Tim Westwood: bishop’s son who became a hip-hop heavyweight | Tim Westwood

Tim Westwood is one of the best-known names in British music, a veteran of the hip-hop scene whose opinions have been able to make or break upcoming artists for more than 30 years.

Known, and often mocked, for his self-styled Big Dawg persona, the DJ has been a larger-than-life figure in hip-hop: his instantly recognizable drawl peppered with slang and clothing style little changed since the 1980s.

The private school-educated son of the late Rt Rev Bill Westwood, a former Anglican bishop of Peterborough, he became a leading voice in black music, gaining notoriety after being injured in a drive-by shooting in 1999.

For 20 years he was the voice of hip-hop on BBC Radio 1, and currently has a show on Capital Xtra as well as performing regular club nights across the UK and overseas.

His career in music started 40 years ago, at the London nightclub Gossips, where he started as a glass collector but hustled to have his own set, promising to bring crowds to the club if allowed a warm-up at its reggae and jazz-funk nights.

But hip-hop has always been Westwood’s obsession, and he soon had his own show on the London pirate station LWR. He was a co-owner of the pirate station Kiss FM, where he moved in 1985, before starting his own production and events company. In 1987, he joined Capital FM, before being lured to BBC Radio 1 in 1994 with the promise of leading its new rap show and bringing huge US stars to a UK audience.

Westwood playing on LWR pirate radio station in a block of flats in east London, 1982.
Westwood playing on LWR pirate radio station in a block of flats in east London, 1982. Photograph: David Corio/Redferns

Five years into his stint at Radio 1, Westwood, then 41, was the victim of a drive-by shooting in south London, after he performed at an event in Brockwell Park, later saying the incident was linked to gang members attempting to extort money and stop him from DJing in the area. One bullet went through his seat, another through his arm.

Throughout the 90s he became the face of the BBC’s rap and hip-hop production on Radio 1, before joining the digital station 1Xtra to front a new hip-hop show in 2007. At the time he was hailed by then head of programmes, Lorna Clarke, as one of the UK’s leaders in “bringing black music to a mainstream audience”.

Westwood hosted the reality show Pimp My Ride UK on MTV UK between 2005 and 2007, and in 2009 he launched his YouTube channel, Tim Westwood TV.

He started presenting the weekday BBC Radio 1Xtra drivetime show the same year, but by 2012 his star at the BBC was on the wane and he was taken off the slot as part of a reshuffle. A year later, the then 55-year-old left the station after two decades as it rejigged its Saturday night schedule.

Westwood, who is unmarried, has said in interviews that music is his world and he did not have “anything else in my life”.

“Everything’s been a choice. The career has been a choice,” he told the Guardian in 2017. “My focus and my discipline is this. So what you see is really what you get.”

He insisted he had no plans to retire, saying his dedication to music had kept him relevant.

“Legends live for ever,” he said. “And we’re one of the last real ones.”

alexandra.topping@theguardian.com

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