Idris Elba recalls childhood “trauma” that triggered his greatest fear

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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What will the actor and DJ, 45, make of our existential questions?

What is the meaning of life?

I think it’s yet to be discovered. It’s such a misdirect when people say, “What’s the meaning of life?” If you knew the meaning of life, you’d have had to have died and come back to have told it. So it’s impossible to say, I think.

What is the difference between right and wrong?

It’s marginal, to be quite honest. And probably a bit subjective.

Where is your happy place?

Hanging with Win [his son], Sab [his fiancée], Issy [his daughter], Riaz [his godson], Mum, Hooyo [his grandma] and chilling. If we’re all together, having a laugh. And some chicken.

Nature or nurture?

Nurture. We’ve got these incredible brains that are absolutely configurable. Nature is a cycle and will do it the same every single time. Nurture you can completely reconfigure.

Is it more important to be liked or respected?

Respected. You don’t have to like someone to work for them, but you can’t work for someone you don’t respect.

If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

As someone who lived a completely full life. The guy went through it, he did it, he tried it. And was happy.

Who or what is your greatest love?

My children.

When did you last lie?

When did I last lie? [Pauses] That’s a good question and I’m trying to think but no, can’t remember.

Does the supernatural exist?

Yes. But there are variants of spirituality. Supernatural tends to go towards ghosts and ‘Oooo’. To me, it’s energy, the movement of energy, the presence of something.

Are you fatalistic?

I believe things happen for a reason but I also believe you can adjust your fate.

What is your greatest fear?

Being locked in a bathroom with a lot of rusty nails. When I was a young kid I got cut by a very rusty nail and it was traumatic. So I don’t like rusty nails.

Animals or babies?

Babies. I love animals too but with babies, you can get a lot more empathy, teaching and learning through their spiritual side.

Do you know what? 

Annoyingly, I’m of the belief system that everyone can do everything.

Do you like to be complimented?

Everyone likes to be complimented but I’m not good at receiving them. I get embarrassed and self-conscious.

Do you have a high pain threshold?

I do, yes. I put it to the test; I did a documentary about fighting [2017’s Idris Elba: Fighter] and I went to Japan where a man was banging my forearms with wood in order to splinter it. The idea was to figure out ways to manage your pain. He said to me at the end, “Wow, you’ve got a high tolerance.”

What book do you recommend most to others?

I recommend most books by Malcolm Gladwell, particularly Outliers. For me, Gladwell’s writing tends to take the overly wordy explanations of very simple, instinctual things we do every day like philosophy that we talk about in really big language and put it in digestible ways of understanding.

Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, as recommended by actor Idris Elba

Idris Elba is a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s simple take on the big issues.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?


What food sums up happiness?

Any food that makes you dance [laughs]. Chicken done any way. I’m sorry – I’m that guy.

What have you never understood?

I’ve never understood pure hate. Will never get that.

What is the one thing you want to know before you die?

Is there life after death?

Are you scared of dying or what happens when you die?

No. It’s like your birthday; it’s the best and the last day of your life.

Quinoa or Quavers?

Quavers. Cheesy.

Idris Elba is powering his summer with multivitamin energy drink Purdey’s

Images: Rex Features