Not that Gray, 34, has anything against Americans sharing their feelings about the 2000 U.S. release of his CD White Ladder: Word of mouth led to platinum sales. Now he's hoping for repeat success with his latest disc, A New Day at Midnight. "Because David's songs have depth and meaning, everyone assumes he's miserable," says Gray's pal and manager, Rob Holden, 41. "But he's a very funny guy." After performances he has yukked it up with such celebrity fans as Gwyneth Paltrow, Woody Harrelson and Harrison Ford, who showed up backstage at a Canadian gig. "It took five minutes for him to penetrate his own entourage," Gray says.
Born in Manchester, England, Gray was raised by Peter, a baker who died last year, and Kay, 58, a crafts-store owner, along with sisters Jane, 31, and Helen, 28. After graduating from Liverpool School of Art—once attended by John Lennon—Gray cut three dismally selling albums that he sometimes peddled out of his car before he was dropped by his record label. Failure, he says, "begins to turn to poison in your system." Refinancing his house, he took some acoustic songs and added electronica rhythms from a home computer bought on credit to make White Ladder.
These days home is the 400-year-old, four-story townhouse in North London he shares with his wife of nine years, Olivia, 37, a lawyer, and their 3-month-old daughter, Ivy. "I change her, I bathe her, all that," says Gray of his only child, already a fan. "The other night she watched me on telly for the first time," he says. "She dribbled her approval."