Professor Green is the height of cool.
A chart-topping rapper with a string of hits to his name, including number one single Read All About It, he also has a host of celebrity pals, from Tinie Tempah to Lily Allen and Emile Sande, not to mention a glamorous wife, former Made In Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh.
Throw in a country house, a wardrobe full of smart suits and an armful of Rolex watches, and it seems his neck tattoo spelling out the word ‘lucky’ is pretty apt.
In private though, Stephen Manderson – to use his real name – is battling to finally control his personal demons, and stop them marring his happiness and marriage.
“I’m having therapy because everything’s so good in my life now, and I want to keep it that way,” admits the 31-year-old. “Millie and I are so good together, and I want to be sorted in my head before we have children.
“It’s time to resolve the issues and difficult relationships from my past, which years ago I tried to shut out by using drink or drugs”.
Manderson has laid bare his adventurous, challenging and sometimes dangerous personal life in his newly-published autobiography, Lucky.
He describes, with brutal honesty, a tough childhood, raised by his grandmother on Hackney’s notorious ‘Murder Mile’ in East London. He dropped out of school at 14 because of crippling anxiety, and funded himself by being a drug dealer. He’s also cheated death more than once.
The aim was to “reveal the real Stephen”.
“There are so many misconceptions about me, perhaps because people see a tattooed rapper and make snap judgements,” says the singer-songwriter. “When people actually meet me, they say, ‘Oh, you’re really nice’.
“I don’t know what they expect ... I’ve never stolen anything in my life or been malicious, and although I’ve dealt with some tough characters, I have never believed in violence. The only time I’ve really been involved in it, was when I was the victim.
“A man in a club stabbed me for no reason,” he explains. “The knife went through my ‘lucky’ tattoo, just missing a vital artery, and I was a hair’s breadth from dying. I even rang my nan from hospital to say goodbye. I’m still nervous in clubs and crowds today...”
Manderson, who is polite and well-spoken company, still has the V-shaped scar on his neck from a near-fatal attack six years ago - a reminder of how far he’s come.
“So I’ve had a wild ride, at times been outside the law and sometimes made bad choices,” he continues, “but really I was just a good boy trying to be a bad man. It was the only way I knew to survive, and I’ve no regrets about anything I’ve done because it’s led me to where I am today – and that’s pretty amazing.”
He’s equally determined to set the record straight about rumours that his marriage to 26-year-old Millie may have hit the rocks.
“It’s all nonsense, just like the rubbish written about us being so different – all that ‘she’s posh and I’m not’. She was a shop assistant before she got into Made In Chelsea and has made her way in the world through hard graft. We’re so alike because we share the same old-fashioned values – working hard and caring for other people.
“Class isn’t about what you’ve got in the bank, it’s about how you treat people.”
The couple have just celebrated their second wedding anniversary.
“She’s gorgeous, but she has something more than looks; there’s a kindness in her face and she’s a lovely person inside,” Manderson says of his wife. “Our wedding was brilliant, because my social circle is so varied. It was a crazy mix of people, from drug dealers to city bankers, as well as Millie’s family and friends – but everyone got on.”
Protecting their “settled, loving and lasting relationship” is all the more important to the rapper, because of the loss he’s suffered in his life.
His father, Peter, committed suicide in 2008, and prior to that, he and his son had been estranged for six years – their last conversation, when Manderson was 18, had ended in a row.
“My dad just coming in and out of my life broke my heart as a kid, because I missed him so much, and as a teenager that made me very angry. There was no chance to resolve our differences, and not having a father is a void in my life which always hurts – him not being at my wedding, never hearing my music, and when I have a baby it will never know its grandad,” he explains, the hurt still evident as he comes close to tears.
He recently filmed a BBC3 documentary on suicide, focusing on his father’s tragic history, and Manderson is campaigning to raise awareness of male suicide, the single biggest killer of men aged 20-45 in the UK.
“It churned up so many emotions,” he says. “But now I do understand his struggle with his demons and depression, and how he came to make that terrible choice of ending his life.
“He’d suffered so much loss – an elder brother died of diabetes when he was a teenager, his sister died of leukaemia, while another brother hanged himself only two years before my father died. His 20-year-old niece had also died,” adds the star, whose track, Lullaby, is about depression and the pressure on men to conceal it.
“Without expert help or support, he just put on a happy face to hide the mental torture he must have gone through.”
Although Manderson relates to his father’s anguish – and admits that he struggles with his own anxiety – he insists he’s never felt suicidal. “I’ve felt uncomfortable in my own skin, and during my periods of darkness, wanted everything to stop, but that’s very different from wanting to be dead,” he says. “Expressing my emotions through my lyrics helps me a lot.”
His last depressive bout in 2013 followed another brush with death – a car accident just before his wedding, which left him unable to work. Following that he was mugged, and ended up with a drink driving conviction.
“Those tough times strengthened me and Millie. We’re a great balance, because she’s optimistic and trusting, while I can be all doom and gloom,” he says with a smile.
“She’s so supportive if I’m depressed, but it would be unfair to expect her to help sort out my problems. By talking to an expert who understands the science behind mental problems, I hope to learn coping mechanisms, and in the future hopefully avoid going down that dark path.
“People assume because you’re a celebrity your life is perfect,” Manderson adds. “Well, fame and success are great, but they aren’t a magic solution to problems.
“Until now, because of all the uncertainty in my life, I’ve had trouble believing in myself... I’m in such a good place with work and Millie, that I’m not afraid to be happy any more, and can look to the future.”
l Professor Green Lucky by Stephen Manderson is published by Blink Publishing, priced £20. Available now