x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

After the party: Norman Cook takes it easy

We chat with Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim about why he now enjoys a quiet family life in the UK, ahead of his performance at Sandance in Dubai on Friday.

Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, performs at Sandance on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai on Friday.
Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, performs at Sandance on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai on Friday.

Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, is showing me around his beautiful beachfront home in Brighton and Hove, England. En route to a cup of tea on the beach out back, we walk past display cases full of career memorabilia and awards. His pre-Fatboy Slim CV is effectively plastered in band posters along the hallway (anyone remember The House Martins or Freak Power?).

And there is evidence of his interesting house guests, too. A life-size mannequin of Iggy Pop stands in one corner ("Iggy came to stay for a while when we were recording together," he explains. "I missed him so much I had a doll made.") The Talking Heads legend David Byrne also recently took the spare room while the two collaborated on songs for a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos, ("He was very impressed with the number of bike lanes in Brighton," notes Cook unexpectedly).

The home he shares with wife Zoe Ball, a British television and radio personality, and their two children has been dubbed HMS House and sits on a private street known locally as Millionaire's Row. He shares the idyllic private beach with his neighbours Paul McCartney and the former Heartbeat actor Nick Berry. Adele has bought the house three doors along.

The Ball/Cook house is stuffed with the booty of travelling and family life: exotic mirrors, ornaments, paintings, children's daubs and film posters. Cook, 48, leads us out on to his veranda and we sit in the white "HMS House" bench Ball gave him for Christmas. We sip tea from smiley face mugs. Bronzed and smiley himself, Cook has just got off a plane from Australia where he has been DJ'ing at summer festivals.

"I am very lucky to be able to chase the sun DJ'ing as Fatboy Slim in Brazil and Australia while it is winter here in the UK. But then I come back home to be Norman Cook to my wife and children and it's unbeatable."

Fatboy Slim is Cook's cheeky mischief-making alter ego. But he is also an invention who began to blight Norman Cook's life. The moment of truth came on New Year's Day 2009 when his wife told him she was never going to drink alcohol again. Cook wanted to follow suit but soon realised it wasn't as easy as that.

"I was physically dependent. I wanted to stop because of Zoe and because I wasn't even enjoying it anymore, but I couldn't."

Cook booked himself into The Providence Project rehab down the coast in Bournemouth for 28 days, accompanied on to the premises by the waiting paparazzi.

"I chose it because it was boot camp rather than a celebrity hangout. I wasn't Fatboy Slim in there. I was just another addict getting a short, sharp shock after what amounts to 25 years of partying. But no, photographers following me into the building didn't help."

Was it hard work?

"Yes, it was tough. But at the same time me and Zoe had climbed to the top of the partying mountain and there was nowhere else to go. We had both become very worried about our health. Giving up alcohol was my way of saying 'OK, the party's over. I am ready for the next chapter of life'."

It was their second major relationship challenge after a much-publicised split in 2003, when Ball left and had a brief relationship with another DJ. Then, it seemed the whole country was rooting for them to get back together. This time, Cook's rehab seems to have done the trick immediately.

"I got out of rehab and she was pregnant within a month," beams Cook. "That was the reason we hadn't had a second child. Alcohol, pure and simple. It had begun to get us both down. The fact that I ran the first-ever Brighton marathon tells you all you need to know about what alcohol does to your system."

As he says this, Ball saunters in, barefoot in red jeans and a pink sweat shirt. They greet, coo and Cook says: "Are we still having lunch together?"

"Call my agent," she says, making a phone-to-ear gesture. They seem very warm and sweet together.

"The way to enjoy success is to have less of it," he continues. "We've got two great children. Neither of us feels the need to work full time or try to be number one like we used to. We realise what we have right here is amazing. This beautiful house and the ability to work from home without taking on too much of the stuff that doesn't suit us."

We are sitting right next to the room where Cook wrote the unforgettable party anthems Praise You and Right Here Right Now. Though he has occasionally derided his own talent as "work a monkey could do" and "repetition and cheap knob gags", they successfully channel Cook's open, fun-loving personality.

Cook has been enjoying a liberal life since he was a child. He was brought up a member of the Kosmon Church, a tiny sect for whom loving thy neighbour and pacifism are central tenets. When Cook recently bumped into his childhood religious mentor, he expected "a massive telling off".

"But she said: 'I've been following your career and I can sort of see the message coming from you whenever you are on stage.'"

He may still tour the world as Fatboy Slim, but these days Cook and Mr Slim have reached a negotiated settlement over who is in charge.

"I've done a deal. Norman Cook is in charge. He's the father and husband and Fatboy Slim cannot get in the way of his home life anymore. But when Fatboy Slim is on stage working, then Norman Cook has to clear out the way and stop nagging for him to behave himself."

 

artslife@thenational.ae