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'Success has nothing to do with being happy'

Tricky's life has been blighted by tragedy. The British musician talks to Roisin O'Connor about the awkwardness of fame, therapy and why he turned down a concert for the Queen

Free spirit: Tricky
Free spirit: Tricky
Madonna, who Tricky refused to meet because he was too hungover

By Roisin O'Connor

Tricky has a story about everyone. Mick Jagger, Beyonce, Johnny Rotten, Ben Stiller, Madonna, David Bowie, Prince... the Bristol musician, born Adrian Thaws, has met and occasionally insulted them all, yet the most important of all those stories is his own, which has finally been written down in his autobiography, Hell Is Round the Corner.

We're sitting in a hotel bar near the BBC's London headquarters. Tricky has kept his coat on and his black beanie is pulled down to his gaunt cheekbones - probably more of an attempt to conceal himself from the rest of the room than to stay warm.

The solo artist, who rose to fame in the early Nineties after helping to shape the sound of Massive Attack's debut Blue Lines, is famously averse to the spotlight and dislikes people staring at him. For the duration of our interview, his eyes rove around the room, as if to check he's not been spotted.

"I find it really annoying," he says in his wonderfully thick Bristol burr. "Yesterday a guy took a picture of me and he thought he was being really clever, like I wouldn't see him. Just come up! Why do you want a picture? You could come up, even have a drink or a coffee with me. He wasn't even a fan, just a doughnut who wanted to post a picture on Instagram."

As he says this, I notice a couple at a nearby table. The woman appears to be trying to take a surreptitious photograph of her husband with Tricky in the background. I decide not to say anything.

Hell Is Round the Corner begins with the suicide of Tricky's mother when he was four years old and ends with the death of his 24-year-old daughter, Mazy, who passed away in May this year (there's an ongoing NHS inquiry into the cause). Had his daughter died before he began work on the book, it would never have been written in the first place.

"There's not a chance in hell I would have done it," Tricky says, before making a polite request that we not talk about Mazy.

He's in therapy, which he says has helped, but he wonders why it seems to be men who are encouraged so much to go. "I grew up with my nan, whose son was murdered. My mum took her own life. They never had therapy," he says. "Women have stuff to deal with too, you know?"

Hell Is Round the Corner is unusual for an autobiography because it includes interviews with Tricky's family, friends and fellow musicians. He worried it would be boring if it was "just me", which seems remarkable given how wild his life has been.

He was born and raised in Knowle West, a "white ghetto" area of Bristol, where he witnessed frequent incidents of violence from a young age. His Jamaican father was a "bit of a bad boy", his uncles were notorious gangsters, dinner was often a rabbit poached from a neighbouring farm and there was more than one encounter with the law. He was raised by women, but they often fought and drank as hard as the men. "It's not as heavy as it sounds," Tricky says. "I know people think that."

Along with his early life, the memoir charts Tricky's emergence in the Nineties as one of the most enigmatic and visionary artists in British music.

After falling in with an early incarnation of the band that would become Massive Attack, he met Martina Topley-Bird - Mazy's mother - with whom he collaborated on his debut solo album, Maxinquaye. Another 12 albums followed, including 1998's Angels with Dirty Faces.

In that time, he has become synonymous with the genre known as trip hop (he dislikes the term) and a dark, murky sound that merges elements of hip hop, ragga, soul and punk with his hushed, almost spoken word-style of delivery.

His rapid rise from Bristol tearaway to one of the UK's most in-demand stars is not a particularly fond memory.

His romantic relationships, including a high-profile one with Björk, became tabloid fodder, while his social anxiety was often interpreted by fellow celebrities as a snub.

In one anecdote from the book, he writes about being invited to join Ben Stiller's table at a restaurant in New York. He noticed a girl staring at him and asked, "What are you looking at?". "Hey," an angry Ben Stiller said. "That's my sister."

Prince was apparently offended when he wasn't able to swing by Paisley Park because he had the flu. He later pretended not to know who Tricky was.

He is probably the only person in existence to have refused to meet Madonna because he was too hungover.

While he writes that he remains unbothered by these encounters, he does light up recalling praise from artists he grew up watching on TV.

"Mick Jagger just came up to me once and was like, 'Alright Tricky?'" he says. "And one time my cousin called me... Elton John was doing an interview and had been asked what kind of music he was into. He said me."

He was impressed by Beyonce and how grounded she seemed at Glastonbury for his ill-fated guest performance (he lost his nerve but blamed it on the mic cutting out).

One major snub that isn't recalled in the book was of the Queen. "She wanted me to do the music for the 2000 celebrations at the (Millennium) Dome," he says. "I went to Buckingham Palace and had a meeting with these people. I was like, 'Alright, how much?' They said, 'Well no, it's for the Queen'. They thought because it's such a huge thing I'd do it for free. I turned it down."

He'd turn down a knighthood too, he says. "She ain't my queen. My grandmother is my queen and my auntie, my cousin, my daughters... the Queen's never done anything for me. The royal family don't mean nothing."

He's got nothing against them, he clarifies. He just doesn't understand why people care.

While lack of a fee proved the deal-breaker in that instance, Tricky doesn't seem fussed about money. He writes in the memoir about how much he was spending with little more than a shrug.

"I've never cared," he says now. "Success has got nothing to do with being happy. I've been very rich and been unhappy, and I've been very poor and been happy."

He chartered private jets so he could catch a boxing match and he racked up a £20,000 hotel bill because he didn't want to get out of bed. "I sent (Mazy) to a very good school - the only good thing I ever did," he says.

He thinks private school is where children are taught a level of confidence that he never had. "I walk into a place like this and I'm intimidated," he says, gesturing at our plush surroundings. "School is about who you know, but I think it's a form of brainwashing. I learned to read and write and that was enough."

As for Brexit, he believes the "super-rich" are the ones who will decide its outcome: "It's going to happen or it ain't."

He's shocked that people find him funny, probably because they assume from his music, or his background, that he'll be moody and volatile.

His aunt made the best observation about him, he says, which is that he can travel to any city in the world and move there without thinking about it. A decade ago, it was Paris, before that New York. Now he lives in Berlin.

"I like being a stranger," he says. "I get bored easily."

He was in the supermarket the other day when he asked a woman how to cook a vegetable he didn't recognise, sparking a conversation with three other people who also didn't recognise him.

"It keeps things interesting," he smiles.

Hell Is Round the Corner is out now

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