Reggie Yates Speaks On The Importance Of Showing Black Joy In British Cinema
"There are several moments in my career in the past where I've been told it doesn't get any bigger than this by others. And thankfully, I've not allowed people's projections to define those moments because it always has."
If you grew up in the UK, Reggie Yates has definitely been on your mind at one point or another. Either you knew him from hosting Top Of The Pops with Fearne Cotton, starting your day with him on BBC Radio 1, or even just watching him as the voice of Rastamouse. Reggie Yates has been a household name for many years and now he’s directed his first film –Pirates.
Pirates is a coming of age film set in London at the turn of the millennium. We watch boys being boys, and young boys of colour, at that. The highs and lows of young adult life that we can all relate to, without the grit and depression we’re usually shown in Black British films. It’s joyful, it’s relatable, and it has the best garage soundtrack you’ve ever heard.
We sat down with Reggie Yates to discuss his directorial debut and what the future holds for Black British cinema.
Reggie, I first saw you on The Crust way back in the noughties. You've had your own radio show, you’re a big name in the music industry, and you're a household name. Having that long of a career, what would you say has been your highlights so far, now that you’re pivoting into filmmaking?
It's weird, and this is a horrible answer, and it might make me sound like a dick but I promise I'm not one, and that is I don't feel like I've had it yet. Honestly, because I feel like everything is a process and everything happens as and when it should.
I was raised in quite a religious house, and the phrase "God's time is the best" is something that was continuously repeated. And I feel as though what I've always thought about and dreamed of has come to pass. And I've never pre-empted anything by saying, “this is the best it will ever get” and because I've not done that, it just feels like the best is yet to come. And moments like this for me will always be about being present and enjoying it for what it is, but also knowing that it doesn't stop here.
How does directing now compare to being on the radio, hosting music shows and TV?
It doesn't. It doesn't compare at all. This is just a different beast altogether because creatively you own this project; you own the process. You own the project from the kernel of the idea, to the execution, and to the press.
It’s something that starts in your head, and it's like a big screen that other people can enjoy in the most sort of creative and beautiful way. I've only ever been part of the process before when everything else that I've done, you know, whereas this [the film] wouldn't have happened if I hadn't had an idea. So it's really amazing to see it grow from something small to something that involves so many other people.
So on the idea, what was your inspiration behind three young aspiring musicians trying to make it to a millennium New Years party?
Lots of different things. I've always wanted to tell the story on this side of London. I just didn't quite know what iteration of it would be the thing that caught the attention of the people with the money to make it happen.
I've been writing for a long time and I've written a lot of things that exist in this sort of world. But this project has made a lot of sense to the people that wanted to put their hands in their pockets and pay for it.
I will always write things that speak to what I care about, and I really care about representation. I really care about this city, and it matters to me that we show the vision of the city that we have in this film because we don't get to see it very often.
Yeah, that's very true. I went to the preview screening at Picture House Cinemas, and I remember you saying that you didn’t do any street casting. What was the reason behind that?
There's definitely a time and a place for people that haven't been to drama school and don't have those processes built in them. But this film not only required chemistry, but it also required craft, and these boys have all trained – I wanted actors. In the entire process of shooting this film, there were one or two moments where they fluffed lines and they were so angry at themselves because of that. They’re just incredibly professional and we really put them through it.
We didn't have a lot of time, we didn't have a lot of money. So I knew that I had to work with people that could do it. And if we had to go again and if we didn't have time to go again, they would be good enough that they could walk away satisfied, knowing that they delivered a good performance.
There’s a lot of dialogue in this and I'm asking a lot of these boys and they delivered every time because they’re professionals. So the next thing I do there might be some street casting, but this relied so heavily on these three leads that I needed them to be on it and they delivered.
As you created all the characters, Two Tonne, Kidda and, Cappo, which of the characters would you say reflected you as a young lad?
Well as a writer, there's a bit of me and everything in all of them, even Princess, there's a bit of me in every character. But with the three boys, they are just an amalgamation of everybody I've ever known. So there's a bit of me, a bit of my friends, a bit of my school. Who would I have related to most? All three of them I think, because at some point during my formative years, I was very silly and obsessed with games and food and all those things that are very Kidda, and other points I was super serious and very interested in having a career and that’s Cappo, and other points that I cared about was what I wore and women and that's Two Tonne. So yeah, there’s definitely a bit of me in all of them.
Throughout the film, I think the biggest presence is the music – you of course have a big music background. How did you marry the two? Did you really want your background to influence the film?
Haha I wish it was as deep as that. It was literally while I was writing the script, I just had my favourite records playing certain songs that I've been listening to for over two decades.
Garage music is something that really took control of my life in my teens. So over 20 years ago, these records always sounded cinematic to me, always sounded big, like when you hear a “Little bit of luck” I always thought "wow, this feels like the most dramatic scene in the world ever." So when it came to writing the script, it was like: this song is going to live here.
It was amazing at the premiere seeing MC Neat there and just getting the chance to say "thank you so much for giving us your song". I was talking to Scott Garcia about “It's a London Thing” he was like “bro ,you played about three minutes of the song.” It's a seminal record, so of course we played that much of it! These songs have been a part of my life for more than half of my life.
Honestly, the soundtrack was art for me. Reggie, you have such an established career: what advice would you give to you Black Brits who are at the start of their careers?
I think if you live in the UK and you have something to say, you have to lean on that thing you have to say because it will be unique to you.
I think the only reason that I've pivoted so many times in my career and done so many different things is that I've actually listened to what it is I'm interested in, as opposed to being guided by what is the safest and most secure thing to do.
When I got super comfortable in radio and I decided to leave, I was told that I was crazy. When I got super comfortable in entertainment and I decided to leave, I was told I was crazy. When I got super comfortable in documentaries and I decided to do other things, I was told I was crazy. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I think I needed to go through all of those things to understand the best way that I can actually use my voice.
My advice to anybody who is reading this is just listen to what is the most authentic, the truest version of you. Never be guided by what other people think is the best way, be guided by what you care about.