David Essex: still rocking on at 60
PUBLISHED: 08:52 29 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 October 2010
David Essex was the 70s heartthrob whose poster was on the wall of a generation of teenage girls. Success has followed in musicals and, despite turning 60, he shows no signs of slowing up. JAMES MARSTON talked to him about the past, present and future.
David Essex was the 70s heartthrob whose poster was on the wall of a generation of teenage girls. Success has followed in musicals and, despite turning 60, he shows no signs of slowing up. He talks to JAMES MARSTON about his past, present and future.
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He was a young, tall, handsome gypsy; girls threw knickers at him and the boys hated him for it. Though still a heart-throb for a generation of women who grew up with his posters on their bedroom walls, David Essex, actor, singer and songwriter, this year turned 60.
However, age is just a number and the star who still prompts wistful bouts of teenage nostalgia shows no signs of slowing up - quite the reverse.
He's undertaking a national tour focussing on his own music, before heading into rehearsals for a major new musical, All The Fun of the Fair, a love-story centring on a fairground folk.
“I'm 60 but I feel like I'm 23,” he of his arrival into a sixth decade. “I didn't really celebrate. My 60th birthday fell on the first day of rehearsals for Aspects of Love.”
From his home in London's Covent Garden - right in the heart of the capital's theatre district - Essex has been plotting an 2008 as busy has almost every year since he first made a name for himself by impressing American producers to win the lead role of Jesus in the stage musical Godspell in 1971 , aged 23.
“It's a really busy year,” he said. “I've just come out of Aspects of Love after six months and I've been really looking forward to the rock tour. I haven't been on the road for a couple of years so it's nice to get back and play some of the songs from my new album.”
The tour originally included 48 dates, but that's been expanded. “It started out as a 25-date tour but it's grown as these things do. I suppose one day I'll stop saying yes.”
He's planning to play a mixture of songs both from his new album, Happily Ever After, and his numerous past hits. Rather remarkably over the years he's recorded albums and singles that have sold millions of copies worldwide and scored 23 top-30 singles in Britain alone.
His rise to screaming teenage girl fandom began with the release of Rock On in 1974. One of the great glam-rock era pop songs - if you grew up in the 70s you'll remember the tune, even if you haven't heard it in years.
On his first tour of Britain for top promoter Mel Bush, who is now also his manager, mayhem broke loose and Essex achieved a huge fan following which has never deserted him.
Rock On was followed by such diverse hits as Lamplight, Hold Me Close and Gonna Make You A Star. The last two went to number one.
Throughout the UK crowd scenes for his concerts resembled Beatlemania. In many cities - including Norwich - he stopped the traffic when he appeared.
His success spread to the USA where he was nominated for a Grammy award for Rock-On. At the awards ceremony, in front of an audience that included John Lennon, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin, he joined Sarah Vaughan to sing a tribute and present an award to jazz giant Woody Herman.
Though feted by American TV and radio, homesickness saw him return to Britain where he landed his own series for the BBC and many Top of the Pops. He went on to produce several albums including Imperial Wizard and later Stage Struck and Touching The Ghost.
Never entirely comfortable with his teen idol status, he returned to musical theatre cast as Che in Evita and his own musical, Mutiny!, with Frank Finlay as Captain Bligh to his Fletcher Christian.
He didn't desert music entirely though memorably scoring a major hit with A Winter's Tale, a collaboration with Tim Rice and Mike Batt.
After several months in Aspects of Love, which visited Norwich at the end of last year, he's excited about a return to performing his music. “I write an album most years and its available from my website which is how it's done nowadays.
“A lot of song-writing is quite personal and draws on my own experiences. For example, there is a song on there about my mum who passed away last spring.”
As soon as his tour is over though, Essex will be working on All the Fun of the Fair. “I've always been fascinated by funfairs and the insular world of the showmen that create a world and then pack up and go somewhere else.
“The show is about relationships, but it's not a juke box show. It's quite dark and edgy. I have written it and I'm playing the fairground owner. We are currently looking for an actor to play my son.”
So what's the difference between musical theatre and playing his old hits? “I love the immediacy of a one-night concert and the instant connection with the audience, but I also like developing a character that you can do in a musical.”
t Do you have an unfulfilled ambition?
“I don't think I do really. I've been so lucky in my career.”
t What's the highlight of your career?
“I was just coming out of Godspell. I was getting great reviews, Rock On was number one in America and I was in That'll Be The Day. It all happened in a two week period.”
t What's your most embarrassing moment?
“I can't remember where it was, but I walked on stage once after a few too many brandies and walked straight into the orchestra pit. They put me back on stage and I carried on.”
t Tell us something about yourself which our readers won't know?
“I really like sport and I played football for West Ham when I was a little boy. I also like cricket.”
t What's your diva demand in the dressing room?
“A cup of tea.”
t What car do you drive?
“A X5 BMW”
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