Rio Ferdinand on surprise music deal, ‘overwhelming’ response to emotional documentaries and ‘sleep deprivation’ before baby number 5

There truly isn’t anything that Rio Ferdinand can’t do – the football icon has now somewhat turned his hand to music after a successful foray into creating powerful documentaries, and he’s only just stopping short at becoming the next James Bond… for now, at least. 

On top of all of that, the former Manchester United star is also juggling a very busy household alongside wife Kate Ferdinand, with the couple parenting four children and expecting another baby on the way

With all that in mind, it beggars belief as to how Rio, 44, has found the time to sign a new three-year partnership with Warner Music through his foundation, but he has. had the pleasure of getting inside the mind and side hustles of the former sports star over a 30-minute phone call on a wet and windy March afternoon, and it offered a fascinating insight into one of the most recognisable faces in football. 

Most nights, you can find Rio offering his sound footie punditry on BT Sport where he’s been stationed since 2015, the same year he retired from the sport after 12 incredible years with United and 81 England appearances. 

When you see Rio, you think of football, but for a particular group of 14-24-year-olds, they look at him and see hope. 

There’s more to Rio Ferdinand than the beautiful game

That’s what he’s provided through his Rio Ferdinand Foundation, which has announced a three-year extension of its levelling-up partnership with Warner Music UK and Warner Music Ireland. The project aims to enable and educate youth networks about what roles and opportunities are open to them in the music and football business; from internships and work experience at WMUK and WMI, to mentoring and advice from Warner Music employees and artists.

‘I’ve always loved music,’ Rio told us, going on to recall fondly: ‘In the changing rooms before the games with Man United, my playlist used to be on in the background. The mix of music was crazy, at the time we’d go from 50 Cent to Jay Z, to having Oasis and Slipknot, so I had to cater for everyone in the changing rooms with all different tastes of music.’ 

‘With the foundation, obviously everyone knows my sporting background but I think young people from disadvantaged areas, the main two things they’re into and stimulated by are sport and music, which I found when I was growing up. 

He continued: ‘The connection to football is obvious but with music, if we can stimulate more children to go down this route and get re-educated but also the chance to go into this line of work, and if we can build on relationships we already have, then that would be great for all concerned.’ 

Music, believe it or not, has always had an important place in Rio’s life thanks to his parents, who introduced him to sounds such as reggae and Lover’s Rock as he grew up in Peckham, south London. 

Rio seen here with Warner Music UK CEO Tony Harlow

‘I remember my first two albums; one was Michael Jackson and one was New Kids on the Block, which is quite a big difference,’ Rio said of his own eclectic taste. 

As for any music you won’t find on his playlist…

‘The only thing I don’t like is techno music,’ he confessed. 

Rio and his team are able to offer invaluable guidance for the youngsters being supported by his foundation – he’s able to show them the good, bad and ugly side of fame and success, but they won’t be getting a silver spoon or leg-up in the music and sporting worlds, so to speak. 

He said: ‘They all want to be the footballer, they all want to be the singer but there are so many jobs underneath those spots within the industries they love and care about that could easily get them a living, but it’s about us opening their eyes to that.’ 

Speaking to the trappings of fame, Rio added: ‘Once you start doing that and getting too big for your boots, you start looking at your own downfall. 

‘If you want to remain and be successful, you need to be humble. There’s an element of humility you need. 

‘I know how hard it is to make a way for yourself in any way, shape or form. It comes with hard work but you can’t look your nose down at anybody because I was once in their shoes as well.’ 

The programme will deliver year-round football and music activities, giving young individuals a platform for creativity and to raise their aspirations around their community. The project will deliver accredited training that incorporates transferable skills for employment and vocational training in creative industries, helping to open pathways to meaningful careers. 

Rio played with Manchester United for 12 years and retired in 2015 (Picture: Getty Images)

It’s certainly more than Rio had access to growing up in the disadvantaged area of Peckham, where he spent much of his childhood kicking a ball in the adventure playground with his mates before signing major footballing contracts. 

Impressively, Rio isn’t the only star from Peckham to rise to fame, with grime’s godfather Giggs and Star Wars actor John Boyega among the prominent names repping their hometown. 

‘That’s a part of me that almost feels proud when I see them,’ Rio said of watching their success. ‘It does fill you with some sort of emotion and positive energy as well because you know where they’re from and the path that they’ve walked and had a lot of negativity thrown at them and people trying to put up barriers to their entry in their industries as well.’  

He added: ‘I know Giggs better than I’ve known John Boyega and I’ve witnessed what it was like early on and the struggles he’s had to get to where he is now. 

‘He had to go through people trying to stop him making music and stop his shows, not letting him perform in venues so to see him rubbing shoulders with Jay Z at these events in America or big events here and being invited everywhere. 

‘He’s inspiring a generation of people and to me that’s inspiring in itself.’ 

Rio himself has proven to be an inspiration to his children, instilling a passion for music into his own household the same way his parents did for him growing up. 

‘When the kids come home they know I’m cooking because that’s when the reggae comes on,’ he told us, sounding as though a smile had formed through the phone. 

He’s dad to Lorenz, 16, Tate, 14, and Tia, 11, from his former marriage with late first wife Rebecca, and also shares son Cree, two, with wife and ex-Towie star Kate, 31. The married couple are currently expecting their second child together, making Rio a soon-to-be father-of-five. 

Sharing a heartwarming insight into his bond with his kids, the star said: ‘When we’re in the car, me and my sons are going tune-to-tune sometimes on the way to football. He’s saying, “you like that, dad?”, and I’m like, “yeah I know it, don’t worry I’m still with it”. 

‘So there is that music bond with the kids and the family. 

‘With Kate, especially early when she first came, sometimes the kids would go “oh, you like this music do you?” Just bringing people together, it starts the conversation and it helps with bonding. 

‘There’s a niceness about seeing your kids nodding their songs to certain music.’ 

In recent years, fans have seen a warmer side to Rio’s character thanks to two powerful documentaries about his personal life. One followed his own journey dealing with grief as a single dad following the death of first wife Rebecca in 2015 following her battle with cancer, while the other was a Bafta-winning look at coping with bereavement as a family and the introduction of Kate as a stepmum. 

Hailing those films as his most proud work, Rio said: ‘The two with the BBC in terms of the impact and the real grittiness of it. It was probably people for the first time seeing me behind the footballer – a raw, uncut edit. 

Rio and Kate are parents of four children and have another bubba on the way (Picture: Instagram)

Rio admits the sleep deprivation doesn’t go away as he expects his fifth child with wife Kate (Picture: Kate Ferdinand, Instagram)

‘Those are probably the ones that stand out because of the raw, naked approach to it which was something new for me. 

‘The feedback from those documentaries at the BBC have been quite overwhelming for me.’ 

As he and Kate prepare to welcome their new bundle of joy, and Rio well accustomed to life as a father, surely there’s a wealth of parenting advice he can offer? 

‘No, you just become a bit more familiar with the baby stage and we’re going through the potty training at the moment and doing all that stuff,’ he said. ‘You’re a bit more familiar with it just because you’ve done it more often but it doesn’t get any easier, I tell ya!’

‘Sleep deprivation – there’s no easy way to do it. Get a good woman and hope and pray,’ he laughed heartily.

With his sporting career behind him, a foot in the door of the music world and TV, surely Hollywood is the only thing left for Rio to conquer? 

‘I’m not an actor,’ Rio stated before chuckling when reminded of a time when he jokingly said he’d love to become the first Black James Bond. 

When asked if he’s been tapped on for movie cameos over the years, he admitted: ‘I have but that’s not something on the top of my list, I’ll be honest, I’ve got other more pressing things to do than try and become an actor. 

‘I can’t dominate too many spheres!’ 

The first event from The Rio Ferdinand Foundation and Warner Music in 2023 will take place on Saturday March 13 at Salford University, with workshops planned across A&R, Broadcast Media, PR/Communications, along with a panel discussion and a networking session, for over 150 young people. There’ll be more events to follow in the year in both the West Midlands and Dublin. Beyond 2023, the programme will travel to Cork, Limerick, London, Northern Ireland, the North East, and Yorkshire and Humber.

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