THE TIMES MAGAZINE
Jamiroquai's Jay Kay had it all: the pop career, country mansion and pin-up girlfriend.
But things were not what they seemed - and his cocaine abuse and rocky relationship with Denise Van Outen couldn't fill the void.
Here, in a frank interview, he tells Alan Jackson how meeting his real father and nights spent under the stars are putting him right.
He's thought of as a lucky devil. As a cocky, flashy lad with a fleet of classic cars and, until recently, one of the highest-profile relationships in Tabloid Britain. But, as I quickly discover, Jamiroquai's Jay Kay is not who we've liked to thing he is. The man I meet is unassuming, contemplative, warm. Those motors - I spy a Ferrari and the most beautiful '63 Mercedes sport anyone has ever seen - are under protective wrap today. He's living alone, too, and mostly liking it, apart from those times when he is gnawed by the need, some day soon, to settle down and become a dad. Just how far removed is he from the archetype of spoiled pop star? Well, who else can you think of who owns a mini-mansion
set within a significant chunk of prime Home Countries real estate yet who, on fine nights, prefers to tent it in one of their fields?
Kay has grown used to being seen as a cartoon character, as a simplification (if not misrepresentation) of his actual self. As the "cat in the hat".
As the skinny white guy who, it is supposed, wishes he were black. As the 24/7 party animal arriving here or leaving there with television presenter-turned-actress Denise Van Outen forever on his arm. He's not complaining, knowing that first impressions stick and that those he
gave were of the cocky, flashy lad I mentionned. "But it's scary all the same, and has taught me something of how the media works."
"Overnight, you've become Mr There-He-Goes-Crashing-His-Lamborghini-Again, and you're not allowed to grow up from that.
I've learned from it all, though. Boy, have I... I may not know the square root of 72, but I know an awful lot about people now.
How they're sometimes to be kept at a distance. How they'll destroy you given half a chance."
But before we talk of all that, let's rewind a little... Kay turned 30 a day before the world succumbed to Millennium frenzy.
For most of us, a birthday with a nought at its end is especial cause for self-assessment, self-examination.
To have reached this personal milestone on the eve of a global out-break of introspection/celebration must have intensified
the process massively. Seated at a garden table outside his home studio, the singer nods emphatically.
"Yes. It felt like an enormously momentous time. It made me look back at where I've come from, and project ahead to where I wanted to be."
He pauses here, shuffles a cigarette carton from one hand to the other.
"And that meant accepting that I had personal problems of a lifestyle nature, ones which invaded me every now and then,
and which would make it impossible for me to achieve what I hoped to, unless they were dealt with."
He is talking, it becomes clear, of drug usage. Of an intermittent cocaine habit that had developed over a five or six-year period.
Some of those around him in the music business encouraged its continuance. Others chastised him for it,
but in what he feels to have been a non-constructive way. It took a doctor saying to Kay that his voice was in danger of
collapsing for him to address the issue, and the potential havoc that it could wreak.
The manner in which he did so was high-risk, courageous and totally idiosyncratic - in short, he dealt with it on his own. A shudder runs through him as he says, "There were times when, through drugs, I was completely at the end of my tether. When I'd sit here alone with the sun rising,
the last one up after a house full of people had crashed out and gone to bed, and I'd be asking, 'What the hell is happening to me?'"
There was no one but himself to provide an answer, and not just because of the late/early hour. Kay's personal pedigree is significant here.
He is a surviving twin whose brother died shortly after their birth. Some very little time later, his Portuguese father left his mother,
the jazz and cabaret singer Karen Kay, and disappeared, as if forever, from their lives. As the only son of a single working mother,
he grew up determinedly self-reliant, unwilling and, perhaps, eventually, unable to solicit or accept help from outside.
"I've got friends, obviously. But they've got problems of their own. After a while, why should they want to listen to me banging on about mine?
Plus, I'm not the kind of person who things, 'Right! I'll get myself a counsellor or book into somewhere and let them sort of me out'.
And I certainly wasn't about to tell the world about 'my agony', turn it into some promotional big deal.
I just kept my head down, kept my mouth shut, and got on with it."
Not a medically recommanded approach. Nor, in this confessional age, a media-recognised one, either.
But the happy, admirable fact is that Kay has been clean for many months now, and believes himself strong enough to stay that way.
"You might imagine tackling the issue was frightening. It wasn't; it felt fantastic. What was frightening was the realisation, 'Hey, if you don't get your shit together, kid, all of this [he gestures around him towards infinity] is going to vanish'. And I couldn't accept that. People imagine it comes
on a plate but it doesn't. I've worked hard for all I have. Losing it would represent failure to me, and failure is something I cannot handle.
People see my drive and ambition and what used to be my cockiness and they think that I don't give a f***. Yes, just now and again, that's true. But the truth is that most of the time I give a great deal of a f***. A very great deal of one indeed."
Kay believes his previously self-destructive behaviour was wilfully inspired. "One hundred per cent so. In every single aspect of my life,
I'm the guy who walks all the way to the cliff edge. Other people are calling out, 'Turn back now! Don't get so near!'
But I have to. I'm absolutely dying to look over and see what the consequence might be."
In this instance, it was the potential cessation of a multi-million-album-selling success story
- something he simply could not countenance - that gave him real pause for thought.
"Hey, people can laugh at me 'cos I wear funny hats. They can laugh because they think I'm this little white guy who wishes - yawn! -
tha he was black. Fine. Let's all enjoy the joke. But you're not going to laugh at me 'cos I f***** my own life up.
You're not laughing at me because I threw away everything I'd achieved in pursuit of something as stupid as drugs. No way!"
Lonely, I suggest, to have had to face up to your demons in this way, without the benefit of outside help. "Yes," he says shortly. "It was."
Though defining himself as an intensely spiritual person, Kay is not conventionally religious, and so could not seek guidance or comfort from
any god. "I regret that for myself, very often I'd love to be able to kneel in front of a cross and say, 'Please help me'. I would love that."
Yet he declares himself optimistic that one day he will find his soulmate, the person to aid and encourage him through other painful times. "Optimistic not least because I had the courage to finish my last relationship, to admit to myself, 'No, this isn't right'. I want to be supported.
It's the most important thing for me. I don't want someone saying, 'Yo're not going to do anything, are you, because you can't sort
your own life out?' I need someone who'll look at me, see the things I have achieved, and allow me to feel proud of them."
He and Big Breakfast presenter Van Outen were an item for nearly three years, making a handsome, media-sexy couple, often seen out on the town. "And we had our moments - some fantastic, very lovely moments. But at other times, it wasn't like that and, ultimately, you've got to be realistic. You've got to ask yourself, 'Does this person I'm with want to look after me? Do they realise how difficult my job is? Are they supportive? Do they want to go for walks in the hills with me? Do they want to camp out and get muddy and do simple things and have a laugh,
or do they just want to hit the London scene and be photographed out together at all the right celebrity things?' Well, I'm a singer first
and foremost, not a celebrity. Nor do I want to be one. So that was it, in a nutshell. It came down to us wanting different things."
Something they would have seemed to want equally was marriage (they annouced their engagement in the spring of last year, but a proposed wedding date had been postponed by the autumn). Apparently not. "I felt under pressure to do it, and that's not how it should be.
Also, you should be getting married because you want kids, a family life together - not just for its own sake, and because everyone else
you know happens to be doing it. I've not wanted to talk about it up until now... I don't like my personal life being public knowledge.
I've just wanted to keep quiet, get on with things. But that's been hard these past four months, given that
every time I've picked up a paper I've seen something about me and our break-up in it."
I ask Kay if he and Van Outen, currently starring in the West End production of Chicago, remain in touch? "Yes, and on a fairly amicable basis. But it's funny how I always seem to get a friendly phone call just as something new she's said is about to come out in the press." He predicts that
she would deny such an inference, or indeed that she had spoken often to journalists about their relationship. To which his reply would be,
"Well, how come I feel as if I've read 65 interviews in which I'm a central theme, followed by, 'Oh, and I open in my new show on...'?"
Perhaps, he suggests to himself, more time must elapse before they can achieve a true state of non-romantic friendship and move on.
"It's hard after being with someone. You each know how to press the other's buttons, how to wind 'em up. And it couldn't be easier than with me.
No manual required. There are even arrows pointing to where the buttons are."
Kay is laughing now, and with humour. "And get your dirty gobs off my clean trousers," he instructs his two Alsatians, Titan and Luger, now drooling devotedly at their master's knee. "Go on! Bugger off! There are 70-odd acres out there to ramble in.
Why'd you have to stick in my square metre of space?"
In response, they inch ever closer. Those 70-odd acres though... Clearly, they're his paradise. Indeed, Corner Of The Earth, the mellowest song on Jamiroquai's otherwise suitably titled new album A Funk Odyssey, has been written in paean to them. "I could just walk around here
all day long, day after day, and be perfectly happy," he asserts, then quickly corrects himself. "Actually no, that's not true.
I'd find it pretty difficult to be out in the world performing this very up and aggressive music, and then have to say,
'No, I'm afraid I can't stop for a Jack Daniel's and Coke with you after the show 'cos I've got to get back to prune my azaleas!'"
It does exert a pull, however, and for more than scenic reasons. "Yes, I love this place, and find it increasingly hard to drag myself away.
Living here is like reliving my childhood, in a sense. Perhaps, that's why I so like spending nights in my tent!
Certainly, it was one of the factors in taking myself to task. At 30, I realised I still want to be here at 40. And beyond.
I want to see my kids grow up here. I've got this vison of it in my head... Stupid, I know, but I imagine them being 16 or 17 and me going,
'What's that smell coming from you're bedroom? Well, gimme some'" Then, no longer joking, Kay adds, "I imagine myself being mates with them. The cool dad. The one they weren't scared of, and could tell anything to. Let's face it, no matter what they turned to me with - drugs, whatever -
I'd be able to say with authority, 'I know how we can deal with this. Here's what we'll do to make things right.'
I missed out on that myself, but I know I'll be a better father because of it."
He describes himself as having been a solitary child. "Mum and I moved around a lot, and some of the places we lived were quite remote.
There wouldn't be anyone within miles for me to play with. And you know what it's like in school, particularly when you're the newcomer.
If you're not careful, you can become the target for bullies. Me, I was always the joker. That was my self-defence.
I sat at the back of the class and mocked myself before anyone else could do it for me [to illustrate, he gives a perfect impersonation of
Norman Wisdom in full Don't Laugh At Me 'Cause I'm A Fool mode]. That way I got left alone. Aside from that, I was a dreamer,
very much as I am today. You have imaginary soldier fights, imaginary conversations with yourself. You dream and dream and dream."
Of course, the state of happy parenthood he now wants for himself will require the finding of his life partner. "I just want someone straightforward.
Someone who makes me laugh - as was the case in the previous relationship, for a time. Someone warm and cosy.
Someone who wants to be around me. Who enjoys being with me. A mate!" All in all, what most of us hope for.
It should be easier to achieve this nirvana when you're a good-looking young multimillionaire pop star, but the fact is that often it is not.
It should be easier, too, if your potential wife has a career not dissimilar to your own, and so is understanding of all the attendant pressures.
But no. "I have to be honest, I'd definitely think twice about going down that route again.
It's bad enough when there's one piece of public property in the relationship. When there's two, you don't stand much of a chance."
Kay's talk of children makes me wonder if he now acknowledges any need (denied in past interviews) to trace his biological father,
assuming that he's still alive. The singer takes a deep breath when I pose this question, then speaks very carefully.
"Actually, I have met him. Very, very recently. Just a metter of weeks ago. This is difficult... We're talking about someone who didn't see me for
30 years, so it's new and tender for me [he gestures at his heart] but also, and most importantly, I don't want to do or say anything that will
cause distress to my mother [now happily married]. Yes, though, I've finally met him. There was a lot of staring at each other. A lot of tears...
I hope a relationship will be possible between us, but we'll have to wait and see what happens. Right now, we're taking it very slowly."
Is he a handsome geezer? A wide grin, and then, ""He looks a bit like Al Pacino, actually." That has to be good, I suggest.
Far better than if the actor he most resembled was Charles Hawtrey. Or Arthur Mullard. "Exactly!" And does he still have his own hair?
"Yep! White, but definitely it's all there." Sorted, I tell him; the future's looking bright.
Kay is laughing now and, as an antidote to the previously confessional mood, suggests a restorative walk around at least part of his estate.
"Watch out for the Old Vicar," he tells me, as a mean-looking goose hastens towards us, head and neck extended in Concorde fashion.
"He's got a bit of a temper on him, as has that one [he indicates a second, similarly beady-eyed creature,
both of them passed on from a nearby wildlife sanctuary], who's called Reefer." On cue, there is a busy display of
hissing and macho feather-fluffing. "Reefer madness!" smiles Kay,steering me to a fowl-free zone.
"I feel as if I've arrived at a very good place in my life," he then continues. "I've grown up a bit. I'm free and single.
There's everything to play for. And I think I've just made the best record of my career to date."
This is undoubtedly true, and it clearly delights him that those divisions of Sony responsible for promoting it worldwide - most especially in America - concur. Despite having won a Grammy and five MTV Awards there, he feels his previous four albums have been poorly supported
in the US, and hence have underachieved commercially. He now shares representation with Sir Elton John, and hopes are high that
A Funk Odyssey will cause his success in all other territories to roll over, making Kay a truly global star in the process.
The loud, proud part of him grins its big, boyish grin at the prospect of this. Then, as so often during our conversation, the quieter, more thoughtful side reclaims prominence. "But hell, if I don't sell a single record anywhere ever again, how could I complain?" it asks.
"I've got this place - peace and perfection in a packet." The fact is, though, that he will sell many more millions of records.
And, if life is kind, will find his ideal partner and have those longed-for children. Because we were right all along about one thing.
For all his demons and dual nature, Jay Kay is the lucky devil we first suspected him to be.