Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Will.i.am is one of the most popular celebrities around. With his eccentric personality and out-there fashion sense, he’s on our screens all the time. His band, Black Eyes Peas, has sold over 56 million albums and won 7 Grammy awards, and he’s a multi-millionaire. You might think he’s got it all – and maybe he has. But he came from a very poor background and has worked really hard to achieve his success.
Rags to riches
It seems like Will.i.am is hugely successful in everything he does – but has he always had it so easy? Well, no. William Adams, as he used to be known, never knew his father and was brought up by his mum on a rough housing estate in downtown Los Angeles. One day Will’s school asked the kids to donate tinned foods for poor families. It was only the next day, when his mum was given some of the tins that he realised just how poor they were!
He also has ADHD and used music to help him conquer the craziness in his head. “Music is my therapy and my straitjacket,” he says. “Music keeps me sane and keeps my mind on something. It’s fragile up there.”
Not following the crowd
While many kids on the estate got involved in gangs and crime, Will’s mum encouraged him to be unique. She sent him to school in the wealthy Pacific Palisades areas of West LA because she wanted him to have the best chance in life. It was at this school that Will started his first band, Atlan Klann, which later went on to become the mega successful Black Eyed Peas!
“I remember when I was 11, I told my mom, ‘One day I’m going to buy you a house.’ And she said, ‘Boy, don’t you be making promises you can’t keep.’ I was like: ‘No, Ma, it’s not a promise. I’m going to buy you a house one day.”
Fingers in many pies
Despite the huge success Will.i.am has had as a singer, songwriter and producer, he’s always been keen to explore other industries. He’s an actor, with roles in Madagascar 2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He’s a mentor, famous for his unique coaching style on The Voice. He’s a fashion designer with his own label and he’s even collaborated with Coca Cola to create a range of clothes made from recycled plastic bottles! But the thing that really fires him up is science and technology.
Will.i.am is a shareholder in the company that brought us the awesome Beats by Dre headphones, he’s worked with Intel on their designs for tablets and smartphones, and he’s even invented his own wearable technology!
“I will not start an initiative until I’ve spent my own money. Because if I spend my own money, people who want to get on board afterwards know that I am serious about it.”
Living out of a suitcase
It’s estimated that Will.i.am is now worth a cool $75 million. He lives in hotels and doesn’t even own a property, but he has bought lots of other people houses– including his beloved mum. Nowadays he sends his mum out to find families who are in danger of losing their home – and then he pays their mortgages for them. How cool is that!
“Philanthropy is the thing that I am really excited about, and having success means I can do more.”
Helping others is the key to happiness
Wil.i.am’s real passion is in young people achieve their dreams and he’s founded i.am.angel, a charity that transforms young people’s lives through education, opportunity and inspiration.
“You can get your money and you put it in the bank, or you can put it in the youth. You can put it in our future.”
Whilst you might expect him to want teenagers to become musicians, he’s actually funding young people to get careers as scientists, engineers, technicians and mathematicians! As he puts it, “Most kids are not dreaming of being scientists, programmers or engineers… But if you live in a ghetto and really want not to just change your life and your family’s life but change your ghetto’s life, make your ghetto a good neighbourhood, learn science; try to be like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.”
So next time you see Will.i.am on the TV, remember his rags to riches story and the amazing things he’s doing to help others… because if he can do it, anyone can!