When Paris came under attack, this year’s Mercury Prize winner Benjamin Clementine realised just how close the city was to his heart.

Raised in Edmonton, he spent six years busking and begging on the French streets before being discovered.

So on Friday when he took to the stage to accept his award for debut album At Least For Now he brought the audience to a hushed silence by dedicating it to the French capital and all those affected by the terror attacks.

“I realised how much Paris meant to me a few days ago,” says Benjamin, who lived near to the site of the attacks and travelled back there just hours after they happened.

“I have walked those streets, smiled on those streets, begged on those streets. I was really shocked and deeply hurt when I heard the news so I had to go back to give my respect.

“It is my second home. I have learnt so much from Paris about fighting for tomorrow and not giving up. In England we are more gentle about it but in France they are more passionate about it and putting your faith in things.”

Benjamin certainly put his faith in the city when he moved there aged 19 with hardly a penny to his name.

He has previously admitted he went there to escape his family and when we chat says: “I had a very religious family I must admit, we went to church almost every day, it was literally 30 seconds from our house and the priest was our neighbour.”

His first experiences of music were the organ playing and worship songs of the congregation but he slowly discovered other music through Classic FM and a keyboard his older brother brought home when he was 11, which he taught himself to play.

Benjamin attended Bishop Stopford School in Enfield. “It’s a Christian school and so we had communion every morning,” he recalls. “I remember one time the piano player wasn’t in so I sat down and had to play, it was Abide With Me, I think. I played it by ear because I can’t read music.

“I can’t remember anything else from school, I didn’t like spending time there.”

When his parents divorced Benjamin moved to Camden for a short while and then to Paris, unwittingly setting himself on the path to fame as he was forced to sing publicly for the first time.

“I was always singing at home and humming but I didn’t sing out in church or anything. But when I when to Paris I had no choice. I sounded terrible and I still do but at least now I have something to say.”

And it was in France that he first realised music was what he wanted to do.

“One time I was playing in a hotel in Cannes and in the middle of a gig people were talking. So I left the hotel, went to a nearby bar, went upstairs and there was a piano. I started playing it.

“It was the first time I had gone back to piano because in France I was playing the guitar, for about three years. Everyone started coming from the bar and stood right next to me and listened. I’ve not stopped doing it since.

“I started believing in music then. I just felt music can really connect people and bring them together - unfortunately seven days ago people who went to listen to music and unite were faced with evil.

“Before then I just liked music and just played it for passion and didn’t think it would be a career, my parents certainly never showed me it could be and they were right in some ways because it is very hard to make a career as an artist.”

Benjamin spent time sleeping on the streets and begging, and says Paris brought him “down to the ground floor” and taught him to value life and respect everyone as equals.

In fact, he didn’t speak to anyone for his first three years there, only singing in bars and then going home to sleep and eat.

“Eventually when I recorded my EP is when I started opening up to people. My music pretty much saved me," explains the 26-year-old.

His music started getting airtime on the radio and a performance on Later…With Jools Holland quickly followed. A year later he was signed and another year after that began making his debut album At Least For Now which includes the tracks London, St Clementine on Tea and Croissants and Winston Churchill’s Boy.

“I tried to record in France but because of the language barrier things were getting really complicated so I came back to Edmonton and recorded at Rak Studios down in St John’s Wood.”

Although it took only a few short days to record, the songs on the album took Benjamin a good four years to write and include many references to his home, although a song entitled Edmonton didn’t make the cut.

When we chat, the day before the Mercury ceremony, he is staying in central London and says because he is so busy touring he is still without a permanent home.

But his home town will always hold a special place in his heart and he would like to spend his prize money on pianos for the area.

“I’m glad to be a British artist and the Mercury made me realise that.”

He isn’t in touch with his family, who still live in the area, except his elder brother, but says he thinks they are proud of him. And he hopes that whoever wins the Mercury will continue with music as ‘so many don’t’. A wish he will now have to live up to himself.

But he certainly seems to have the motivation.

“My passion has always been to sing for myself and for the people, do great music for people to love, and to hate as well. I’m not going to change my mind about that.

“I’m still doing the same thing as I was on the streets and bars, singing in front of somebody, singing to somebody and giving something to somebody.

"In terms of size or location it has changed and in terms of attention and professionalism of course it has changed drastically. But in terms of the reason why I’m doing this, no, it hasn’t changed.”

Benjamin will play a sold-out gig at St John at Hackney Church on December 7. Details: benjaminclementine.com