31 July 1978
|Alma mater||University College London|
|Relatives||Sara Champion (mother)|
William Champion (born 31 July 1978) is an English musician and songwriter best known as the drummer and backing vocalist of the rock band Coldplay. Raised in Southampton, he learned a variety of instruments during his childhood, being influenced by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and traditional Irish folk. His energetic drumming style is based on prioritising the song's essential elements and he occasionally takes lead vocal duties during live performances.
Champion has a 2:1 degree in anthropology from University College London, where he completed Coldplay's line-up with Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman. The band signed with Parlophone in 1999, finding global fame through the release of Parachutes (2000) and following records. He has won seven Grammy Awards and nine Brit Awards as part of Coldplay. Having sold more than 100 million albums worldwide as of 2021,[a] they are the most successful group of the 21st century.
William Champion was born on 31 July 1978 in Southampton, Hampshire, England, being the second child of archaeology lecturers Timothy and Sara Champion. He was raised in the Highfield suburb of the city, close to the University of Southampton, where his parents worked. He studied at Portswood Primary School while secondary education was held at Cantell School and Peter Symonds College. During his youth, Champion played cricket for Chandler's Ford CC along with his older brother; they attended Highfield Church regularly. He commented that music was "constantly on the stereo at home", which included listening to "anything from Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Nick Cave to traditional Irish folk", and performed in a group called Fat Hamster.
His upbringing influenced him to start lessons on multiple instruments, including violin and piano from the age of eight, guitar at 12, and eventually bass and tin whistle. However, Champion did not always enjoy the sessions: he was not able to read music and the songs were played from memory instead: "I watched my teacher's hand on the piano, memorized it, and ended up doing it myself". Despite performing drums at school and with a neighbour's kit, he was not interested in the instrument yet either. He did work experience at Nuffield Theatre's box office and backstage when he was 14 years old.
Champion's education continued in University College London, where he attained a 2:1 degree in anthropology and met Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman, eventually forming Coldplay. He worked as a doorman at a bar ran by Ricky Gervais while studying. Years later, he said that his experience in other instruments helped with coordination and offered a different perspective on drumming, being an important part of his style: "Knowing the difference between the major and minor key is very important too, and I was lucky to learn all that before I was playing drums. That has more to do with the feel of a song [and what's right for it] instead of knowing how to play powerfully for a second".
Champion was the last performing member to join the band in 1998.[b] He explained that Martin, Buckland and Berryman came to his house because a roommate had a drum kit and was a good drummer, but he had not turned up, "so I just said I would give it a go". They recorded the session and he was eventually invited to the ensemble in spite of not having substantial prior experience. In 1999, he was temporarily sacked from the group by Martin over heated discussions regarding his abilities as a drummer: "Three days later, the rest of us were feeling miserable, [...] we asked him to come back. They made me have lots of vodka and cranberry juice in remembrance of what a nasty piece of work I was being". The incident became an inspiration for "Trouble", which was written as an apology to him.
In Coldplay, Champion is often regarded as the rationality of the band, with Martin saying "When I think of him, I think of something heavy and granite-like. Like the base of a statue. Without that, the thing topples". While answering questions from fans, other members added that he "does have a very sensible head on his shoulders and when it comes to making decisions he is really good at putting valid points across and keeping everyone focused. He frequently has the casting vote and his decision can sometimes override the consensus". They often praise his multi-instrumentalism as well, describing him as a "human jukebox". Although Buckland and Berryman have taken part in backing vocals, Champion has remained the most prominent, as shown during the Viva la Vida Tour (2008–10), when he performed "Death Will Never Conquer". His version of the song was included on LeftRightLeftRightLeft (2009). Lead vocals are also heard on "The Goldrush", released as a B-side of "Life in Technicolor II". Additionally, the drummer played an acoustic rendition of "In My Place" featured on Live in Buenos Aires (2018).
Champion guested on a-ha keyboardist Magne Furuholmen's debut album, Past Perfect Future Tense (2004), along with Berryman. In 2011, the drummer was part of a video for the Beat for Peace campaign, which "called on global leaders to take urgent diplomatic action" and "prevent all out conflict returning to Sudan". He also made a guest appearance as one of the Red Wedding musicians in the "Rains of Castamere" episode from Game of Thrones, which aired on 2 June 2013. In the following year, he contributed to Brian Eno and Karl Hyde's collaborative album, Someday World (2014). Champion is known to support food and wine magazine Noble Rot as well, becoming an investor in their namesake restaurants. In 2017, he visited the University of Southampton to talk with music students about composing, studio recording, live performances and managing stardom. Along with Buckland, the drummer assisted Jodie Whittaker in her cover of "Yellow" for BBC's Children in Need album in 2019. Moreover, he has guested on DrumathonLIVE, a charity event focused on raising money for children's mental health. In 2023, he received an honorary degree as Doctor of Music from the University of Southampton.
Champion's first drum kit was a Yamaha 9000. Since A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002), however, he uses a customized maple set with a 22"x16" bass drum, 13"x9" rack tom, 16"x15" floor tom, various snare drums and Zildjian cymbals (20" K Heavy ride, brilliant finish; 18" A Custom Medium crash [x2] and 14" K Custom Dark hi-hats). The drumheads are Remo coated ambassadors and he plays with Pro-Mark's hickory wood 5A drum sticks. Champion also owns Yamaha hardware, a Roc-N-Soc drum throne, two electronic drum pads and one electronic percussion pad. Noted for an energetic drumming style, he mentioned not being confident enough to play loud or heavy at first, which became part of his performance: "That is my trademark – Wait, keep waiting" and "at the last moment possible come in and steal the limelight at the end".
When questioned on which Coldplay songs he thinks are his technical or "feel-wise" best, Champion commented being most proud of tracks where everything is boiled down to the essentials, citing "Viva la Vida" as an example: "It's just a kick drum, a bell and a little bit of timpani here and there, but it's so simple [...] We tried so many different things with that, four-beats, rock beats, everything – but nothing worked. It was a case of you've got to strip absolutely everything away to its very, very bare minimum. There are so many intricacies on the violins, the melodies and everything, I just felt it have to be simple with no frills, just support the song". He has cited Ginger Baker (Cream), John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) as some of his favourite drummers, receiving compliments from the latter in return.
According to The Times, Champion has an estimated wealth of £113 million as of May 2022. He is a longitme supporter of Southampton F.C. and has owned a season ticket for many years. His parents, Tim and Sara, used to DJ as Champion Tunes at local pubs, the latter died from cancer in 2000. Her funeral was arranged for the same day Coldplay had to shoot the music video for "Yellow", hence why only Martin appeared on it. Their debut album, Parachutes, was dedicated to her. In 2003, he married teacher Marianna Dark, becoming the first band member to wed. They have three children and reside in the Hampstead area of Camden, London.
When questioned about fame, Champion said he loves that after playing stadiums around the world, he can "disappear" back to his children (who are studying Suzuki method violin) and wife (who sings in Brian Eno's private choir). This "skill " was subject of a sketch by British comedian Nish Kumar in Live at the Apollo. The drummer also commented that his favourite non-musical activity is cooking, and he often dances with Dark at their house. Her backing vocals were included in the title track of Everyday Life (2019), becoming Champion's favourite piece of music from the album. During the Music of the Spheres World Tour (2022–24), he made drawings for the cities visited on his drums.
- List of people associated with University College London
- List of British Grammy winners and nominees
- List of best-selling music artists
- List of highest-grossing live music artists
- List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
- List of Billboard Hot 100 number-ones by British artists
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