Jamal is best known for pioneering SBTV, a world-first online music and culture platform. A Google Chrome advert alongside Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. Slots on The Times Young Power List and The Guardian’s Top 30 young people in digital media. Sir Richard Branson on speed-dial. And Prince Charles. The covers of Intelligent Life and Wired. A pioneer YouTuber, releasing a book and interactive game, Self Belief: The Vision, a Number One bestseller. Collaborations and projects with Burberry, Puma, BAFTA, YouTube, Cannes Lions, TedX, MTV, The Prince’s Trust and Topman. Jamal has had interviews at 10 Downing Street, as well as curating music for The Bill Clinton Foundation. Jamal has campaigned for activism around HIV, crime, entrepreneurialism, mental health and social engagement. The St Vincent Business Award was a significant achievement in Jamal’s ever diversifying career, along with his most proud accomplishment to date; becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2014.
Even before he’d reached his mid-twenties Jamal Edwards’ greatest hits were impressive. In February 2007, aged 16, he first uploaded a video to a then-new online channel called YouTube. Within a decade, SBTV had become arguably the UK’s best known and certainly the most influential music and lifestyle platform. An initially urban-focused video channel, it helped break artists ranging from Dave to Ed Sheeran and gave a powerful platform to talents like Kano and Skepta. In 2013 SBTV – a trailblazer for how fans consume music in the digital landscape – was publicly valued at £8 million. At time of writing SBTV’s cumulative music views are around the three-quarters-of-a-billion mark.
And for his next trick?
Now Jamal Edwards is doubling down on his previous campaigning and giving back even more. A proud west Londoner, Edwards has launched Jamal Edwards Delve (JED), a series of youth clubs in communities all over London.
“I was only going to do one, on the Friary Park Estate in Acton, but I ended up creating four,” he begins, his trademark passion causing the words and excitement to tumble out of him. “Two are drop-in centres, one is music and media, one is sports. I’ve engaged over 150 kids in the 14 weeks since starting, but I’ve been working on it for 18 months. I had to do all the checks, engage with the council, get permission, get funding. My main aim is to get kids into work or do an apprenticeship. Whether you want to be a lawyer or a musician or a footballer, I want to help connect the dots.”
It’s called Delve because Edwards wants to get stuck in and make things happen. He wants to repurpose old buildings on estates, youth and community centres that were closed in the era of Austerity Britain. Straight outta Acton, he now wants to work with boroughs in every corner of the compass – Hackney, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets have already been in touch – to create opportunities, lifelines, safe spaces, hope. He’s shouldering the ideas himself and tapping into his own experiences as a self-made teen tycoon.
“I got on a film course when I was 14, which gave me a bit of my inspiration to do what I’m doing now. But that place is closed now. So where can these kids go now? If the youth centres close, they’re on the streets. I want to create a safe place where they can come and learn, meet new people, learn skills. And I’m learning too: I’m not a youth worker, so I’m taking courses around youth services. I’m on a journey with these centres too.”
That journey also means hustling funding from some of the organisations and brands with whom he’s previously collaborated.
“Google helped build me, so I went to them, and I’ve done some mental health work with The Wellcome Trust. And part of their remit is to bring mental health researchers to come work with kids, so they’re on board, too.”
Edwards was only 20 when the Google Chrome advert came out – a campaign that made him a globally recognised face. He’s not gonna lie: he enjoyed his twenties, the projects and the perks that came with being an in-demand creative. “I was so in the music industry, at every event, all the time,” he recalls with a grin. “But I was also conscious that because so much of my life was online, I never switched off. That was messing with my head a bit.’’
Always being bound by social media, obsessing about likes clicks and shares and followers, defined my life for too long. Now I’m much healthier all round – and being fit, being physically healthy, helped with that.
So, he took his foot off the gas for the bit, not least to be with his mum, West End and Loose Women star Brenda Edwards, who was ill with breast cancer. But now she’s recovered, fighting fit and embracing a career that, like her son, is blooming in multiple directions. “I’m so happy she’s having her time,” he beams.
Now he realises that life is about more than rocking up to parties, “although I’ll still do a bit of that – I was at a few London Fashion Week events, with Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham, Burberry. But I’ve also been reconnecting with old school friends, friends from my area, and that’s been great for me.”
Meanwhile, he’s also been busy reorganising and rebooting the various (ad)ventures that operate under the umbrella of SBTV. “Before, it was chaos,” he cheerfully admits. “Now it’s organised chaos. We’re consolidating, putting everything I’m involved in under one roof. The year 2020 is going to be big for us. I’ve been doing all this youth work behind the scenes, because I wanted to get it up and running and solid before I started talking about it. But now I can start talking about other things, too.”
Some of those more recent projects: he worked with grime star Capo Lee to create a remix video for Chelsea FC. There’s an artist management wing in development, an ongoing friendship with Ed Sheeran (“I put together the Dave and Paulo Londra video for ‘Nothing On You’. That’s just a good working relationship Ed and I have had forever”). And he’s in discussions with the BBC and YouTube about a deep-dive archive project.
On the fashion side, he recently walked for Hermes with U2’s Adam Clayton and six other “trailblazers. It was the most awkward thing!” he laughs. “I’d never done that before – I walked behind Lennon Gallagher but did it too fast and accidentally stepped into him. But he gave me some good advice to make sure I didn’t do it next time!” he laughs. “It was good experience, and off the back of that Select asked if I wanted to do some campaigns. I’m in a Kurt Geiger campaign on the side of buses this month, and then I’m in every Primark next month.”
For Jamal Edwards, reluctant model, it’s both high end and high street. Which is as neat an encapsulation as any of the diverse appeals and aspirations of a man who’s currently also balancing new collaborations with, at one extreme, YouTube and, at the other, the Department of Education. “I’m going to be an ambassador for a campaign called Fire It Up, promoting apprenticeships across different employment categories.” Then there’s his work with Speakers for Schools, Robert Peston’s charity, for which Edwards recently went to a south London school and interviewed Naomi Campbell. And there’s his other ambassadorship, for Mercedes Benz X-Class. Yes, he got a nice motor. Yes, he can now drive (finally).
And then, and then?
“More TV, more films, rebooting the music activity. I still have access to talent that other people can’t get. I’ve still got my ears to the ground, and I’m confident I can still find the next big talents. “But the community side is the most important thing to me,” Jamal Edwards states, the passion firing up again. “I’m only sitting in the front row of a Victoria Beckham show so a senior Google exec can see me, see my profile, see that I’m out there doing things, and think: ‘We need to help this guy with his projects.’”
Delve, then, is the beginning of chapter two for Jamal Edwards. A kid from the community who now, as a self-made man, is giving back to that community. His greatest hits, and those of the young people his youth centres are already helping, are yet to come.