By any definition, Idris Elba is a man at the peak of his profession. In the last two weeks alone, the British heart-throb — said to be one of the most desired men in the world — has picked up no fewer than three acting awards.
And tomorrow the 43-year-old, who shot to fame playing a gangster in the U.S. drama The Wire and in BBC crime series Luther, hopes to add a fourth to his cache, a Bafta for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film Beasts Of No Nation, a harrowing depiction of the life of child soldiers.
Yet amid all the hype surrounding the extraordinary trajectory of the star who began life in a Hackney tower block and now sits at the top table in Hollywood, one role continues to elude him.
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Idris Elba this week separated from Naiyana Garth (right, pictured together in 2013). The pair have a 22-month-old baby son, Winston
For all his versatility, his smouldering looks and on-screen charisma, Idris Elba simply cannot pull off a sustained portrayal of a devoted partner and father.
This week he separated from his 28-year-old girlfriend Naiyana Garth — the mother of his 22-month-old baby son, Winston. He has moved out of the family home in South-West London, and into a rented flat nearby.
Perhaps coincidentally — but perhaps not — the news came a matter of days after he was seen leaving a nightclub in New York with man-eating model Naomi Campbell, a long-time friend and admirer.
Meanwhile, reports circulating in America claim he was conducting an affair with American rapper K Michelle for several months while still together with Naiyana.
The rapper told a television show the romance took place when little Winston was a newborn, adding: ‘When I met him I did find out he had a woman. But I did not know they still had that situation. So I kind of looked up and saw that I was the side chick.’
The actor (right) has moved out of the family home in South-West London, and into a rented flat nearby. This comes a matter of days after he was seen leaving a nightclub in New York with man-eating model Naomi Campbell, a long-time friend and admirer (left)
Biographer Nadia Cohen, author of Idris Elba: Actor, DJ, Legend, says: ‘People felt that Naiyana had tamed him and that he was ready to settle down finally, but perhaps it’s just not to be.
‘He’s at the peak of his career and one of the most desired men in the world and maybe having a young baby doesn’t chime with that. It seems like he won’t ever settle down.’
He certainly has form: Idris split from his first wife while she was pregnant with their daughter, Isan, who’s now 15.
A second marriage lasted only a day — and as a young man working as a DJ on a pirate radio station he was known as Mr Kipling, after someone said, ‘Idris, you’ve got more tarts than Mr Kipling.’
Now, as a Hollywood heavyweight, he is surrounded by fawning females. According to Cohen: ‘He just loves all the attention. He loves flirting with everyone in the room, whether it’s a gay waiter or the coat check girl.
‘Everybody fancies him. He’s a really, really sexy man and loves the attention.’
Idrissa Akuna Elba was born on September 6, 1972, in London, the only child of Eve and Winston Elba.
Winston had come to London from Sierra Leone in search of prosperity and security.
Naiyana Garth and Idris Elba pictured together at the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards in January, 2014
He found a job at the Ford factory in Dagenham and the young family lived in a high-rise flat in Hackney before moving to a house in Canning Town when Idris — who shortened his name — was 11. At his new school, where he was one of a handful of black faces, he was relentlessly bullied and teased.
He said: ‘There was a lot of tension. People would pick on me, call me names. I wasn’t equal because I was black.’
He left school at 16, completed a BTech in performing arts, and set his heart on a career as an actor like his idol Denzel Washington.
He survived on part-time factory shifts and DJ work before finally making his first screen appearance aged 22 in a Crimewatch reconstruction, followed by small roles in The Bill, Absolutely Fabulous and Silent Witness.
In 1997, when he was 25, he secured a regular role in the Channel 5 soap Family Affairs.
Initially, it looked as though his professional breakthrough might be matched by happiness in his private life. He began a romance with Henne Norgaard, a make-up artist known as Kim, whom he married a year later in June 1998 at Chelsea register office. ‘I liked the idea of being married. I was concentrating on what I was trying to do with my life, and my girl supported me,’ he said.
Idris, you’ve got more tarts than Mr Kipling
The following year, convinced that there were better parts for black actors in the U.S., the young couple sold their three-bedroom house, disposed of Idris’s flashy Range Rover, and arrived in Brooklyn, New York.
But struggling to master an American accent, Idris failed to secure acting work and the dream began to unravel. He had to DJ to pay the bills and the pair relocated to the cheaper Jersey City. By the time Kim became pregnant in 2001, the relationship had buckled under the strain and, according to Idris, she threw him out.
For several weeks he slept on friends’ sofas and in his car, a brown Chevy, working as a bouncer and doorman and even, he admitted, selling marijuana to customers at a comedy club. ‘I was hustling — back then I had to,’ he explained.
Yet the years grubbing around paid dividends. The American accent that had eluded him was finally mastered, and he ended four years of unemployment by securing a role in a new TV series called The Wire in January 2002. It was also the day his estranged wife went into labour.
He went out to DJ at a New York club and afterwards drove himself to the hospital just in time to see his daughter, Isan, being born.
The Wire made him a household name. He got to meet his rap artist idols Jay Z and P Diddy on equal terms and counted Anna Wintour — the editor of U.S. Vogue — among his fans. (‘We just built up a rapport on emails.’)
He earned himself a reputation as a party lover. After one wild evening in 2006 — of which little else is known — he impulsively married Sonya Hamlin, a lawyer, in Las Vegas, only to file for an annulment a day later.
Idris Elba pictured left in his starring role as Luther in the BBC detective drama, and right, after winning a Best Actor award for Beasts Of No Nation
Around this time his Wire character, Stringer Bell, was written out of the series, and a run of disappointing roles followed.
While visiting his daughter Isan in Atlanta, where she was then living, he met a pole dancer named Desiree Newberry at the strip club Magic Sky.
They started living together in a beach house in Miami, Florida, and when she gave birth to a son, named Otenga, in 2010, Idris was thrilled.
He had just begun filming the BBC detective series Luther in London, which marked his second big break, and told reporters: ‘The celebration of having a son — from a man’s perspective, it’s massive.’
However, when Idris returned to Miami after filming, he became suspicious that the child was not his because he looked nothing like him, and took a paternity test. The results were unequivocal. He was not Otenga’s father.
‘To be given that and then have it taken away so harshly, was like taking a full-on punch in the face: pow. You know, the truth is — like, even admitting it, I’ll probably get laughed at for the rest of my life. But it is just tragic, and it happened.’
The actor in the 2013 film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The pair split and Desiree was last heard of working as a pole dancer at the King Of Diamonds strip club in Miami.
Idris, meanwhile, was devastated by the betrayal and made a decision which goes some way to explaining the fate of his subsequent relationships.
‘I wasn’t knocked out. I stood right back up, and I ain’t aiming to take another punch in the face ever again,’ he said soon afterwards.
Luther, meanwhile, was a huge hit and a slew of other roles followed. By 2013, he was dating another make-up artist, Naiyana Garth from West London, who had previously worked with chef Jamie Oliver and actors Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox.
Within a year she was expecting their child and accompanied him — big bump proudly on display — on the red carpet to the Golden Globes and Oscars in early 2014, where he was nominated for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in Long Walk To Freedom.
Baby Winston was born in April 2014, and should have heralded the happy-ever-after that has so far eluded Idris.
In fact, as we now know, it has been alleged that the actor began a relationship with rap artist K Michelle, real name Kimberly Michelle Pate, in the spring of 2014 when he directed a music video for her.
She was clearly smitten, gushing about him: ‘It’s really crazy to see how humble and down to earth this man is. He’s so creative. He’s so in the zone.’ A few months later, she went on a chat show in America and claimed that in fact the two of them had been in an eight-month romance after meeting at a music awards ceremony in November 2013.
‘We just clicked,’ she explained, before going on to say how the romance was her inspiration for her album Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart.
You don’t have to read too deeply into the lyrics of her hit single Maybe I Should Call to see what she was thinking: ‘Long distance in the way of what could be / even when you’re here, you’re not with me / she’s having the child I should’ve carried / I’ll be damned if y’all get married.’
In an exchange that would not have looked out of place on The Jeremy Kyle Show, she told the interviewer: ‘There was a situation. He has a child and I’m not going to get in the way of that.
‘Y’all not gonna call me the home wrecker. Me, I desire a lot of attention and time and when there’s a newborn, you have to give your time and attention to them.’
Given this unedifying tangle, it is perhaps unsurprising that Naiyana didn’t accompany Idris to the Golden Globes this year.
He explained that she couldn’t travel with the baby and took his daughter Isan instead.
Social media shows that Naiyana was actually on a beach in South-East Asia with baby Winston at this time.
Naiyana was absent again at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles last month, and also from the Evening Standard Film awards in London.
She failed to get a mention in either of his acceptance speeches.
A few days later, the actor was seen emerging from a New York nightclub with Naomi Campbell and is now said to have moved out of the London home he shared with Naiyana, who is understood to be devastated by the end of their romance — although neither she nor agents for Idris would comment this week.