will.i.am: 'After I became vegan it took me 10 days to drop my cholesterol, I lost 8lb and my blood pressure came down'
Black Eyed Peas rapping star will.i.am talks to Samuel Fishwick about his dramatic diet and health change, why tech will save us... and the reason he doesn't want to talk about Kanye West
Will.i.am doesn't want beef with anyone. In fact, he's no longer eating chicken, fish or pork.
The star of ITV's The Voice - a full-time producer, rapper and on-again, off-again Black Eyed Peas frontman - has gone vegan. As befits the zaniest man in pop, his logic for doing so is somewhat... cerebral.
"I thought about what I was eating - I was gnawing on flesh, dead animal. If you think about it, it's kind of sick," he says.
"Imagine you're hungry - almost starving. You have a bushel of broccoli and then a chicken walks by. Are you going to rush the chicken, no utensils, and just eat it? Defeather it - eat the skin and cartilage, no seasoning and salt? No, you're going to dive into that bushel of fricking broccoli. Turns out gorillas are buff as f***.
"They have big muscles, they just eat leaves. Rhinos are tough as gladiators and they aren't gnawing on people."
The pop star will need all the vegan powers he can get because he's a busy man. There's the small matter of a Black Eyed Peas reunion - albeit minus Fergie, who he confirmed left the band last year - in (what else?) augmented and virtual-reality form. They'll be appearing in a new Marvel graphic novel that "comes to life" when you wave your phone over it.
"We have an amazing cast, from Jason Isaacs to Rosario Dawson, Queen Latifah, Stan Lee, Jamie Foxx, Jayden Smith, to name a few. And it was scored by myself and Hans Zimmer," says the 43-year-old.
"It's the first of its kind. And a lot of the time when you do something first, people don't understand it straight away.
"Imagine if this was 1918 and a guy by the name of Charlie Chaplin says: 'Hey, I want you to check out this film. You'd be like, what the f*** is a film?"
Born William James Adams Jnr, will.i.am was raised in the Estrada Courts housing projects in the deprived east Los Angeles neighbourhood of Boyle Heights by his single mum Debra, with two brothers and a sister.
His father, maintenance worker William Adams Snr, left before he was born. "Have I ever met my dad? No. Is my mum my dad? Yep. Do I feel a void? No. I think I'm the luckiest person in the world to have the same person celebrated on Mother's and Father's Day. Parenthood means something more than biology."
He wanted to play American football as a kid, following in the footsteps of his uncle, who played for the Atlanta Falcons.
"I was really good. And then, after a concussion, every time I went on the field I played with panic. So I went with music. There's no concussion there, unless you fall off the stage," he says.
He formed what was to become the Black Eyed Peas in 1992 when he was 17, with apl.de.ap and another childhood friend, Taboo (Jaime Luis Gomez). In 2003 they recruited Fergie (Stacy Ferguson). Their first hit came soon after, with Where Is The Love?, co-written with Justin Timberlake, which spent six weeks at No 1 in the UK. The group racked up four UK top singles before a hiatus in 2011.
So for now, will.i.am is innovating elsewhere. In January he told the World Economic Forum that AI could help close the world's wealth gap and that those left behind by technology could use it not only to catch up but get ahead.
"The reason we fear AI is because of films," he says now, "films like The Terminator, where one company is responsible for a robot that brought harm to humanity."
He thinks we should be more worried about data privacy. "The phone knows more than governments," he says.
"That's the reason I say, do you fear the phone? You're on it every day. This interview is being recorded. You don't really own this capturing, the app company does. Do you fear that? Um, yes I do. There's other things to fear too. Do you fear not educating people?
"That's what we should fear. What's funded more - artificial intelligence or human intelligence? The funding for artificial intelligence is superior to that for human intelligence.
"You think governments support education in the way companies support artificial intelligence? No way. Are schools in Brixton comparable to a couple of skunk labs Google has to make their DeepMind computer powerful? No."
So how close should we be to machines? "Technology has always helped out people when there's a disability, whether eyes that need correction with glasses or hips with replacements. Do I believe in chipping in the brain? No," he says.
"I think there are limits to this. But we're already uploading all our thoughts and memories to some cloud you don't own, which is transhumanism."
Would he upload his own mind into the cloud? "No. If technology gave you the option of living for ever, is that an option you would take? Maybe living for ever is like staying in the 12th grade for ever. You never go to college and you never spiritually learn more."
In 2009 he founded the i.am.angel foundation, administering charitable activities to schools in disadvantaged inner-city areas. He's raised more than £400,000 for college students in Boyle Heights. In 2012 he also teamed up with the Prince's Trust to give £500,000 to schemes with a focus on technology for disadvantaged youngsters.
Now there's his collaboration with Specsavers - he has a new collection launching with the high street eyewear brand this month.
The tables here in a third-floor suite of the Corinthia Hotel are piled high with tortoiseshell, matte and wire glasses frames.
"My best friend apl.de.ap is legally blind. When we went to the doctor, when we were broke, there weren't many options for him to have something cool. He had those gas station glasses that broke when they hit the floor. I'm proud of this collaboration. Affordability often comes with no attention to detail. It's disposable. This collection is different."
Still, even clarity of sight and varifocal lenses can't foresee every road bump. There has been beef. Arriving late, he's just been at ITV's Millbank studios to promote the line on the sofa with Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan. Only he got sidetracked when Morgan asked his thoughts on Kanye West's interview with US radio host Charlamagne tha God, which had aired the night before, and in which West implied slavery had been a choice.
By the time he arrives, he's done talking about it. "It's on the internet. Why talk about something that's already out there? Just attach the link," he says.
"I came to GMB to talk about The Voice, to promote my line, then I got asked about Kanye (below). I don't want to talk about Kanye." But because the subject is important to him, he couldn't sweep it under the carpet live on TV. You can see the predicament.
"My grandma's mum was a slave as was yours, homeboi," he says in the story video the PR points me too. "And it wasn't their choice, bro. When you're owned, whipped and shackled and your family is split up and they're taking your kids away, that's not a choice, and neither are the conditions people live in Detroit right now. That's not a choice."
The rapper has had to contend with his own mortality after a recent health scare. "When you go to the doctor and he says, 'You have high cholesterol and blood pressure and I'm going to provide you with pills' you're like, 'Pills? I'm 43. Why do I need to be taking the pills that my uncle takes? He's 60-plus.'"
So he ignored medical advice, attended a wellness retreat and went vegan. "It took me 10 days to drop my cholesterol. I lost 8lb, my blood pressure came down. In 10 days my skin cleared up and my breathing was right."
He doesn't have a girlfriend - he says he's too busy - and has a laudably progressive definition of family. "I like legacy. It has that word 'leg' in it. And leg is associated with stand. I like to be known for what I stand for. And that's education and the kids I have, regardless of whether they're biological kids."