Champion is the first TV project from Candice Carty-Williams, author of The Sunday Times bestselling novels Queenie and People Person. Produced by New Pictures and Balloon Entertainment, the eight-part drama launches on Saturday 1st July on BBC One and iPlayer.
Billed as “a love letter to Black British music set in south London”, it features original music written and produced by leading UK musicians, including Ray BLK, Ghetts and more.
The following is a BBC interview with Carty-Williams, with a listing of the key team that worked on the show.
Tell us about Champion
Champion is about a brother and a sister. Bosco Champion – a rapper who’s been in prison for the last two years – and Vita Champion his sister. Vita is his long-suffering PA and has been doing everything for Bosco; running around after him, lying for him, covering up for him – everything a PA could do and more. Then you have their parents Aria and Beres Champion, they have their own history in the music industry too from ‘back in the day’, as we find out as the show goes on. Everyone in this family is so invested in music.
When Bosco comes back from prison the world has changed, and the world of music has changed, so what should he do? Vita has been behind the scenes keeping everything going, ready for him to come back. She wants to step up to be his manager now but Bosco wants her to just keep doing what she’s been doing.
Bosco also has a rival, a drill rapper called Bulla. Vita and her friend Honey sing with Bulla and he recognises Vita’s talent… and the show unravels from there.
What are the main conflicts in the series?
Bosco and Vita, obviously, but also their parents Aria and Beres Champion. They’re divorced but Beres is still very much inserting himself into the lives of these people. There is Beres and Lennox, Aria’s new partner, Bosco and Bulla – a musical rivalry. Honey and Vita are best friends who’ve been singing together since they were kids, but Vita makes some choices with their music that Honey isn’t very happy about.
We have so much conflict in every episode. When we were doing the writers room there was one point in the final week where I said we needed to keep a score system. That was the way I made sure every character had their fights and everyone had their wins, and their losses.
What makes this show and the music so special?
I think this show is special in its own right but the music is very close to me. I’m obsessed with music and I always have to listen to something. What got me into this show was the prospect of being able to make music. I’m not a producer but I know the producers and artists that I love, we’ve brought some of those people together to make an amazing soundtrack. Drill, rap, R&B, soul, neo-soul, reggae – we have so many things covered. That in itself was a challenge.
The music team is quite small; me, a music supervisor called Cat Grieves, music consultant Hattie Collins, and Ghetts. He joined as a music exec and writes all of Bosco’s raps working with his own producers. We have Ray BLK, in the show as Honey but also a song writer and music exec for the show, and some amazing music written by Debbie, plus Shola Ama – all of my musical dreams.
What are the themes of the show?
When I watch most TV shows, especially concerning young people I’m always thinking where’s the family, where did they come from? I think where we come from says so much about us. Even if your parents aren’t necessarily around they still make you – what does that absence do to you? When we were making the show I immediately understood that it’d be a family drama. Everyone in that family – Beres, Aria, Bosco and Vita – all have a place, a function and a role – even though the family is fragmented and fragments further throughout the show.
Everyone has to come from somewhere, I love family drama, writing about and observing families. My family in itself is very fractured but I’m always interested in that rather than being sad about it because I can see why it can happen. I can see why when people don’t talk to each other you can have massive rifts that last lifetimes sometimes. Putting that into my work is really important because family is so foundational.
Tell us about the link between the music and the drama?
I didn’t want it to be a musical in that someone breaks into song, I wanted you to see people making songs in their own right. While the song might not adhere to the situation at hand when we were briefing the songs we’d give the context of the storyline. Debbie wrote a song for Vita called My Ones, it’s about hating everyone because they’re taking advantage of you. It doesn’t necessarily name characters but I wanted that feeling in the song and she did such an amazing job. My job overall was to create a sonic world and decide if everything fits.
With Ghetts for example, sometimes we’d give him the brief or sometimes he’d send a song as a suggestion. When Ghetts sent a freestyle we rewrote an episode to have Vita helping Bosco write it, then Bosco recording it in the studio in a later scene.
You have to be very agile, it all works because I’m quite good at remembering the place of everything – where things should work and go. I think it’s because I write novels, you have to know where everything is in a story. I’m good at doing the jigsaw of what is going to work with what.
What are your favourite songs in Champion?
My first is the clash, which is actually four songs in one. It’s amazing and I was in every rehearsal for that because I was specific about it. It’s like a clash but also a rap battle, that’s my favourite musical moment. I really love Bosco and Rusty in episode four when Bosco goes to Birmingham.
Why should people watch Champion?
People should watch Champion because I think we’re doing something people haven’t seen before. Even though I’ve written it when I watch the cuts I get really excited. There is something about what happens with family and music, the heart and pain that comes together really beautifully in this show. We’ve packed so much good stuff into each 45 minutes and it looks really beautiful.
What is the show about for you at its core?
For me, it’s called Champion and it is about fighting because Vita is the person constantly fighting to be seen and to be heard – not just in family but in music, life and as a black woman, this is really important. Champion is about fighting just to exist and exist comfortably and happily.
What is unique about the music in Champion?
In most musicals someone is talking and you feel a song coming up because they’re about to gear up to it, but in Champion all the music is very specific, everything has a point and a place. I really like that we’re not breaking the wall of the drama. We’ve got all these amazing hybrid actor-musicians which is incredible.
The music in the show is written by Ghetts, Ray BLK, Debbie, Shola Ama and more. In terms of producers we have Nana Rogues, KZ, Ten Billions Dreams, Toddla T, so many incredible names. And we have a score being produced by Swindle who is an amazing producer.
And the series wasn’t always called Champion, right?
It was named Star for a while and then I was playing table tennis with Danielle Scott-Haughton – who is one of the exec producers – she won, I said ‘ah, champion’, and everything happened from there.
Who are your five musical GOATs? (Greatest of all time)
That’s really hard…! Chakka Khan, because there is so much emotion there. Ghetts, obviously, it’s been a dream working with him. Vybz Kartel, shady past but great lyricist. Little Sims, I think lyrically she’s absolutely incredible, one of my favourite rappers. The final one is Freddie Mercury who I think is the greatest performer ever to have lived.
Candice Carty-Williams – Writer (Episodes 1, 2, 5 & 7) and Executive Producer
Bryan Elsley – Executive Producer
Charlie Pattinson – Executive Producer
Dave Evans – Executive Producer
Willow Grylls – Executive Producer
Imogen O’Sullivan – Executive Producer
Danielle Scott-Haughton – Executive Producer & Producer (Episodes 7 & 8)
Isis Davis – Writer (Episode 3)
Edem Wornoo – Writer (Episode 4)
Emma Dennis-Edwards – Writer (Episode 5)
Ameir Brown – Writer (Episode 6 & 7)
Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor – Producer (Eps 1 – 5)
Charles Bates – Producer (Episode 6)
John Ogunmuyiwa – Director (Episodes 1 – 3)
Adeyemi Michael – Director (Episodes 4 – 5)
Caleb Femi – Director (Episode 6)
Christiana Ebohon-Green – Director (Episodes 7 & 8)
Ray BLK – Music Executive
Justin Clarke aka Ghetts – Music Executive
Catherine Grieves – Music Supervisor
Hattie Collins – Music Advisor
Daniel Edwards – Casting Director
Christopher Sabogal – Director of Photography (Episode 1 – 3)
Robin Whenary – Director of Photography (Eps 4 – 5)
Adam Barnett – Director of Photography (Episode 6)
Cinders Forshaw – Director of Photography (Episode 7 & 8)
Gini Godwin – Production Designer
Cynthia Lawrence-John – Costume Designer
Marcia Blackwood – Hair & Make-Up Designer
Photo credit: Candice Carty-Williams (Image: Emil Huseynzade)
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