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Gary Younge
White DJ who won over world of rap

Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, the don of America's east coast rap scene, respects him. When Puff Daddy was in Britain last week to publicise his forthcoming album the two spent time together.

In the trendiest clubs on both sides of the Atlantic, DJs show him respect. "If he goes to New York he's on first name terms with the main players like Funkmaster Flex. He's always getting namechecks," says Lee Pinkerton, arts editor of the black newspaper the Voice.

Even the director general of the BBC, John Birt, respects him. Westwood met Birt a few years ago and both came away having enjoyed the other's company.

But while Westwood is held in high esteem among his circle of peers - Puff Daddy called twice yesterday to check on his medical progress - his faux black-London accent has made him the object of ridicule to many outside it.

He talks of "things going down" and music with a "raw uncut flava" as though he were brought up on akee and saltfish in Jamaica.

"It's quite easy to ridicule Westwood," says Simon Garfield, author of the definitive book on the history of Radio 1. "He has adopted a patois that would make you think, if you'd never met him, that he was black."

He was reputedly the inspiration for Ali G, a character on the Eleven o'clock Show who is white but gets his laughs from genuinely believing he is black.

"Some black people think he is exploiting every stereotype there ever was about black people and making a career out of it," said one rap commentator. "But if he is going to be credible with the audience he is going for then he has to sound like them."

For the most part he also looks like them. The bulk of rap records in this country are sold to white people just like Westwood, with a strong attraction to black American influences.

Westwood, who is fiercely cautious of the press, has managed to draw a veil of secrecy over his past. He is thought to be about six years older than the 30 years he claims.

A neighbour described him as quiet and said he has lived in a one-bedroom housing association flat in Fulham for the past 20 years.

What is known is that Westwood was raised in west London and left school at 16 determined to become a DJ. He started by carrying records for local DJs before helping to set up a pirate station called LWR in 1982.

He went on to be one of the co-owners of the dance-music radio station Kiss FM in London before joining Capital Radio, where he stayed for seven years, before joining Radio 1 in 1994.

Throughout, his credibility on the turntable, if not on the mike, has been unrivalled. Along the way he has taken hip-hop from the margins to the mainstream.

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