You’re getting a lot of love from the British Urban Film Festival. What does ‘urban’ mean to you?
In the beginning, the ‘urban’ label was a bit of a minefield. I was in So Solid around the time it originated and I think it was born from a lot of negative images. These days I have eight children of all ages and they don’t look at colour any more, they don’t look at gender. I think ‘urban’ today just represents a culture and a movement rather than an ethnicity.
Does having eight children by the age of 35 keep you young?
It makes me feel old most of the time! I call myself an ‘Every Dad’. I have a stepson and five kids who don’t live with me from two different partners, and two kids with my wife now who are just eight months and two years. So I’m always in practice. I have all different kinds of relationships with my children and it is just important for me and for them that I stay as engaged as I can. It is difficult juggling it with work and everything else going on in your life, so it does take its toll every now and then.
Would you ever write a celebrity parenting guide?
No, I wouldn’t do a parenting guide because I don’t think any parent is perfect. I am sometimes far from perfect as a dad. I had my first when I was 17 and it was a struggle. My oldest son is now nearly 18 and he would probably tell you that I spent a lot of time away from him working for months on end and it broke my heart and it broke his heart, so there are a lot of things I could have done better.
You’re looking great. Do you have a dietary regime?
I don’t. I’m terrible! I probably drink a bit too much alcohol, I smoke every now and then, and I eat a lot of greasy food — I just love chicken wings. That said, quite a lot of So Solid are now vegan or vegetarian. What people have to understand is that we are quite old now — we’re in our late thirties or early forties — so a lot of our focus has gone into taking care of ourselves and adding some extra years on to our lives.
Are you still part of So Solid?
Oh yeah, most definitely. There have been periods, mainly when I came out of prison, where I distanced myself from the crew. I felt the effects of the music lifestyle and what comes with it on my family and I just felt I needed something a bit more stable and secure. But after a few years I realised it wasn’t just about the music, a lot of those guys were my brothers and role models and all sorts of things to me so we got back together emotionally.
What’s the most important thing you learned from your prison experience?
First, I learned how easy it is to lose so-called ‘success’. I went into prison with a lot and came out with pretty much nothing. I was quite caught up in what I had and what I could achieve. Prison made me realise that who I actually am is Ashley Walters, a son, a father, a brother and whatever else. It just brought me back to basics. It was eye-opening. Here I was blaming my dad for not being there for me and I was going down the same road. Right now, I am happy to be free. I have come close to going back a few times but I find that the people around me are helping me stay on the straight and narrow.
Will there be another series of Top Boy?
Drake approached me a while back to make another series because he’s a big fan of the show. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do. Watch this space. Top Boy had a big impact — it came along at the right time, especially in London, where they needed that level of authenticity and that level of understanding of what was going on in that community.
Were you ever tempted to move to the US for work?
There is a trend for black British actors to go to the States. I’ve always been kind of scared of it, to be fair. But I’ve also always thought that if we all went, what would happen here? I watched All Eyez On Me, the Tupac documentary, the other day, which highlights the generation gap between the Black Panther Movement and when hip hop started. Tupac was one of the few who bridged the gap, bringing politics into hip hop. We risk creating that gap here when it comes to teaching the next generation about black people on TV and films if we all migrate. Saying that, if Marvel called me tomorrow I’d probably get on a plane!
Ashley Walters is honoured at the 2017 British Urban Film Festival, September 6-12, britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk