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'I've got more to offer the world than being a diva': I'm Empire speaks about coming full circle

PUBLISHED: 13:46 02 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:25 22 August 2019

I'm Empire decided on his stage name when he was watching a BBC show seven years ago - about the British Empire.

"Because I'm a child of Afro-Caribbean parents I found an irony, because I'm a product of empire, and I said: 'I'm empire'," the musician and performer told the Gazette.

"Literally I said to myself: 'I'm a product of empire. I'm empire -that's who I am.' It was like: 'Yes, that's my name.'"

I'm Empire has just released his album Noise Box, and hosts a weekly radio show on Reel Rebels Radio in Stoke Newington, where he interviewed Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville last week.

He uses the moniker like a "mental shield and protector against the outside world" - and is careful to never divulge his birth name. "It's a big extravagant stage name, big enough for me to hide behind," he said. "It's more than a name. It's my safety net. When I'm 'empire' I can be whoever I want to be. I'm not insecure. I'm not scared."

He grew up in Hackney but ran away from home with his twin brother aged 16, to escape their strict Christian mother, and became wards of Hackney borough. Then began his "best years".

"My passions - music and arts - escalated with the freedom," he said. "I was surrounded by the freaks of the world - you know, the colourful people that come out at night. We literally cut my mother out of our lives and it's only in the last two or three years we have reconciled. I've had a very crazy background.

"I want people to see beneath because everyone thinks I'm this human being that hasn't got any substance, but I want them to know that's my smile and I've gone through a lot to be where I am."

He will give a talk following a screening of the Oscar winning movie Moonlight at the Rio Cinema at 2pm Saturday. Donations will be collected for the charity Project Indigo which works with LGBTQI+ young people - a cause close to I'm Empire's heart.

"They helped me when I was a vulnerable teen exploring my sexuality, when I didn't know my sexuality," he said. "I feel like I've come full circle. As a child I was so vulnerable and in need from Hackney, and now I can give back to the vulnerable, whether they be black, gay, straight or purple. I've got more to offer the world than being a diva."

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