Inside the house of Usher

By Charlotte Cripps

Backstage in a corridor at London's 02 Arena, Usher greets me and quickly whisks off his shades. He looks fresh faced at 32 and is wearing a black leather jacket and fingerless gloves. I assume this is his stage gear but he looks at me as if I am mad.

The American R&B star, who picked up two Grammy awards last month, is giving me a guided tour behind the scenes before performing as part of his worldwide OMG tour. We stroll past containers full of outfits - even one full of toys for his two young sons - before we arrive at the stage, where we look at about 15,000 empty blue seats that will be filled later.

"I don't mean to sound arrogant," says Usher, "but no, I don't get nervous before a show. As a kid of 8, I remember having visions of playing to a sea of people."

Continuing to the canteen, he gobbles up a chocolate profiterole. We pop into his massage room, which has an inflatable ice bath and a hot tub. He recently "dislocated a shoulder", he says, during the United States tour, so he takes good care of his body.

In his wardrobe room, seamstresses are busy sewing. Then on to his dressing room, filled with his own furniture. He sits down on a cream sofa. "It makes me feel at home," he says. "That's why when I first met you I said, 'Welcome to mia casa'."

On the table is a gold skull piggy bank, which belongs to his 3-year-old son, Usher V.

Usher has sold more than 45 million albums worldwide. He signed his teen protege, the now world-famous Justin Bieber, to his own record label in 2009 and his own smash hit OMG, with, went straight to No1 last year.

He attributes his ability to keep his finger on the pulse to "rev pop", a genre he has invented. "Rev pop is revolutionary pop," he says. "It is finding a combination between international sound and soulful singing and emotion. It has a universal appeal."

Born Usher Terry Raymond IV in Dallas in 1978, Usher's success has been largely spearheaded by his mother/former manager, Jonetta Patton. His dad, Usher Raymond III, left the family home when Usher was 1. They reconciled later in life but his father died in 2008 while undergoing surgery for a liver problem. When his father left, the family relocated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Usher sang in a church choir. His destiny as a singing sensation was nurtured early on. His mother took Usher to Atlanta where, at 13, he appeared on a TV talent show called Star Search.

He didn't win the competition but he was introduced to record executive "LA" Reid, who signed Usher to his LaFace label.

In 1994, LaFace released Usher's self-titled debut album with several of the tracks produced by P Diddy.

He fired his mum as manager in 2007, then rehired her a few times before they finally parted professional company in March 2009. "Family is important to me. I could have 50 managers but I can only have one mother. That is why we severed business ties."

His new manager is promoter and chief executive of AEG Live Randy Phillips.

Despite his obvious talent as an entertainer, Usher is a businessman. His bestselling fragrance ranges, Usher He and Usher She, are sold in Macy's and Boots stores.

His entertainment company, Raymond Braun Media Group, signed an overnight winner with Justin Bieber and he co-owns a top basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Usher once said that he "was born to be a sex symbol". He dated TLC's Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas in 2001 for two years, before a brief fling with Naomi Campbell.

In 2007, he married his stylist, Tameka Foster, the mother of his children. A mother of three, she was nine years his senior. The marriage wasn't popular with his teenage fans.

But in 2009, during a cosmetic surgery procedure, Foster suffered a heart attack and was put into a medically induced coma. That year Usher filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.

This month, reported that a sex tape, which the gossip website said featured Usher and Foster, was being shopped around various media outlets in Hollywood. "The video and photos are clear - it's Usher and Tameka," TMZ reported.

Foster issued a statement saying she would not "sanction" such a sex tape being issued. "I am a mother and entrepreneur. Sex tapes or pornography would not be my lane," she said. But on Twitter she wrote: "I have copulated w/my husband! ... Why is this news again??"

A few hours after we meet, Usher is showing everyone how it's done. He appears on stage like Top Gear's Stig, lifting off his motorbike helmet to reveal himself. He pays tribute to his idol, Michael Jackson, by playing the intro to Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough and he puts on a pair of glittery trainers, asking, "Ladies and gentlemen, do I have your permission to fill these shoes?"

When the microphone drops from the rafters, and he catches it, I remember what he said to me: "I only had hopes that what I saw in my dreams would become a reality. It just shows the power of words and of positive thinking."

Usher plays the Vector Arena on Tuesday, April 5.


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