Like most of you, I first heard of a Plan B back in around 2006.
It took another 3 years for me to sit up and take notice – thanks firstly to his turnaround album, “The Defamation of Strickland Banks“, and then thanks to his stand out (and quite terrifyingly real) performance as Noel, in Daniel Barber’s “Harry Brown“, which showed to the world this East End boy was certainly starting to do good.
I knew he was talented, but thought, quite frankly, he was another jumped up scrote, happy to make a name for himself and promote violence and the gangster lifestyle. I heard his music but didn’t listen to his words. He made no secret of coming from a tough background, and I (wrongly) judged him on that – thinking he was going to glamorise drugs and violence and promote that lifestyle to the people round his way. A poster boy for chavs, if you will. Be horrible and you can still make millions, I thought. Brilliant.
Fast forward to 2010, when a friend of mine got to work with Plan B. He told me what a nice fellow he was. I raised an eyebrow. And then at the Vivienne Westwood party at LFW 2011, I had the chance to meet Ben Drew for the first time myself. Not Plan B. Not the rapper, the facade…but Ben Drew. The intelligent man behind the performer, the man who spoke quietly, was polite, eradite, brilliant and quite frankly one of the most charming men I have come across in the industry. I giggled and I blushed.
I had a bloody crush on Plan B. Who’d have thought it?
And since then (I could say meeting me was the catalyst, but would quite clearly be lying…), Ben Drew has proved himself again, and again. He has spoken out for Broken Britain, trying to change opinion and help create a better future for some of the kids in this city who get given a rough deal. He aims to educate and inspire – giving options to those who have none. He has spoken out against labelling people as “chavs” and segregating those who have had a bad start – pushing for change and starting at the roots up. He gave a rousing talk at TEDxObserver earlier this year, reaching a new audience and calling for a different London – explaining a different point of view and getting some of the best feedback from the festival. (If you don’t have time to watch all of it, please, watch minutes 10:30-18:30. It’s seriously important stuff)
And in between all of this, he continues to make music and of course, write, direct and feature in what is set to be one of the most gritty and harrowing UK Films of the year – iLL Manors.
I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect from the debut movie of this London boy. We knew there would be drugs, and guns, and violence and crime and a side of life that many of us choose not to think about. But no-one knew what talent really lay in Ben Drew – until the World Premiere in Leicester Square last night.
British stars turned out in force to support the release, including the leading men Riz Ahmed, Keef Coggins and Ed Skrein, the beautiful Anouska Mond who portrays Michelle and the young cast who had never acted before, yet were given a chance by Ben Drew as he “saw he potential in them”. The audience also included Alexandra Burke, Alesha Dixon, Professor Green and Millie Mackintosh, Claudia Winkelman and Film Producer husband Kris Thykier, Wretch 32 and Ed Sheeran.
And the film took everyone by storm. Building, revealing and layering at a steady pace, there was laughter, cheers, shock, horror, sickness, disappointment and pride fed in at perfectly timed moments, leaving everyone on the edge of their seats and feeling both harrowed and inspired as the last scene closed and you just thought – YES. Brilliantly done. You only have to read the Twitter feed for #illmanors to see the reactions and the positive outpouring of respect for the first time Director who took the crowd on a journey with such obvious passion, and left them with a different understanding.
Feedback was pretty unanimous. It’s more intense than you could ever imagine and it’s an excellent first outing for a modern day renaissance man who doesn’t seem to understand the word “can’t”. It’s not going to be for everyone as this is no fairytale stuff and there is no respite from the realness – but it may just open your eyes and give you an insight into why people behave the way they do, and how simple choices can change environments.
The film is released on June 6th in Cinemas nationwide and I urge you to go see it. The soundtrack is made up of Plan B’s latest release of the same name, and is dirty, lyrically sound yet hard-hitting stuff – Ben Drew’s signature style and far-removed from the softer tunes of Strickland Banks.
You can pick up Odeon tickets for just £5 here if you want a bargain.
And in conclusion – if you ever get a chance to meet Ben Drew, do. Just don’t expect to walk away without having fallen a little bit in love. The man’s incredible.
(Premier photos taken from http://www.thisislondon.co.uk with thanks)