Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 18:08 UK

The star in the well-pressed hood

Talking music, politics, business and ironing with grime star Tinchy Stryder

By Stephen Smith
BBC Newsnight culture correspondent

Reformed hell-raiser Rod Stewart is reported to have a model railway in his loft, and the diabolical Alice Cooper is never happier than when on the golf course.

So I suppose it should come as no surprise that the rising star of the UK grime scene gets his backstage jollies… at the ironing board.

Yes, rapper Tinchy Stryder, who has number one hit records to his credit, insists on putting a perfect crease in his jeans and T-shirt before performing.

"The BBC's getting a first on the ironing," he said in a draughty backroom at Southampton University, as we film him addressing his steam iron to a cornflower blue top.

"Slow strokes is the secret. I learnt that from my DJ Spyro."

Dressed to impress

If at first it is a little disconcerting to find that one of the stars of urban music stipulates a travelling iron on his rider, the longer you spend with the rapper of the eponymous Stryderman, the more it makes sense.

The prince of grime on domestic bliss

For one thing, the 22-year-old comes across as a well brought-up young man, whose parents are solidly behind his choice of a music career.

When I ask Tinchy if he has any rituals or superstitions before going on stage, he replies: "Well, I always pray."

Then there is the question of his audience, or "his fan base", as he calls them.

Though tonight's gig is at Southampton's student union, the freshers are greatly outnumbered by gaggles of 13 and 14-year-old girls.

As Tinchy hits the stage, they set up a cry that has dogs whimpering as far away as the Isle of Wight, and will last until their idol takes his leave of them.

Naturally, Tinchy dresses to impress for his young fans. Smart casual has never looked this smart.

Clothing range

Crucially, his look is absolutely central to his career.

Tinchy merchandise on sale
Tinchy merchandise on sale in Southampton

When his records were struggling to take off, Tinchy and his equally youthful management team bankrolled the enterprise through sales of branded T-shirts and hoodies, "the clothing line", as Tinchy calls it.

This is the first gig I have ever been to where the merchandise stall offers not a single item of recorded music.

Instead, there are spangled caps, and sweatshirts at £35 a pop.

Tinchy is represented by Archie Lamb, son of the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who has been all over our TV screens this week opining on the BAE Systems bribery charges affair after years of campaigning.

After Archie and his former school chum, Jack Foster, announced they were dropping out of education to get into the music business, Mr Lamb Sr remortgaged his house to help them.

"He came to our first gig in London," recalls Archie. "There were grime MCs battling on the stage and there was Dad at the back in his suit. He'd come straight from the House of Commons, I think."

Permanent commitment

Like his old man, Archie has suffered for his art. On a recent excursion to LA with his charge, Archie and Tinchy had the title of the latter's new album, Catch 22, tattooed on their forearms.

Catch 22 tattoo
Manager Archie had the title of Tinchy's new album tattooed on his forearm

While baring his flesh to receive an even more ambitious tattoo, "Takeover Entertainment", the name of his company, Archie passed out.

But all that is forgotten as the trio savour Tinchy's success. He and fellow grime hero Dizzee Rascal are the country's best-selling pop stars of the moment.

Not even drawing a blank at this week's Mobos (Music Of Black Origin awards) puts a crimp in their forward progress.

On leisure-wear alone, Tinchy's trademark "Star in the Hood" range should turnover £500,000 this year.

I ask the rapper if he is looking forward to the day when he has a butler to iron his T-shirts.

"No I'm not, to tell you the truth," he says. "I'd like to have it for a day, but I would never want to get to the stage where I won't do my own ironing or get my own water."

"You mean, keep it real?" I ask.

"Yeah," he says, and thumbs the steam button hard.

Watch Stephen Smith's film in full on Newsnight on Friday 2 October 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.



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