Part of the Elite World Group

DJ Pete Tong and his DJ daughter, Becky

Interview

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DAVID VINTINER FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Pete Tong, 57, and his daughter, Becky, 25, on how their shared love of music helped repair their relationship following his difficult divorce

Pete

I am divorced from Becky’s mother. We got through it in the end, and I think my relationship with Becky is stronger now, but it took time. All you can do as a parent is let your kids know that everything is going to be OK [Tong also has two sons, Joe, 28, and Nat, 19, with his ex-wife]. I worked hard to make sure I was with them as much as possible. Whatever house I lived in always had bedrooms set up for them. I’d do the school run — which got a bit ridiculous when I was living in Chelsea and had three kids at different schools, all quite far apart on the other side of the river. We had to get up at 5am, and the whole thing would take about three hours. But in a weird way they were fun times.

You see yourself in all your children, but I think Becky is the most like me. We’re busy, organised, always worrying about the next thing; we’re preoccupied with what’s coming down the tracks. And the path she’s taken is obviously the most like mine in that she’s DJing and she’s got a day job. What most people don’t know about me is I started DJing so long ago, you also had to have a day job. Mine was at London Records, where I worked until 2000. I was head of A&R and was going through a purple patch when Becky was born in 1992. Dance music was at its pinnacle, so both my day and night jobs were busy.

I grew up in Kent, and my dad collected a lot of records: Hendrix, the Stones, Santana. I used to love the sleeves. He was a bookie, a turf accountant as you’d say back then. He owned greyhounds. He got me a drum kit when I was at school and I wanted to be Keith Moon. Then one day I saw a DJ at a school disco and it changed my life. It seemed much more fun — the music sounded better because you were playing records, and you could control it all by yourself. I rented a village hall in Gravesend and ran around sticking posters on trees. So that’s how the DJing started.

I never taught Becky to DJ, though I did give her equipment once she was interested. She’s not on the underground club circuit, she’s come at it through the world of fashion and doing events for brands like Burberry and Prada. She’s a good mood-setter — people still want to dance at fashion events, but it’s a different kind of setting that requires a different type of DJing.

Becky aged six at their family home in Wimbledon

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We can quite easily have long, in-depth conversations about work now, and sometimes I do have to pull back and remind myself that she’s family. She probably looks at me sometimes and goes: “Remember, I’m your daughter …” But I’m proud of her work ethic. In some ways, she’s had it harder than I did. I’d bought my first house, in Gravesend, by the time I was 18, for about 20 grand. I’d been left a bit of money and was already working, and somehow I managed it. It’s impossible for kids to do that now. She’s still renting, but determined to buy somewhere.

I’ve given her advice over the years, but not excessively. As much as age and experience counts, the future of the record industry is Becky’s generation, so these days I probably get more advice from her than she gets off me.

Becky

A lot of my early memories of Dad are linked to music — being in the car driving from our house in Wimbledon for family visits to his mum’s in Kent on a Sunday. We’d all listen to the Radio 1 chart show, and I’d memorise who was No 1 and No 2. It’s still with me now — if I know a song I can always remember the name of the artist.

We’d spend summer holidays in Ibiza because Dad was playing in the clubs. By the time I was 13, I wanted to go clubbing, but Dad was like, “You’re too young!” I did manage to sneak into Pacha while he was DJing there. I was wearing a really short skirt, and as soon as these Italian boys started eyeing me up, I was like, “OK, I want to go home now!” I was allowed to watch Dad play at festivals, but if he got on the mic I’d be like, “Oh my God …” Any dad on the mic is just no.

There was a room in our house that was just for Dad’s music. It was floor-to-ceiling vinyl. I must have been about nine or 10 when I started to pick up the records and read the sleeves. I was 11 when my parents split up and Dad left. It made our relationship really difficult. He didn’t always fully explain what was going on. My mum, to give her credit, would tell us exactly what was happening, and wouldn’t sugar-coat it. Dad did try to be around after the split, but we were awkward around each other for years.

I probably carry a lot of stuff from that time. And sometimes I can’t hide it from him. I’ll say, “Just to let you know, this is what you did and I’m not going to forget it.” We have our moments, but as I’ve got older we’ve started to understand each other. Now I can see that we have a lot in common.

After school, I wanted to be an illustrator or a painter. You don’t want to be like your parents, you want to be your own person. But I quit after six months when I got an internship at a record label. Dad had no idea — I didn’t want his help. I was 17 when I started DJing. I was signed to a modelling agency and they were looking for DJs for events. They asked me to play in Barcelona. I didn’t know how to mix, so I said to my brother Joe: “OK, you have to teach me — now!” The gig didn’t go very well. But something about the pressure of it made me want to do it better the next time and I figured it out eventually. I don’t want to DJ as a career, though. My focus is on Juicebox, which I co-founded in 2015. We have a record label, manage artists and do promotion.

Dad moved to LA about five years ago, but we speak more regularly than when he was here. Our relationship is more grown-up now. We talk about music all the time. He’s definitely inspired me — in ways I didn’t appreciate until I was older.

Words
Matt Munday
Publication