British Icon of the Week: Idris Elba, the Inspiring Actor with an Incredibly Varied Résumé
Idris Elba celebrates his 48th birthday Sunday (September 6), and we're sure he has some kind of socially distanced party planned. We're wishing the Luther star many happy returns by making him our British Icon of the Week, an honor he's earned several times over. We all know the super-hardworking Londoner is a fantastic actor, director, and writer, so here's a guide to some of his side hustles, extra-curricular activities, and advocacy work.
1. In 2016, he gave a speech to U.K. Parliament explaining the need for greater diversity on film and TV.
"The TV world helps shape the real world. It’s also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey," he told more than 100 MPs, before adding later in his speech: "I’m not here to talk about Black people; I’m here to talk about diversity. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin color – it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and – most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV and film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned."
2. He trained to become a pro kickboxer for the 2016 documentary series Idris Elba: Fighter.
His 12-month training program culminated in Elba making his professional kickboxing debut at the age of 44. Impressively, he beat Dutchman Lionel Graves – described by Fightful as a "seasoned kickboxer" – in a knockout performance at London's York Hall.
Oh, and actual Madonna was in the crowd to cheer him on.
3. He's a well respected DJ who's performed under the stage names DJ Big Driis and Big Driis the Londoner.
Elba has delivered DJ sets at a whole host of U.K. festivals in recent years, as well as playing Coachella in 2019 and opening for Madonna in London and Berlin back in 2015.
4. He cleverly referenced those never-ending Bond rumors in one of his DJ sets.
Elba has been mooted as a potential successor to Daniel Craig for years now, and has admitted that being asked about Bond isn't "something I get a kick out of." So, when he took to the decks at Elrow Town dance music festival in 2018, he made a playful reference to the latest wave of 007 conversations by dropping a remix of the instantly recognizable Bond theme music. Check out the witty moment right at the start of the video below.
5. He's also moonlighted as a recording artist – and scored some hits.
Elba features on "Dance Off" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Anderson .Paak, which became a number 7 hit in Australia in 2016, and "Boasty" by Wiley, Sean Paul, and Stefflon Don, which reached number 11 in the UK last year.
He also features on "New Breed," a 2019 single by African hip-hop star James BKS which you can check out below.
6. He's even made a guest appearance on a Taylor Swift song.
Check out Elba's spoken-word intro to Swift's track "London Boy" – gotta love the way he says "scooter."
7. In 2014, he used his public profile to spread awareness of the Ebola virus ravaging parts of Africa.
"I want to utilize my fame to give a message," Elba told ABC News at the time. "I’m going viral to fight the virus, so to speak." Elba – whose father hails from Sierra Leona, a nation hit badly by the disease – later attended a "Defeating Ebola" conference alongside the U.K.'s Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening.
When Elba visited Sierra Leone for the first time last year, he was duly awarded citizenship.
8. In 2018, he co-founded a swanky London cocktail bar.
The Parrot, a self-styled "tropical hideaway" at the Waldorf Hilton Hotel in Covent Garden, is currently closed due to coronavirus. But you can catch a glimpse of its fancy but fun decor on Instagram.
9. He's a Goodwill Ambassador for Prince Charles' charity The Prince's Trust.
This role is kind of a full circle moment for Elba, because back when he was starting out, the charity gave him a £1,500 grant so he could train as an actor with the National Youth Music Theatre. According to the charity's website, Elba now "works closely with The Trust, helping to raise awareness of the challenges faced by young people today and using his own personal experience to support young people [working to] fulfill their potential."
10. He's also a world record holder.
As part of his Discovery Channel documentary series Idris Elba: No Limits, Elba entered the world of motor sports and broke an 88-year-old land speed record for the "Flying Mile" at Pendine Sands beach, South Wales. Racing in his Bentley, Elba roared all the way to 180.3 mph, breaking Sir Malcolm Campbell's previous record of 174.8mph. Go, Idris!
What is your favorite Idris Elba moment?