Chris Martin: The reticent rocker

He may wear a hoodie from time to time and has a bit of previous when it comes to paparazzi, but for all his rock 'n' roll trappings he is as far from yob culture and celebrity sleaze as it's possible for a rock star to be. He has chart success, critical acclaim and Gwynnie. Now for that difficult third album...
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The Independent Online

He frequently stalks the streets in a "hoodie" pulled up to disguise his face, and has been in trouble for the occasional scuffle. Chris Martin would not, presumably, be welcome at the Bluewater shopping centre.

He frequently stalks the streets in a "hoodie" pulled up to disguise his face, and has been in trouble for the occasional scuffle. Chris Martin would not, presumably, be welcome at the Bluewater shopping centre.

The Coldplay singer is, of course, not some sort of social undesirable. He doesn't do drugs. His efforts to remain hidden stem from his almost painful aversion to the limelight. His occasional forays into fisticuffs are reserved for the paparazzi who invade his private world. For the frontman of one of the world's biggest bands, used to performing to tens of thousands in arenas, his reticent approach to fame is unconventional. But then, he's a clean-cut, middle-class boy. Liam Gallagher he ain't.

"I don't care about being big. I don't care about being famous," Martin said recently. "What matters is trying to write the best tunes in the world." Martin, 28, has made something of a rod for his own back in the fame stakes. As if being a hugely successful musician was not enough to make him a tabloid draw, he married Hollywood superstar Gwyneth Paltrow in a secret, no-frills ceremony in California, in December 2003. Their daughter Apple was born five months later.

His ability to write the world's finest music will shortly be tested when the group's third album X & Y is released on 6 June, a fortnight after the release of single "Speed of Sound", the band's first new material for nearly three years. There is a huge weight of expectation for the album whose predecessor A Rush of Blood to the Head sold ten million copies. So much so that when its release was delayed from the past financial year, the band's parent label EMI had to put out a profit warning because sales would be lower than expected. Share prices immediately dropped 16 per cent.

So far, the signs are good, with promising reviews for live airings of Coldplay's new material. "Speed of Sound", now receiving radio play, is a track in the vein of their huge hit Clocks, making it destined to become a soundbed for numerous TV sports highlight segments. It has already repeated a feat achieved by only the Beatles, going straight into the top ten of the US singles chart. Martin has admitted to nerves about a comeback. "We're due a backlash, aren't we?" he has said.

Others believe he should lighten up, have a bit more confidence and play the rock'n'roll star. "Chris Martin I love. Top band Coldplay. But he's coming back saying, 'I haven't met anyone that's liked us in two years'," said Noel Gallagher. "That's not the spirit. People want rock stars. People don't want someone to walk on to a stage and say, 'I'm the same as you.' They want someone to go on stage and say, 'You? You could never be like me, 'cos I'm from another planet.'"

Alan McGee, the record boss who discovered Gallagher, raged against what he saw as Martin and Coldplay's blandness by saying they made "music for bedwetters". However unfashionable he found their music - whiny and apologetic, according to many - they have paved the way for a wave of other bands who fit the same glum rock - or wimp rock, call it what you will - mould. Keane and Thirteen Reasons are among those who have used the piano-led rock format.

Certainly more people are buying into Coldplay than McGee's former charges, much as Gallagher likes to think his is the biggest and greatest band in the world. Where once Noel would be entertained at Downing Street, it is Martin that can command the attention of the Prime Minister. He is reported to have received a call from Mr Blair after lauding his efforts to alleviate poverty and Third World debt. It is one of the subjects closest to Martin's heart; he often scrawls the slogan Make Trade Fair on the back of his hand during gigs, a much-mocked trait. Readers of the music paper NME even believe that the singer himself would make a promising PM, if a pre-election poll is to be believed.

Martin , whose father was an accountant and mother a teacher, grew up near Exeter and attended Sherborne, a Dorset public school where he listened to U2 and entertained dreams of emulating their success. Tellingly he put up a poster of the Irish superstars while recording X & Y.

The seeds of Coldplay were sown at University College London where Martin read ancient world studies, hooking up with guitarist Jon Buckland, bass player Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion to further his musical ambitions. They couldn't have looked less like a chart-topping band. Lumpy or lanky, gawky and unfashionable. For the cover of the band's debut album Parachutes, released in 2000, Martin sported a monstrous mop of blond curls which shared some sort of kinship with the early hairdo sported by U2's Adam Clayton. By the time of the video for the group's breakthrough single "Yellow" he had ditched it for the more manageable crop he still favours.

After that single the band's star rose almost inexorably, even riding out the embarrassing faux pas of their frontman. The audience at the NME Awards in 2001 squirmed in their seats when he mocked singer Craig David for having hair like a cauliflower. In fact he rarely delivers an acceptance speech which is less than cringe-making, although it is generally given with the best of intentions.

With such stardom in his grasp, it was only a matter of time before he landed a glamorous girlfriend, but even he was taken aback at an Oscar-winning catch like Paltrow whom he met at a party. Probably a dream come true for a man who remained a virgin until he was 22. "This is all very weird because she's a big Hollywood star, and I'm just the bloke from Coldplay," he admitted in the early days of their romance. In a way it has been a perfect match - both are shy, earnest and clean-living, careful about their diet and bookish, although they are unpalatably wholesome for some. Both are keen to keep their relationship under wraps.

"I don't talk about my private life and I think that's fair enough," said Martin. Charity work is however a different matter. He has thrown himself wholeheartedly into work for Oxfam and Fair Trade, acting as an ambassador for their work in Africa. On a recent visit to Ghana he became aware of his mortality when his plane got into difficulties. He thought, "I'll be dying on a Fair Trade trip so at least people will always link me with that."

But he is by no means without a sense of humour. He demonstrated that with aplomb in a spoof video posted briefly on the band's website in which he and his bandmates, calling themselves the Nappies, performed a track for Paltrow concerning the forthcoming birth of Apple. His inspired payoff should convince even the most ardent critics of his lyrical prowess. "I know you'll be grumpy/That's what everyone says/You aren't going to hump me/ For 43 days." You wouldn't catch Noel Gallagher writing a line like that.