MATURE heart-throb David Essex chats ahead of his musical arrival at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre on Monday.
FROM Silver Dream racing to Albert Square veteran heart-throb David Essex has done okay for a boy who simply wanted to be a jazz drummer.
Now back on the road with a musical based around his many songs, the chirpy performer is busier than ever but rules out one thing for certain – doing a reality show – not least in the wake of a certain series bearing his showbiz surname.
“The word ‘celebrity’ has been so devalued,” says David. “If anyone calls me a celebrity I wouldn’t be that happy. There are people who are stars and then there’s somebody who was known for being in Big Brother and then does panto. There’s a difference.”
Certainly the laidback star cannot be accused of not earning his stripes. From the sexy, blue-eyed pin-up who sang Rock On and Hold Me Close, to the star of stage and screen who played revolutionary Che Guevara in Evita and then the tortured Eddie Moon in EastEnders, his work has spanned generations of fans.
“Moving from one medium to another is very fulfilling and keeps you fresh,” says the 64-year-old who made his stage name in Godspell, That’ll Be The Day and Stardust. “Maybe as I move around so much I’m not such an easy target to shoot down.”
And move he does. Now a grandfather of four, he reckons his longevity is down to the fact his career has been so varied, mixing singing, songwriting and acting, and blending them in All The Fun Of The Fair.
Add to that his cameo role in Gajengi Boy, a film starring his son Billy, the concert tour he has planned for November along with a possible new album – and second memoir Over The Moon – it seems there’s no hint of retirement.
Much of that he says is down to his mentor and early manager Derek Bowman, a theatre critic and showbiz writer who opened his eyes to the possibilities of theatre.
“As a 14-year-old I’d had a very blinkered attitude towards music. It had to be black and obscure otherwise I wouldn’t listen to it. I was reluctant to acknowledge The Beatles and everything else that was going on at that time. But I got over that.”
Certainly his five-month stint in EastEnders was a complete contrast to anything else he’d done.
There’s now talk of a film adaptation of All The Fun Of The Fair and he’s writing Che, a musical based around the life of Guevara. Oh, and a one-person play called Tramp.
Clearly he’s always been drawn towards projects that allow artistic freedom. In fact, freedom is a word he uses a lot, perhaps a legacy from his mum’s gypsy lineage.
The son of an East End docker, Essex had his heart set on a career in football with his beloved West Ham until he discovered music and formed first band the Everons.
He hit the big time in the stage musical Godspell and then as a solo artist, swiftly finding his way onto every teenage girl’s bedroom wall.
Yet, while some of his pop star contemporaries were getting high, hammered or worse, the softly-spoken singer kept his distance from such potential downfalls.
By the mid-90s, however, Radio 1 wasn’t playing his songs any more. “Status Quo and Cliff Richard have made a big fuss about being ignored by Radio 1 and I see their point. It’s not something I have a chip on my shoulder about. It is just the way things are.
“But after taking a break I got a resurgence of energy and interest. I’ve always been a bit of a jobbing pop star. Maybe I just needed to step back for a while.”
It is maybe that outlook and acquiring more than one string to his bow that stood David in good stead for these later years.
“I’m not as impatient as I used to be because there aren’t so many tomorrows left now,” David says, somewhat stoically. “Maybe I’m a little bit more mellow but I still have an insatiable appetite for moving on. I’m a restless soul.”
Why my family has to come first
MARRIAGE arguably set the young David Essex on the right frame of mind for the long career that has followed.
While opportunity and temptation as a young, good-looking star were no doubt abundant, by his early 20s the star was already married to childhood sweetheart Maureen Neal.
When children Verity and Dan came along he gained an even stronger sense of responsibility.
“I wanted them to respect me, not read about me lying in a gutter somewhere,” reflects David.
“I always like to know what I’m doing at any given time. I’ve never really been a drinker and I didn’t do drugs.”
The sudden death of his father Albert from a heart attack in 1994 and the loss of his manager Bowman a year later prompted the singer to take a break, however.
By then he was divorced and re-married, had twins Bill and Kit and he didn’t want to repeat mistakes, such as spending so much time on the road.
“Subconsciously I felt I’d done everything, had number ones worldwide, theatre shows, films, TV and sell-out concerts. I thought maybe enough was enough.
“I regret not spending as much time with the first two children, but I was on a rollercoaster with my career. My life had been taken over by work and being away.”
Today, he’s more selective about work and family is all important – in fact, his first daughter Verity and his daughter-in-law are his personal assistants.
In 2010 David married his third wife, Susan Hallam-Wright, a Welsh actress 26 years his junior and the same age as Verity. She co-stars in All The Fun Of The Fair, playing his prospective daughter-in-law.
“She’s a good friend as well as a lovely person.
“Working together might have been awful but it’s actually brilliant.
“I did have this little question mark about spending 24 hours together – and being an only child I’m used to a bit of space. But it’s worked out fine.”
Over The Moon by David Essex is published by Virgin, priced £18.99.