The Telegraph (March 2014)


Fatboy Slim is heading for the sun, and who can blame him? He’s only just finished clearing up the damage from the terrifying storm that hit his home on the beach near Brighton on Valentine’s Day.

“It was quite scary,” says the dance-music superstar otherwise known as Norman Cook. Huge waves threatened to engulf the house while he and his young family were inside. “Everything went white outside the windows when a wave came in, then there was this big shooshing sound as shingle hit the glass.”

Thousands of stones from the beach strafed the full-length windows with the force of bullets, while Cook was inside with his wife Zoë Ball, the television and radio presenter, and their two children, Woody and Nelly, aged 13 and four. They fled upstairs for safety, although the tops of the waves hit there, too.

“I thought the worst-case scenario was that we would have a lot of broken glass and sea inside the house, but as long as we were upstairs, nobody would die.”

The glass held, but there was damage to most of the dozen luxury homes on the seafront at Portslade in West Sussex. This is a millionaires’ row, where Sir Paul McCartney used to live. The singer Adele and comedian David Walliams have homes here, too.

Cook must match either of them for earnings, having sold tens of millions of records over the past two decades as one of the few superstar DJ performers of electronic dance music.

If you didn’t buy his tunes, such as Praise You and Right Here, Right Now, then you certainly heard them by accident on the radio, in television programmes and adverts and in film soundtracks. You may also have seen Cook at the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics, riding on a giant octopus.

The showman is off-duty today. Instead, he’s a friendly, slightly edgy geezer in Doc Marten boots, skinny jeans and a jumper, with close-cropped hair and a thinning, greying quiff. The 50-year-old would look at home among the ageing hipsters just a Bugaboo push away in Hove, where he owns a café.

Cook is a Kentish lad originally, but he settled here after university and has sponsored Brighton and Hove Albion FC. “My son has grown up with me and Zoë, living a distorted life,” he says. “He thought everybody knew everybody’s name in the world, because when we walked down the street here, they all said: ‘Hello, Norman. Hello, Zoë.’ And occasionally, ‘Hello, Woody’.”

Their home is hidden away, and they can step right out on to a private beach. Particularly now that the decking has been smashed. “Nature came and took it all back.” Who wouldn’t want to head for the sun after that?

Cook is off to Brazil to prepare for the football World Cup. He has been the England team’s unofficial party-starter since the 2002 tournament in Japan, and now performs DJ shows for the fans and locals to coincide with the games. But there is far more to it than that.

Somehow, over the past decade, this Englishman has become the toast of Brazil, playing to phenomenal crowds. “I am more popular there than I am in England. It’s an ongoing mutual love affair.” His biggest show so far was to 360,000 people on a beach in Rio. Never mind snow to Eskimos, this is the man who sells beach parties to Brazilians.

“I was gobsmacked,” he says. “I went right to the other side of the world, where I didn’t speak the language, and I played my tunes and they went: ‘We like this. We get this. We like you.’ We laugh at the same jokes, love the same sport and fall in love with the same women.’ ”

I’m not aware that there is anything Brazilian about Zoë Ball, but she’s not here to ask. Having hosted a television spin-off from Strictly Come Dancing, she’s now about to do one for The Voice.

Meanwhile, Cook is putting together an album that he hopes will become the unofficial soundtrack to the World Cup. Fatboy Slim Presents Bem Brasil features original Brazilian recordings remixed by dance producers and DJs. His own three tracks include a re-recording of the song Weapon of Choice with drummers from the favela collective Olodum, whose unique rhythms featured on The Obvious Child by Paul Simon.

“I’m not setting myself up to be an expert on Brazilian music. I heard a really rubbish Euro-house version of a classic Brazilian song called Celebration Suite that was presented as the theme tune to the World Cup. And I thought, ‘Brazil deserves better’. ”

As for the tournament itself, he believes there will be protests. “We thought they would use it as an excuse for the party to end all parties, but it turns out that corruption and inequality are bigger to Brazilians than even that. There is a passion to use the World Cup to remind the people who run the country that they can’t just hide behind the clichés.”

Cook championed rave culture in this country back when it was seen as a threat to society – but it has become so mainstream that he was asked to perform at the Palace of Westminster last year.

“We spent the whole day asking ourselves, ‘How did we go from them trying to ban us with the Criminal Justice Bill 19 years ago, to playing at the House of Commons?’ ” What’s his answer? “Gradually we wormed our way in, not being a threat to society. Showing that it was just about having a good time. And I think they came to meet us halfway.”

Some of the MPs present must have been from the rave generation, surely? “They weren’t letting on. Nobody was saying, ‘Yeah, I got on one, matey…’.”

Just inside his front door is a cabinet crammed with hundreds of items – from a condom to a toaster – emblazoned with the yellow smiley face that was the symbol of acid-house music. It is even painted on the house roof.

“My daughter calls them ‘Daddy faces’,” he says, unsure whether to be flattered by that or worried. Cook lives a clean life now and has just recorded a personal best in the Brighton half-marathon, “which for a man of my age is all right”.

These days, he follows the sun for 12 months of the year, performing DJ sets in faraway places during the winter, then hopping to Ibiza and all over Europe at weekends during the summer. “I can be here with the kids during the week.”

What is it that makes people dance? “Celebration, lust and inebriation,” he says, grinning. “On a good night, all three. As a DJ, I think your job is to have more fun than the people in the crowd. Then they want to buy into what you’re doing.”

But that’s interesting, because Cook is usually one of the few sober people left in the arena. “I bought myself an extra 10 years as a DJ by quitting drinking. I definitely couldn’t have carried on the life of a partying DJ. I would have been either burnt-out or dead by now.”

His wife quit first, having built up a reputation as a ladette who was photographed clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels on the way to their wedding in 1999. They used to be seen as the Posh and Becks of dance music, their love lives made public when she left him after having an affair with his friend. But they were only apart for a few months before reconciling, and that was 11 years ago. They had been trying for a baby for a while when they both went teetotal in 2009, and three months later Nelly was conceived.

“There was a big shift in my whole life when I stopped partying. It was my mid-life crisis, having a think about my priorities. I prefer being a DJ to making records. I haven’t got time to do both and be a dad.”

Cook is now halfway through the decade he thinks he gained as a DJ by giving up the booze. “I won’t be able to live this pace of life, with late nights, for ever. At some point I may decide, ‘I don’t want to go round the world playing records to drunk people any more.’ Then I probably will go back into the studio.”

For now though, he’s loving life. “I’m going to Brazil to play my tunes and help people party. On my days off I can watch the football. It’s a no-brainer really, isn’t it?”

‘Fatboy Slim Presents Bem Brasil’ is released on May 26 (Decca)


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