Ashley Walters: Pushing boundaries is what we need”

Guess who’s the new face of adidas Spezial? To celebrate his new campaign, we hopped on the phone to Ash to chat Top Boy, imposter syndrome and how Black Brits can change the future.

We kind of forgot about Easter,” says Ashley Walters, calling in from his coastal home in Kent. It’s the day after bank holiday Monday, but clearly, Ashley hasn’t been too preoccupied with bunny rabbits and chocolate. It’s not one of [the kids’] big holidays. Me and the wife realised we hadn’t even got them an Easter egg.”

Known to the world as Asher D from his So Solid Crew days, Dushane from his role in Top Boy or just Ash from Peckham, South London, the musician-turned-actor has racked up an impressive CV over the past two decades. Now, Ashley can also add modelling to his list of special skills: he’s just become the new face of adidas Spezial, fronting the campaign for the brand’s Pre-Spring collection.

This isn’t any old campaign, though. This year, the adidas Spezial line turns 10 and, to celebrate, the brand is launching a series of extra spezial collections throughout the year.

Round one drops today, complete with the campaign starring Ash and seven new footwear silhouettes for you to get your hands on (we particularly like the sound of the Handball Pro SPZL, which references a lesser known adidas handball silhouette, discovered by Special head honcho Gary Aspden).

Of course, the collection also features apparel and accessories, from lightweight jackets (that Trentham one is perfect for the sunnier weather) to shorts (mega pockets on the Rossendale) and even a Mod Trefoil towel – time to get planning that summer getaway, eh?

Don’t switch tabs to Jet2 just yet, though. Ashley Walters has some nuggets of wisdom to drop first…

Hey Ashley! We’re here to celebrate the adidas Spezial Collection. What was it like shooting the campaign?

It’s sometimes surreal because adidas is one of those brands that’s been so close to me for a long time. Even when I wasn’t able to wear it as much as I do now, I knew what it stood for, what it meant, because it had such a strong presence. Throughout my early music career, I was able to wear it a lot and be associated with it. It’s kind of full circle now, to be involved with this campaign. It’s just an honour for me, man.

Some of the people in your circle have also worked with adidas – Goldie, for example, and Stephen Graham.

Yeah, I think they’ve all done the Spezial campaigns previously. It’s nice to follow suit, because as well as being good friends, they’re legends. I’ve got a lot of respect for them and they’ve been inspirations to me throughout my career. To follow where they’ve been, I must be doing something right.

You’re all part of the adidas family! What does family mean to you?

It’s pretty much everything. Most people that work with me know I’m a family-orientated person. I try my best to spend as much time with my family as I can. There’s a level of loyalty that comes with that and I guess those same values are kind of the spine, I’d say, of the adidas brand as well.

Looking back at your career – from the music to acting – you’re always bringing different characters and personas to life. Which character from your repertoire would you most like to sit down and have a meal with?

For argument’s sake, I will go with Dushane [from Top Boy]. I know it’s the most obvious choice, but I figure people would more likely want to read about that.

What would you ask him?

How does it affect you?” Weirdly enough, I can probably answer that myself anyway, because I did play the character. But I guess in the show we don’t see everything, and I think that there were parts that we maybe got a bit [more] of from Sully [played by Kano], but never from Dushane. If you’re killing people and you’re doing things like that, how [many] nightmares must you be having now? What happens when the front doors close and you have to sit with yourself?”

There’s so many shows I go up for, so many films I’m in the running for, that I watch other people that I know get. People only see the wins, they never really read about the failures”

Your career has been so varied. What has each era taught you?

They pretty much taught me the same things in different ways and that was, No one ain’t gonna do shit for you in this game.” You have to make it happen yourself. You have to be the change that you want to see in your own life and within what’s going on around you.

It took me quite a while to learn that hearing [the word] no” was part of my job. There’s so many things that I want that I don’t get. So many shows I go up for, so many films I’m in the running for, that I watch other people that I know get. People only see the wins, they never really read about the failures. You have to become resilient for that. A lot of people that don’t last are the people that, actually, sometimes can’t take continually getting those no’s” and waiting for the wins.

In your interview with Louis Theroux, you mentioned having imposter syndrome. Does that influence how you navigate the industry?

At times it’s been more difficult than others. Once you’re surviving in any sort of space long enough, the imposter syndrome becomes normal, no matter how bad it is. Then you start to have this kind of Stockholm syndrome, where the trauma is there, but you just have to adapt.

What I’m fighting for most days, whatever medium I’m using, is my truth. That has been kind of compounded by being the guy that went to jail [who] everyone was scared of. When I was in that period of time, I was trying to be the softest version of myself to make people not fearful of working with me. But now I can shake that persona a bit, I don’t have to be that guy anymore.

[Because] when you habitually have done that for so long, sometimes, you find yourself taking stuff that you actually shouldn’t really be taking. Some of that stems from imposter syndrome. Every day you’re actually trying to analyse yourself and make sure that you are being your authentic self within everything that you’re doing, which can be a tedious task. But I guess that’s just the remnants [of me] shaking off the shackles that have been there for many, many years.

That’s very wise! Do you have any more wisdom you’d like to pass on to the next generation of Black Brits in the creative industries?

Oh, man! I would just say to continue to go on the way that they’re going. You know what I love about what’s happening now? People are a lot braver than I was at their age. That consistent pushing of the boundaries is what we need.

But also, not to hark on like one of those oldies, but never forget history, you know what I mean? The players change in this game a lot, and how knowledgeable and smart these players are, how quick they become experienced – that all changes but the actual game stays the same. They’ve been around for many, many years, so dialogue between generations, especially in the Black community, is needed.

The adidas Spezial Pre-Spring 24 collection arrives in limited quantities on 4th April and is available through CONFIRMED and select retailers.

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