“A normal life is boring, but super-stardom's close to post mortem...”
-Eminem, Lose Yourself
His name is Fluffy Oakes, and the word is that he is some kind of pimp. He does not oversee the solicitation of sex, though, oh no. He's just a pimp in the sense that, wherever he goes, all eyes are on him. He is an alpha male, a strong, calculated leader. The locals say he has a glow, a radiance, like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. Okay, maybe not like him. Fluffy's white and from Oldham. But he still has a bizarre, inexplicable star quality that draws everyone to him. I was equally drawn, and now I'm sitting sipping Aberlour ten-year-old scotch whisky with him in his Manchester penthouse apartment, trip-hop vibes pulsing, subtle, from the Bang and Olufsen speakers.
“I love animals,” he says, sank back in the couch. “I used to read animal encyclopedias when I was in primary school, and I was fascinated.” Fluffy seems totally relaxed, comfortable in his own body, yet this contrasts against his enthusiasm. He seems to have more fire in his heart than a Gaviscon advert. “I spent as much time as possible at zoos and safari parks,” says Fluffy. “I worked in a pet shop for most of my younger days, and now I'm a consultant at Oldham Zoo. I'm responsible for the welfare of the animals and act as a sort of translator between the animals and the management.”
Like a veterinary scientist?
“Sort of. There's more to it than that, though. I've got a knack for finding out not just what people are thinking, but what animals are thinking too.”
I really want to believe him, that he talks to animals. There's a child-like wonder inside me that Fluffy is propelling, enlarging. He says this all so naturally and off-the-cuff that I'm totally caught up in the moment. As outlandish as it sounds, I still feel like he's honest- and that it must be quite a beast of a job.
“Well, if a job isn't hard,” says Fluffy, “it's not a job.”
I still have Fluffy's business card that arrived for me at Power Towers last week.
Zoological Interspecies Consultant
“It's my real name,” he admits. “People say it's weird, but I think the world is a weird place. Criminals are rewarded, families are encouraged not to work by the benefits system, animals can express valid viewpoints with considerable eloquence, the price of milk has doubled inside a decade... You buy a pirate DVD off some wheeler-dealer in town, and before you know it, you're funding a terror camp somewhere on the Afghan border. And nobody's any different. We all contribute to the state of the world. I've done a lot of weird things in my time,” he says, swilling his whisky. “I'd say I'm not proud of them, but I think everybody secretly loves telling their sob stories. I've got mine,” he admits. He smiles, melancholy, and his eyes shine like the array of city lights behind him.
I want to pry- and surely the reason he agreed to this interview was for the exposition of these “sob stories”. But there's no need to throw him in at the deep end. Besides, there's something he suddenly wants to show me. We leave the leather couch and walk back into the empty space of the lounge. There's no coffee table because, he says, he doesn't drink coffee. A valid reason, if you ask me.
We take off our shoes and he slings his grey suit jacket back onto the couch. He leads me onto a padded mat in his spacious lounge, and I realise why most of his home isn't furnished. It's a training area.
He's sitting on the floor with his legs open. “You kneel here,” he says, and pats the mat in front of him.
Fluffy describes an imaginary scenario. “You've knocked me to the floor,” he says. “You've come down with me and you want to finish me off. But I've got other plans.”
Before I can think to memorise what's happening, he has my arm locked. I can feel something on the back of my knees and across my stomach, and when he moves I land hard on my back. He's sitting on my stomach, one hand on my chest, keeping my shoulder blades on the ground. He still has my arm tied up. He could smash me to pieces right now, if he wanted.
“You okay?” he asks.
I'm fine- but I could do with another Aberlour. While he gets up to pour, I go to peruse his bookshelf. It's lined with James Ellroy, Don DeLillo and Tom Clancy. It occurs to me- and I let him know that I know- that the man is ridiculously, obscenely intelligent.
“I'm not, mate,” he replies. “It's absurd how long it takes me to read those books. I wouldn't normally admit that. I understand them, but I soak it up slowly.”
This is Fluffy's first solid admittance of weakness. He's keen to turn this interview into some kind of trendy, urbanite therapy session, it seems. I'm not sure where the interview is going...
“Same with the training,” and he nods back to the matted area. “It's taken years to learn, but now I could kill you in about twenty different ways.”
Despite the suggestion, I'm completely unintimidated. He doesn't have to tell me that this is a rhetorical statement. It's in no way a threat.
In another room, there is a wall filled with shelving. Each shelf is lined with lever-arch files. He opens one for me, and shows me hundreds of hand-marked DVDs. “I try and get a film in once a week, but there's rarely the time,” he says. “I've only watched a fraction of these. There's something about films that makes them so much easier to follow than books. And films speak to me in a personal way. There's a scene in Eight Mile, for instance, where Eminem's character is in a rap battle- it's kinda like a giant verbal bust-up but in rhyme. But Em turns it around and completely slags himself off on mic. After this, his opponent doesn't have anything to come at him with. That's the film's ethic.”
We walk back into his pristine lounge. The view from this height stuns me again as I look through his floor-to-ceiling windows- the concrete blocks of commerce interspersed with shining, neon towers- new and old buildings living together. The over-lit Printworks car park glows neon green. A couple of floors in the CIS tower beam out in white shafts. The Hilton hotel, Beetham Tower, has two red lights at opposite corners of the framework discouraging planes from smashing into it's blade-like roof feature.
Fluffy crashes down on the couch without spilling his drink. “I think I need to adopt this ethic, and let people know that even I have my challenges.” He leans back, and his oversized ego knocks down a CD rack on the other side of the room. He doesn't flinch as the albums scatter over the floor.
I recognize Royksopp, The Doors and The Goodfellas Soundtrack.
“That's what I want from you, my friend,” says Fluffy. “Just let them know that it's all relative.”
I'll do my best, I promise him. All he has to do is dish out his stories.
“Oh,” he says, leaning forward again, animated. “I know a great one to start with.”
The tape recorder rolls. He closes his eyes, casting his mind back, finding the start.