Goldie: Mellow yes, but he's still in a rush

As a new career 'best-of' provokes retrospection, the newly chilled musician-artist-actor-whatever insists he still has his best work ahead of him. Nick Duerden meets Goldie

Goldie hides when he first catches sight of me walking into a central London greasy spoon at the appointed hour on a bright March afternoon. I wave, and he ducks down in his seat, bringing his coat up over his head. A second later, he re-emerges, grinning, his gold teeth glinting in the sun that streams in through the windows. He is up on his feet now, shaking my hand, and encouraging me to sit, to pull my chair in closer, to get comfortable.

"Good to meet you," I say, and he responds by quoting Winston Churchill, but he does this before I've got my tape machine out and recording, and I quickly forget the quote, and besides, he is saying now, he's not sure it was Churchill at all. "Maybe it was somebody else?"

Half an hour previously, Goldie was silent; not his natural state, you sense. He was in the building over the road doing Bikram yoga, a major passion in his life. "You face your demons doing Bikram," he says. "You challenge them, beat them."

Does he, I ask, have many demons? His response is quick, almost impatient. "Of course! But that's already publicly known, right? They're all wrapped up in abandonment and anger issues." I suggest that he has seemed happy, settled, comparatively at peace, for years now. "Yeah, but I'm like a clown. That's the analogy I use. Happy on the outside, crying underneath." He quickly qualifies this. "At least, that's how I used to be, until the universe was kind enough to put me together, seven years ago, with Mika, my wife, my best friend. So you're right, I've never been happier, really."

He looks dreamy, a smile spreading across his face like butter, but suddenly he frowns. The 47-year-old has a fantastic face for frowning, the thick worry lines on his forehead pushing down against his brow, a look of distaste creeping across his mouth. "Anyway," he says. "Why are you here? When you said you wanted to interview me – me! – I'll be honest with you, I couldn't work out why."

This is a strange thing for someone who has spent 20 years in the music industry to say; someone who has spent 20 years doing promotion. I remind him that he is about to release a "Best of...", The Alchemist: 1992-2012. What better reason?

He smiles, brow unknotting. "Okay, okay. Got you."

We order coffee.

There can be few British musicians who have had a more idiosyncratic career than his. "A crazy life," he calls it. At the dawn of the 1990s, Goldie, born Clifford Price to a Scottish mother and Jamaican father but raised mostly in a children's home in Walsall, was a graffiti artist and DJ, and was fast becoming a pioneer of the then emergent drum'n'bass scene. His 1994 hit single "Inner City Life" was one of its defining soundtracks. In an era of mannered popstars riding the wave of Britpop, Goldie was the carefree anomaly who went along for the ride. He dated Björk, Naomi Campbell, Stella Tennant. He enjoyed himself

"It was a blur, the Nineties," he says, nodding. "The technology had just arrived and we were making the most of it, hanging out the car door going 'wooo!' The Nineties were brilliant. The Noughties, though? I'm still scratching my head at them."

Having grown up poor, he revelled in the opportunities which fame brought, all the while never fully believing it. The money, he says, just kept coming in, and he kept spending it. "I must have gone through £2m in one year. Or maybe less, maybe a million. Either way, a lot." He recalls looking out of his bedroom window one bleary morning, and seeing all these cars.... "Bentleys, Ferraris, and I just thought: 'Who needs five cars in the driveway?' But I suppose they were affirmations for me, of how far I'd come."

But the "clown", to use his description, was in increasing disarray. His deep-rooted anger issues, a hangover from childhood, were spiralling, and hardly helped by his rapacious appetite for drugs. "Some people bought into the whole fame thing more than others, but I never did. I never felt I belonged; I wasn't confident. Any confidence I did summon up came from cocaine. It was a joy ride, and I knew it wasn't going to last; that it was all going to be fleeting. I was fine with that. Impermanence, man! Impermanence is the greatest gift anyone can have."

If he stopped having hit singles, it's largely because he never set out to have hit singles in the first place. His music was becoming increasingly challenging, and albums such as 1998's Saturnz Return were dense and wrought, and complicated in a way not normally associated with music that is essentially created to be enjoyed in clubs. He delved further into his artwork – less graffiti now and more Pop Art-ish portraiture – and enjoyed an unlikely segue into film and TV: he is possibly the only man to appear in both a James Bond film (The World Is Not Enough) and ITV's All-Star Mr and Mrs.

In 2008, he took part in BBC2's reality talent contest Maestro, learning to conduct a classical orchestra, and he took to it so instinctively that he went on to compose a piece of music, "Sine Tempore", for the Proms. He had come a long way. Then, in 2010, he fronted his own BBC2 documentary, Goldie's Band: By Royal Appointment, in which he mentored young musicians, and got them an audience with Prince Harry at the Palace. It made for terrific TV, moving and inspirational. People started calling Goldie a national treasure.

"National what?" His cheeks flush. "No, no. I never pondered those kind of things, not at all. When I look in the mirror, I'm still looking at a kid who hasn't learnt enough yet."

He does this a lot; deflects his achievements, preferring to focus on whatever comes next. He's like a shark, he never stops moving. This makes him a fascinating, if bewildering, conversationalist, his words flung like ribbons. It's as if he is constantly assailed by wild thoughts that drop from the sky into his head and come hurtling out of his mouth, unedited. He tells me that he sleeps for no more than four hours each night and is up before dawn most mornings, painting. He is working on a forthcoming exhibition, a new album, a film script. "I have to multi-task," he says, "because everything is happening to me at the same time, and I'm aware of it all."

He gives me an example of this. While staring at me full in the face, and gripping to my hands with his, he tells me that the man at the next table is eating fried rice, that a young woman has just entered the café and taken a seat by the window, and that the waitress, two mugs of coffee in hand, is behind him. I look around me. He's right. "People tell me I should turn the power off from time to time, but I'm still buzzing at the socket. Can't help it."

We talk about his family, his five children from five women. He says that he never really understood fatherhood before, and made many mistakes. "But I visit my son Jamie [Price, 24, currently serving a life sentence in prison for murder], and we probably have a better relationship now than we've ever had. Sad, but true." Then he shows me a photo of Coco, his 18-month-old daughter. "My greatest achievement."

He's beaming. "This is the first time in my life I've had a real family, and it feels right. I feel inspired because of it. My wife inspires me. She says I'm insatiable. I am. You know, I don't think I've done my best work yet. Grrr. It's frustrating, because it's difficult to get things done on the scale I want to do them. People don't take risks in this country anymore, do they? Not creatively. Everyone plays it safe. I hate that. I want to take risks."

'The Alchemist: The Best of Goldie 1992-2012' (Rhino) is out now

Curriculum vitae

1965 Born Clifford Joseph Price in Walsall. His mother was a pub singer from Scotland, his father was a Jamaican factory worker.

1968 Put up for adoption. Spends childhood in care and foster homes.

1985 After spending time as part of a breakdance crew and as a graffiti artist in the West Midlands, he gains recognition when his artwork is featured in a Channel 4 documentary.

1990 Moves to London from the US, where he sold "grills" (gold teeth). Develops a passion for drum'n'bass and jungle music.

1992 Makes musical debut as a lyricist on the track "Rufige" by Ajax Project. Goes on to release seven albums as a DJ and producer.

1999 Appears opposite Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough – one of many acting credits, including a stint as the gangster Angel Hudson on EastEnders.

2002 Takes part in Celebrity Big Brother, the first of several reality television appearances over the next decade, including Strictly Come Dancing and Come Dine With Me.

2007 Returns to the art world with an exhibition Love Over Gold at London's Leonard Street Gallery.

2010 Goldie's son, James Price, is sentenced to life in prison for murder.

2011 His wife, Mika, gives birth to their first and Goldie's fifth child, Coco.

2013 Releases a greatest hits collection.