Death, drugs, depression and redemption: Professor Green on growing up in public

Professor Green

Professor Green - Credit: Archant

“I seem to have either exceptionally good luck or exceptionally bad luck. There doesn’t seem much of a medium going on here.”

Millie Mackintosh and Professor Green, Stephen Manderson arriving at the launch of Millie Mackintosh

Millie Mackintosh and Professor Green, Stephen Manderson arriving at the launch of Millie Mackintosh's new clothing range, Westbank Gallery, London - Credit: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment

It’s hard to argue with Stephen Manderson, better known as Professor Green. On the one hand, he’s a chart-topping rap artist happily married to a darling of London fashion’s elite; on the other, he’s a former Hackney drug dealer who’s nearly been killed twice, with a family history more sobering than any X-Factor sob story.

Despite his much publicised marriage to former Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh, last year was not a happy one for Manderson.

In May, while leaving his house for a gig, the 30-year-old was nearly crushed between two cars, only managing to emerge intact by pushing himself up onto the bonnet of one as it hit him in the back. It followed in the vein of 2010, when he was almost fatally stabbed in the neck outside Shoreditch’s Cargo nightclub; his tattoo across the stricken area famously reads ‘‘Lucky’’ and is one reminder, he says, of how “irony does seem to follow me around.”

After three years since his last album, the man behind hits like Read All About It and I Need You ­Tonight is back – and seemingly with a newfound resilience. His new single, Lullaby – which pre-empts his third record, Growing Up In Public – has already racked up two million hits, but aside from the Rihanna-esque vocals of collaborator Tori Kelly, its tone sounds like a deflating portrayal of life when ‘‘the walls close in’’.

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“No, but there’s a resolve to it and a fight to it,” the musician argues. “It’s about going through all that and then giving it a chance to come out the other side. The unfortunate thing with depression is when people don’t give it a chance to change. The phrase is, ‘It’s a permanent ­decision for a temporary problem.’

“I suffer depression, then having had to deal with the fact that my father committed suicide and finding out that two years prior - I hadn’t seen my dad for six years - his last remaining brother had committed suicide by hanging himself...

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“The uncle I was named after on his side – his other brother, Stephen – killed himself before I was born, so I thought, ‘OK, I should probably pay attention to this and actually do something to sort it out’.”

It can be easy to bottle things up, Manderson continues, and last year put him “back in a place where I hadn’t been in a while”.

In the ­aftermath of the car accident, he found himself doped up on painkillers, which led to skin irritation and hallucinations. All in all, “it was a bastard of a time”.

Luckily, the wedding served as a saving grace. In another moment of irony, we talk on the first anniversary of his marriage to Mackintosh, whose family fortune was made through chocolate brands like Quality Street and Rolo. Why on Earth, I ask, is he spending the day talking to a hack like me?

“I’m just off to do a shoot for a magazine launch as well; Millie’s got her clothing launch, then if we’ve got any energy left, we’ll go for dinner afterwards.”

Ouch. “It’s good man, it’s good. We’re young enough, you know; we need to work now to make it easy later on. If we are going to settle down and have children then we want to be able to provide for them and be comfortable and not have any additional stresses.”

Babies are already on the agenda then? “I’m excited about the prospect, but now’s definitely not the right time.

“I had an absent father for different reasons and I would be absent if I had a child now, but I don’t want to be absent for any reason.”

The rollercoaster of Manderson’s personal life over the last few years has meant his music’s taken a back seat until now. Growing Up In Public, he tells me, has evolved into a collection where “every song on there feels like a moment, like it could be a single and that’s what’s important to me.”

The record’s title, initially penned years ago as a “tongue-in-cheek” joke, has turned into more of a “self-fulfilling prophesy”.

Married life particularly has thrust him into the public eye and into the tabloids. Having met Mackintosh in 2011, he proposed in March last year, but just four months after their wedding, Heat magazine insinuated the ‘‘magic had already worn off’’ – prompting a furious rebuttal from Manderson to over two million Twitter followers. “It’s like if we don’t talk about our relationship, then they start writing about it. I think it’s all a little too perfect for people, I think they’re just waiting to find something in it or something that they can bring us down with.”

So there’s nothing in it? “I’m not really into airing my dirty laundry in public. We haven’t even been married a year – I mean what problems? Me getting p***ed off with Millie for not shutting cupboard doors or leaving the lights on? They’re probably my two biggest gripes with her.”

Class divide

Perhaps, I suggest, they’re obsessed by the supposed class ­divide. While he retains a love for his hometown, Manderson doesn’t live in Hackney anymore – “It’s not the same people, is it? It’s the age old act of gentrification” – but it often seems many still see him as the East End pauper to Mackintosh’s West London princess. “It’s weird, isn’t it, because they’re basing class on wealth ­because she comes from a wealthy background and I do not. But then I make more money than she does, so what does that mean?

“Though how’s any of that relevant to how we see each other? Is classism ok? Is racism ok? Is it ok to be homophobic? I don’t think so; none of the other things would be tolerated really, so why is it ok for them to do that?”

He continues: “You take it with a pinch of salt. I mean some of the headlines – the day after we got married, the Daily Mail had a headline saying, ‘East End Drug dealer marries Quality Street heiress’. Now the only reason that p***ed me off was because she’s not actually an heiress. They could have at least got that right.”

Whatever is written, it sounds unlikely that we’re likely to see ­another celebrity split from this camp any time soon. Excited about the future – be it wife, child or music – Manderson seems to have his feet planted firmly on the ground, when in the past it might have fallen under him. In fact, the rapper appears to have honed a new approach for tackling what he’s often called ‘‘the world, via Hackney’’.

“All I can really do is take into my hands the things that I can control and make sure that I work hard. Beyond that, I can’t really do much if I’ve done everything I can to ensure it does as well as it can.

“It’s in other people’s hands, isn’t it?”

Growing Up In Public is released by Virgin EMI on Monday.

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