Tim Hughes meets 80s R’n’B sensation Billy Ocean, who believes he was born to be a musical star.

BILLY Ocean is the classic East End boy made good. Born Leslie Sebastian Charles in Trinidad, he grew up in Romford and took his name from Stepney’s tough Ocean Estate where he later lived.

He went on, of course, to become one of the most successful British black artists ever. Hits like Love Really Hurts Without You; Caribbean Queen; When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going; L.O.D. (Love On Delivery) and Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car made him a multi-platinum selling star, and self-confessed playboy.

But he has never lost site of his roots. And he remains disarmingly humble – and chatty, as I found out when I caught up with him in his office in London’s Hammersmith.

“I grew up in an East London council flat and worked my way out of it,” he says.

“Coming from the East End sets you up to face life and deal with it – to grab it by the scruff of the neck. Success never comes to those who sit around waiting for it to come.

“My parents moved from Trinidad to give a chance to me and my four sisters, and I grasped the opportunities.”

That meant working as a stock cutter for a Saville Row tailor, followed by a long stint at the Ford plant in Dagenham. “It was my job to fit the hose pipes for the windscreen wipers,” he laughs. “I must have done thousands of them.”

But he always knew his future lay in music. “I left school at the age of 16,” he recalls. “I was never that bright, and used to dream about music. Then it all came together.”

He started off singing in clubs, before releasing his first single under the name Les Charles.

“I was a session singer for lots of different people, including Cliff Richard,” he says. “I did a lot for nothing just to get into the studio.

“I really believe everything was already planned ahead.”

Swapping his name for Billy Ocean, he released the anthemic Love Really Hurts Without You – which went on to chart at number two.

So what did he have that made his brand of smooth soul-pop so ridiculously successful in the 80s? “It was about making something that sounded different,” he says.

“I hate monotony – and songs where you can recognise an artist, not by hearing them sing, but because of the style of song they sing. You have to keep it interesting.”

It goes without saying that his work has proved hugely influential to other artists. He has recorded with R. Kelly, who has been a long-time admirer of his work, and his songs have also been covered by LaToya Jackson, Randy Crawford, Boyzone and Marti Pellow.

The face of 80s R’n’B, he coyly admits to having embraced some of the trappings of success. “I used to like the girls,” he coughs. “But I am married, and I don’t want my wife to read that! However, I never did drugs.

“All my energy I put into music and try to lead a fairly respectable life. I am not perfect, but I don’t want to embarrass people – or my kids. Of course we all do things when we are younger, and all make mistakes, but the Lord allows you to get away with it. When you get older, though, you are going to get caught, and lose all sympathy.”

Aged 61, he lives with his wife of 27 years, Judy, and their three children, in Sunningdale, Berkshire.

But despite the trappings of wealth, he remains deeply spiritual – a practising Christian who is humbled by his good fortune.

“I’m not skint,” he says. “I’m not a multi-millionaire, but I know where my next penny is coming from. And I am happy.”

He still performs, touring regularly, and making festival appearances - such as this weekend’s fixture alongside scores of 80s stars at the Rewind Festival, near Henley.

“I haven’t stopped,” he says. “And I don’t want to stop.

“The only thing we know will happen is death; we don’t know anything else. So much can go wrong in a split second.

“I appreciate what I am doing. The ego of youth has gone. Now I just want to make people happy. The Bible says when you light a candle you do so for the light to shine. You don’t cover it up.

“It tells us not to hide our talents, but to do what we can for the benefit of other people – and I get great joy and happiness by doing that.

“I never think success is down to music alone. It’s a result of all the support people have given you and the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when you get older you also realise your destiny was planned before you were born.”

* Billy Ocean plays Rewind Festival, Henley, on Saturday. A celebration of the 1980s, Rewind features sets from stars ranging from Holly Johnson and Bananarama to the Village People, Human League and Kim Wilde. Go to rewindfestival.com for details.