Tim Hughes talks to drum & bass legend and unlikely classical music enthusiast, Goldie – who plays Henley Festival with the Heritage Orchestra

He may have had a glittering career – encompassing everything from musical pioneer to street art master and Bond villain – but Goldie is as down to earth as ever.

The Black Country drum & bass star who started out MC’ing in rave clubs and and rose to musical royalty with an MBE to his name, bubbles with excitement, effusive in his enthusiasm for his latest projects – a new album and a tour.

The latter sums up the transformation of Goldie. It sees him at the head of a classical orchestra playing a rendition of his classic drum & bass album Timeless, performing at the poshest festival in the land: Henley Festival, where anyone not in black tie and evening wear is politely turned around.

“I’ll be the only one in tracky bottoms!” he laughs

The contrast to his origins in Walsall could not be more stark.

Born Clifford Price in Walsall, he never knew his Jamaican father, while his Scottish mother put him into care at the age of three. He spent his childhood with foster carers and in children’s homes – eventually running away to join his mother on her high rise estate.

It was there he got into graffiti and the burgeoning jungle and breakbeat scene. He was a natural, producing and performing, and setting up his own drum & bass label Metalheadz. Albums include 1995’s seminal Timeless – featuring the dreamy Inner City Life – which entered the UK charts at number seven.

It assured his place as a celeb, and saw him dating Naomi Campbell and Björk and marrying the model Sonjia Ashby, and landing parts in 007 film The World is Not Enough, Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and Eastenders.

His status as household name was cemented with appearances on Celebrity Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing, Come Dine with Me and Maestro – his first foray into classical music. The show saw the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir conducted by Charles Hazlewood, performing Goldie’s piece Sine Tempore at the Royal Albert Hall for the 2009 Proms season.

Saturday’s Henley date follows a storming set with the Heritage Orchestra at last year’s Wilderness festival, near Charlbury.

“People said I was mad when I said I wanted to do Timeless with an orchestra,” he says. “And that was 27 years ago! I was screaming through the houses about classical music, and now everyone’s doing it.”

He cites Pete Tongue’s Ibiza Classics show, also with the Heritage Orchestra, which headlined the last night of Oxford’s Common People Festival in May, and the Hacienda Classical show, which comes to the Big Feastival, in Kingham, in August.

“I was doing it before everyone else,” he laughs. “And they don’t think I’m mad anymore.”

Goldie is talking from his home in rural Hertfordshire though admits to being jet-lagged after flying back from his other home in Thailand. “I’m still trying to adjust to the time zone,” he says. “I’m upside down.

“I moved there three years ago and gave all my stuff away and that was it. It was the beginning of a new life.”

Goldie – who takes his moniker not from his golden teeth but form his former B-boy nickname Goldielocks – has never stopped releasing music, but is proudest of his latest project The Journey Man.

“I was told to reinvent myself and I have managed to do it in several different ways without knowing it,” he says.

“It’s been amazing. My new album is the greatest project I’ve done. It’s a knockout album and it’s about celebrating the underdog.

“I’ve always been the underdog. I was never number one. I was always number two.”

It seems a strange thing for a man with a CV like Goldie’s to say.

For Henley though, it is all about Timeless and the orchestra.

“People do love that album,” he says. “People say ‘my mum and dad brought me up on this album and they love it’.

“We love playing these festivals. We smash the place to bits and the crowd love it.”

So does the artist – who has an MBE for services to music and young people and a pair of honorary doctorates – dream of taking the baton himself?

“No way!” he laughs. “I don’t want to sit on a podium. I’ve got to move. But do I want to conduct the drummers? Yes please! And that’s really important for my project. It’s what I’m about.”

He goes on: “People say things like ‘Isn’t it weird he’s not conducting, but is moving among the orchestra. Did Rachmaninoff do that?’ But it works.

“A lot of other music doesn’t lend itself to classical interpretation, but this music is built on classical forms. And we want to have fun. It’s a dirty job!”

He looks back on his diverse career with some bemusement but also pride at his successes.

“I’ve been on a very slow marble wheel, rolling along and people can’t stop it. You’ve got to cut your teeth and I appreciate that – but you’ve got to have a bit of respect and be mindful of what this is about.

“The artist in me never wants to feel I’ve arrived. It’s all about getting there. It’s not about getting to a place and thinking ‘I’m here!’ It’s what got you there that counts, and that’s the biggest tick. And I have got that with Henley and the Royal Albert Hall.

“People say I’ve got four titles after my name but can’t spell,” he laughs. “But my mum was very proud of my MBE and going to Buckingham Palace. But whatever, I’m cool with that. I’ve learned to be humble but I do get stopped in the street more than ever now, which is quite overwhelming.

“I’m a kid from the Midlands living the dream.

“I don’t really do ‘rock & roll’ any more. I did my rock & roll 20 years ago. My idea of rock & roll now is doing yoga. I’ve been doing it five days a week for seven years, That’s the way I am.

He goes on: “But it’s all about the new album right now. It’s inspired by 35 years of music, and I couldn’t have made this album before. And it’s all about the slow boil for me.”

* Goldie and the Heritage Orchestra play Henley Festival on Saturday.

The festival runs from now until Sunday.