music out in the way I always wanted to.”

Craig David released his new album ’22’ last Friday – you can read NME‘s four-star review here.

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