Raised by a single mum on a Southampton council estate, Craig David says he was never tempted by the vices he was surrounded by. "Music had such a passion there was no drug that could ever have gotten me that high," he says. "And then to go and step out in Wembley Arena I was like, what drug could ever give you a buzz like this?"
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Unlike other music stars who gained fame thanks to a less-than-squeaky-clean image, the UK garage heart-throb's name is often followed by the words "cheery", "polite" and "well-mannered". He rarely drinks, doesn't smoke and writes lyrics that are decidedly tame when compared to other chart-topping artists. "Growing up with my mum, I think it gave me so much more respect for women in general, and to not be vulgar in the way you go about writing songs," he says. "You don't have to be so explanatory about every detail of what's going on."
Growing up in the port city if Southampton, southwest of London, Craig (born May 5, 1981) was also inspired by his mother's diverse musical interests, which ranged from Stevie Wonder and Terence Trent D'Arby to The Osmonds. And there were multicultural influences at work as well while his white English shop assistant mum exposed him to her favourite records, his father George, a black carpenter from the Caribbean, ran a local West Indian social club and played bass in a reggae band.
Though his parents split when he was eight, both Tina and George played a strong role in his upbringing. "I didn't even really know that they'd broken up properly I saw (my dad) almost every day. They maintained a sense of security around me. I knew who I was."
When Craig was 11 his dad encouraged him to take guitar lessons, marking the beginning of his growing interest in music. Within two years he was writing songs, and by age 14 he was already MC-ing on a small pirate station and in clubs. Seeing music as his "means to move forward", he seriously pursued the craft, recording Let's Kick Racism Out Of Football commissioned by the Premier League Soccer club, and writing a song for boy band Damage after winning a national song-writing contest.
He was a DJ making $150 a week most of the cash being invested in a bedroom mini-studio when he teamed up with Mark Hill of the Artful Dodger crew and released the underground dance anthem Rewind in 1999. When the track hit the UK charts at number two in January 2000, he was still living at home.
In March, his first solo single Fill Me In, went straight to number one, with Seven Days following it to the top spot in July. His debut album, Born To Do It sold four million copies, even before it was released in the States.
While his profile was skyrocketing in Britain, the singer was still unrecognised in the US market. "One things for sure though, I'm not gong to change my style or try to fit in," he said at the time. "If America isn't ready for Craig David, then so be it." But the US was more than ready. MTV put Fill Me In on heavy rotation, and Craig found himself making a splash on the American charts.
With two successful albums under his belt and praise from everyone from Bono to Elton John ("If there is a better singer in Britain, then I'm Margaret Thatcher," said the latter), Craig has all the makings of a lengthy career. "The kind of person I am, I realise everything around me is great and that I should enjoy it," he says. "But at the same time I want to stay grounded I'm still the same Craig David writing songs in his bedroom, wishing for a record deal."