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Hollywood success or my baby? No contest..I'd give my life for him; TV COMIC RICHARD BLACKWOOD GETS SERIOUS ABOUT BEING A GOOD DAD.

Byline: CLARE GRANT

IF there is one image that screams successful but thoroughly modern man, this is it.

A pounds 64,000 Jaguar convertible - with babyseat - parked on the red carpet outside London's Langham Hilton hotel.

In a suite inside, giggling with his seven-month-old son on his knee, is the owner, TV star Richard Blackwood.

The slickly dressed comedian/ actor/singer has had a busy year.

After the success of The Richard Blackwood Show on Channel 4, Britain's self-styled answer to Will Smith has signed a deal to star in a Hollywood movie, and he's set to make a TV show in the States.

His new American agent has only one other client - Julia Roberts. Richard Blackwood is on the up again.

If it all goes to plan the 29-year-old MTV presenter who had a number three hit rap single will be a multi-millionaire inside 12 months. He dreams of being as famous as his childhood hero Eddie Murphy.

He has not one but two sitcoms waiting to hit our TV screens, Ed Stone Is Dead and Sleeping With Richard Blackwood, for Sky One.

The downside to all this is that next year, when Richard moves to Los Angeles, he will not see as much of his son, Keaun pictured here for the first time.

The child will stay in London with his mum, business and finance student Ferisha Flavien, 23.

The couple split before Keaun was born, but Richard still believes he can be a good father. "I think men who don't accept responsibilities as fathers are lower than scum.

"Keaun's mother and I went out for a couple of years, but we decided it wasn't going to work any more. We are still close. We share him between us. Even though I am not with his mother.

"Regardless of me and his mother, he knows he has a mum and a dad.

"At the end of the day whatever happens with your relationship, you and that woman laid there together and there are consequences."

"Next year when I'm in the States it will be hard. It is going to break my heart. But we want his schooling and grounding to be in England.

"You never see kids in LA. I don't think it's a good place for them to grow up. But if I end up having to choose between my baby or huge Hollywood success, there is no contest. I would give my life for my baby."

Fatherhood has rather crept up on Richard. He raced from filming The Richard Blackwood show to see Keaun born on January 15 at 10.45am, weighing 8lbs 2oz. "He is my son and I wasn't going to miss that.

"I didn't cry when he was born, I was eating a sandwich. I was starving. It was like, 'Congratulations . Now you can finish the show'. I think it's fair to say it wasn't my best-ever performance. My mind was elsewhere.

"My life before his birth was just for me. Now I am doing it for my family. It makes me want to work that bit harder. I always knew I would be about 30 before I made it huge."

Richard's self-belief is unwavering. Even his manager Beverley Randall says she almost didn't take him on because he was too hungry.

He says: "I would do stand-up in a barber's shop if I had an audience. When I was eight, I saw a Richard Pryor movie. The next day at school I repeated all his jokes and my friends laughed. From then on I wanted to be a comedian."

HIS upbringing in south London was loving but firm. His mother was just 17 and his dad 20 when Richard was born.

From the age of three to seven he lived with his grandparents in Streatham. Then he lived with his mother in Sweden for two years before returning to his grandparents' home.

"My parents were very young when I was born," he says, acceptingly.

"If I had grown up with them it would have been hard and I probably would have chosen a different road.

"I missed my mum but I saw a lot of her. She wasn't neglectful. Both my parents were always there for me. My dad would take me shopping and my mum would bring presents from Sweden.

"They left me at my grandparents because it was easier - that was my home and it was more stable. I liked living there. I was a happy kid, always as hard as a white man. They taught smiling. My grandparents taught me that no matter how hard life is, you can learn to smile.

"They told me always to work twice me that because I was black, people would look at my colour before my qualities."

His parents and grandparents wanted him to have a sensible job, so he finished a BA in business studies.

"I knew I couldn't pursue my career until I finished studying. I was frustrated. By the end it felt like a prison sentence. I knew I could be good as I could even make economics funny."

Like many comedians, Blackwood developed his talent for one-liners as an unfortunate looking schoolkid. "I was nerdy-looking with glasses, crooked teeth and a huge afro so I had to be funny," he says.

"I'd get on the 280 bus to go to school in Morden and it would be a regular occurrence for kids to throw someone's bag or trousers out of the window.

"I had to learn to defend myself or they'd cuss me until I cried. Someone would say: 'Why are you wearing those three-quarter trousers?' And I'd say: 'I got them from your mum.' I could turn the situation around with a line.

"I used to draw comics featuring myself as a superhero, only better looking with muscles and amoustache, and I'd charge my friends 50p to read it." But Richard's appearance transformed, and he was later taken on by a modelling agency. About the same time he landed his first stand-up spot in Covent Garden. He progressed quickly from fringe to mainstream.

Black British comedy on national TV had, until then, begun and ended with Lenny Henry. Here was something new, apolitical and funny. But he refused to be defined by race.

He explains: "I'm conscious of colour in the industry. What I'm trying to do with my success is let the bigwigs see that it doesn't matter. I'm Richard Blackwood, a young black man from Clapham, and I can make them laugh in Scotland and Wales. That is it."

Off-stage, Richard is not one for gags and one-liners. During the interview he rarely jokes and comes over, predominantly, as serious. A big contrast to his work, where his sense of humour has landed him show after show.

And the list of his achievements will grow and grow until even Richard, who owns an expensive Docklands flat, feels he has made it. In truth that will probably be never, but he says he has a benchmark for success.

His step-sister is supermodel Naomi Campbell. Richard was 10 and Naomi was 12 when his father married her mother Valerie. The couple were together for seven years but Richard has remained close to Naomi and her mum after the marriage ended.

SINCE his career began nine years ago, Richard wearily notes he has not given an interview without being asked about Naomi.

"I've told Naomi I feel like I'm being interviewed about her rather than me and we laugh about it. But I hope soon she will be doing a chat and the interviewee will say, 'Tell me about Richard'. Then I will feel I've arrived."

Richard can confirm that Naomi's temper is nothing new. As her little brother, he suffered from it many years before she hit the catwalk.

"She used to beat me up," he laughs. "I was a little cry baby so she would take full advantage of me."

"But if another kid tried to fight me, she would knock them out. People see her now, the elegant supermodel, but they don't realise she could go 10 rounds with them. She's a fighter.

"She's been around people as a kid who are probably in prison now, or on the wrong side of the rails. And as much as she moves in her circle, she will never forget her foundation."

There must be a huge temptation to start mentally spending the millions but Richard, who doesn't drink or smoke, is smart. "I'm having to contain my excitement. I'm proud of myself for getting this far, but anything can go wrong, I have learnt that in life."

He does admit he was looking at toy cars in Harrods recently and thinking soon he could treat his son.

"When I was a kid the closest I got was a Flintstones toy. I will spoil him because I don't think there is anything wrong in that as long as kids understand values.

"He will have a lot more than what I had but I was taught a lot about respect and I can teach him that. My upbringing and my son will keep me grounded.

"Yes, this has been a good year for me, the best so far, but next year is going to be even better."

mirrorfeatures @mgn.co.uk

-Richard is on a nationwide 18-date tour from September 17 to October 7, call 0906 558 1055.

CAPTION(S):

STAND-_UP: Richard's hit UK show; MY HERO: At a Will Smith party; PICTURE EXCLUSIVE; CLOSE: Richard and his seven-month-old son Keaun pic JOHN FERGUSON
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2001
Words:1596
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