When Benjamin Clementine, this year’s winner of the Mercury prize for album of the year, took to the stage to collect his award on Friday night, BBC television viewers and those attending the ceremony at Broadcasting House were warned to be prepared for some rock’n’roll antics. Instead they got tears of sorrow.
The announcement about the London-born singer’s debut album, At least for Now, followed archive clips of the bad behaviour of previous winners, including Jarvis Cocker.
But Clementine, 25, spent five years living on the streets of Paris before winning a recording contract, so his joy was tempered with different emotions. The piano-playing singer/songwriter broke with convention by inviting his fellow nominees, including Florence + the Machine, Slaves and Eska, on stage. Then, his face marked with emotion, he dedicated his prize to those caught up in the Paris attacks and the audience paused in silent tribute.
Clementine moved to Paris in 2010 at 19, carrying nothing but a suitcase full of dried spaghetti. He busked and slept in doorways all winter, graduating six months later to hostels, before eventually being spotted playing on the Métro by two French producers. “I was living nowhere, I was living in the streets. I met a lot of people but couldn’t speak the language, so I had to just get on,” he said after the ceremony.
Clementine will use his £20,000 prize money to buy pianos for the people of Edmonton, where he was born. “I never thought I would say this,” he said in his acceptance speech. “If anyone is watching, any child or youngster or student. The world is your oyster. Go out there and get what you want to get.”