Craig David’s astounding comeback from national joke to MBE and truce with Leigh Francis
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At the start of the millennium, a 19 year old Craig David was taking over the charts with his debut album, Born to Do It.
He was the youngest UK male to reach number one with Fill Me In, and by the time he was 21, the Southampton-born star had sold 13 million albums, received 12 Brit nominations, two Grammy nods and three Ivor Novellos.
Then it all started to go tragically wrong.
He became the butt of the joke on Bo' Selecta! in 2002 when comedian Leigh Francis turned Craig into a caricature with a giant rubber head, a strong Yorkshire accent and a pet kestrel called Kes.
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With his cool rating on the wane, his next albums Slicker Than Your Average and The Story Goes failed to set emulate the success of his first.
As far as Craig was concerned, the Channel 4 show was destroying his credibility.
"I played along with it, I can take a joke, so I went on the show. But it was killing me. This guy has me as a caricature, is ripping the p*** out of me," he previously told The Sun.
"When you've got people shouting at you in the street, people in my face telling me this and that about sketches from the show – it was like me against the world.
Craig was portrayed as a Yorkshire bird enthusiast in Bo' Selecta!
"It stopped people taking me seriously."
Dejected, Craig went to ground in Miami where he lived in a hotel and focused on his fitness, becoming as famous for his six-pack as for his singing.
After several years at sea, he started a small club night in his apartment where he was served as DJ, singer and MC. What started as a personal pleasure snowballed into an Ibiza club night, with TS5 getting a regular slot at Ibiza Rocks.
In 2016 he hit the top 20 for the first time in a decade with his single, When The Bassline Drops – a collaboration with MC Big Narstie
Two years later, his album The Times is Now, which boasted high-profile collaborations with Bastille, GoldLink and Chase & Status, cemented his return as one of the cool kids and won him a whole new generation of fans.
Craig retreated to Miami where he focused on his fitness
Looking back on his years in the wilderness, Craig once told the BBC: "If someone had said to me 'the best move for you now would be to go away and put the faders down for six years' I wouldn't have understood. But little did I know…"
Now 39, Craig has outlived Bo' Selecta and will receive an MBE for his contribution to music in the Queen's New Year's Honours list tomorrow.
Meanwhile, he's also buried the hatchet with Leigh Francis after they cleared the air at mutual friend Fearne Cotton's wedding in 2015.
Of their initially awkward meeting, Craig told The Mirror: “When I walked in, there was all this tension in the room, so I went straight over, and could see Leigh looking nervous about what I was going to say.
“But I gave him a huge hug, and said: ‘I don’t know how it’s all escalated to this but I just want to say that there are no hard feelings. And everything is so cool’.
Now 39, Craig has staged an epic return to the music business
“He was like, ‘Ah, thank you man, because I really thought you had a problem.’"
What's more, in recent years the singer has insisted he never had a problem with the show, explaining that it was his PR team who urged him to act 'hurt'.
“If I’m super honest, I was actually always totally cool with it," he continued.
"I remember growing up watching Spitting Image and so then when it was me, David Beckham, Mel B from the Spice Girls, all these massive names, being done it was fine. I was in great company.
“But my PR was trying to control everything and I was very media trained, very PR-savvy, and used to just give automated answers.
“After first inviting Leigh on stage with me at the Royal Albert Hall I was told to go the opposite way and say I was all hurt and upset by it, saying I wanted to punch someone.
“I didn’t want to punch anyone! It was just people around me trying to amp it all up, fuelling the fire. It shows how much I wasn’t in control at this time. I was all over the place, taking myself too seriously but, actually, it was all nonsense.”
For Leigh's part, he recently issued an emotional apology for using blackface to portray characters like Craig David and Michael Jackson in the show, which has since been pulled from the All4 archives.
In 2009 he explained that he hadn't forseen that his popular series would cause real harm to anyone's career, telling the BBC: "I don't mean to do anything derogatory or nasty to anyone. I didn't mean it to kick back at his career, I just didn't think it would."
Are you pleased to see Craig David in the New Year's Honours list? Have your say in the comments section below…