People will probably be cynical about this programme. Will.i.am is an unusual guy and therefore quite easy to pick on. Musician, producer, philanthropist, weird clothes, gentle with an asexual demeanour – he’s a bit like Michael Jackson with a corporate make-over, like when coffee shops go ‘authentic’ and hang black and white canvases of Italians laughing over coffee. Anyway, after watching this, I can’t help it. I like him a lot. I’m a brand new Will.i.am fan.
Not only is Will a bit strange, but Joanna Lumley is a strange choice of presenter. She has a Louis Theroux-esq, faux-naive style of documentary making, but if it’s possible, she’s convincingly genuine. Maybe she really is? Who knows.
On arriving at Will’s house, Joanna is met by a host of assistants, including Will’s brother Carl who cuts his hair full-time. Yep.
Will comes down the stairs like a gentle breeze, wearing his trademark ridiculous jacket made from what looks like a cross between a wetsuit and a Galaxy bar wrapper (more on this later). Like an enthusiastic child, he eagerly shows Joanna his awards cabinet, which also contains pictures of Will with Obama, Oprah and his family. Joanna comments (as an aside) that things in Will’s house seem to be switched off and locked as (we guess) he spends so much time away. This is where I had my first pang.
Joanna is invited into the ‘heart of Will’s family’. We met his best friend and band mate Apl.De.Ap (who is a Filipino man, not a robot as his name suggests). Later, Joanna heads over for supper with his mother (he never knew his father), his uncles and an old friend of his Grandmother’s. Clearly, the older you are in the i.am family, the greater respect you’re shown. Watching Will at the table you could be watching a little boy being careful to mind his manners.
Raised to have a strong Christian faith and with a strictness that forbade him to say words like ‘lie’ or play outside the boundaries of his postage stamp sized front lawn, Will obviously maintains a respect/fear and deep love for his family. Again, I felt a pang.
The programme moved through Will’s various ventures, of which there are an exhausting number. Telling us curtly that he gets 4 hours sleep a night by saying ‘think what you can do with 20 hours a day’. My mind goes blank. All I can think is I could do a whole lot of mooching around the house in 20 hours. Will and I are worlds apart.
His involvement in a technological investment, the nature of which was too secret for us to know, meant cameras were ousted from a meeting, described by Joanna as some kind of ‘techno wizardry’ – said with a completely straight face. Theroux would be proud.
Will himself tells us he has a deep sense of social responsibility and a ‘need to help’ so there are numerous philanthropic projects to discuss such as ‘i.am College’, a school set up by Will to educate youngsters in his old community.
Of course, there’s fashion. He explains how plastic bottles are used to make high quality fabric, or headphones. Joanna buys a tailcoat for her conductor-husband for $2000.
Then last but not least, there’s the music. Sitting next to Joanna in his studio he casually knocks out a new track called ‘Alright’. It’s not amazing, but it’s definitely ‘alright’. Certainly, a million times better than anything we could have come up with in 4 hours, or ever.
At the end, Will was at the O2 Area on his first solo tour. I felt nervous for him, being so far from home and his mamma. A sensitive child-man, in his smart little jacket, with his hair all done ready (Good old brother, Carl), just wanting to do some good and to please people. It was pang-central. Perhaps he’s more of a bastard in real life, I hope so anyway. It’s a bit scary out there if you’re very nice.
Catch up on Joanna Lumley Meets Will.i.am on BBC iPlayer now.
First published by TVGuide.co.uk