It’s often said that someone can be aged by the actor they know as Doctor Who, and perhaps the same can be said of which David Essex you know. He’s a chart-topping singer and songwriter, actor on screen and stage, and writer of books and musicals. Over four decades of stardom and still going strong, so what’s his secret?
In his own words, he says, “The British like to pigeonhole you, but I will keep popping out of different holes”…
Prior to landing the lead role in Godspell in 1971, David was a struggling musician playing drums in a blues band. He was cleaning windows and driving a lorry just to make ends meet, and then his manager suggested making the switch to acting. Out of thousands of hopefuls at the auditions, 23-year-old David was selected to play Jesus.
“I asked the director should I grow a beard, he said no we play Jesus as a red nosed clown! Godspell for me and an ensemble cast of sparkling talent was a truly wonderful experience which turned me into an overnight success.” – David Essex
That’ll Be the Day and Stardust:
In 1973, David appeared in the stage version of Tommy and his stage acting talents landed him the lead role in the film That’ll Be the Day, which led to Stardust, the sequel released in 1974. He was now a star of stage and screen, but he was also writing music.
During filming of That’ll Be the Day, he wrote “Rock On”, in the hope that it would become part of the film’s soundtrack. It was rejected as “too strange”, but in 1975, David recorded it anyway. It reached No.3 in the UK and rocketed all the way to No.1 in the US.
“Gonna Make You a Star” and Essex Mania:
But, by 1974, David already had a No.1 hit record in the UK. He was now a star of stage and screen, and a popstar – and Essex Mania was in full swing. “Gonna Make You a Star” was riding high at the top of the charts and posters of David were now on millions of bedroom walls around the country.
Young girls were throwing themselves at his feet wherever he went, and he has said in interviews, “I’ve still got Blu-Tack on my shoulders… I just couldn’t believe the hysteria. To say I wasn’t comfortable with the adulation is an understatement. My ears used to ring for about two hours after a concert from all the high-pitched screaming. But, I never had knickers thrown at me.”
“Hold Me Close”:
The release of “Hold Me Close” in 1975 gave David his second No.1 hit, but he didn’t settle for pop superstardom, returning to the musical theatre stage in 1976 to star in Evita. “Oh What a Circus” from the Evita soundtrack was released in 1978, giving David another Top 3 hit.
The stardom of the 1970s led to a lifestyle of excess and a bad boy image, but David continued to “pop out of different holes” in the 80s…
Silver Dream Machine:
In 1980, he starred in the motorcycle film Silver Dream Machine, and the title track took him to No.4 in the charts. As a keen motorcyclist, he also waived his fee for advertising the new Triumph Bonneville in the same year.
In 1981, David demonstrated his straight acting skills in the stage play Childe Baron, and then in 1982 he was back in the charts with “A Winter’s Tale”. It reached No.2 – and has been a regular feature on the radio around Christmastime ever since. In 1985, David popped out of a new hole as co-writer and star of his own West End musical, Mutiny! Two songs from the score gave him two more hits, proving the point that he couldn’t be pigeonholed.
David added small screen acting to his list of “holes”, starring in the popular TV series The River in 1988.
The 1990’s and Beyond
His career on stage and in the charts continued throughout the 90s, with his “Greatest Hits” album going gold. In 1999, he received an OBE for services to stage, screen and music, along with his charitable work. He says, “That was a big day. I took my two eldest kids, and me mum even went out and bought a hat. But it didn’t change me in any way. I don’t have headed notepaper with David Essex OBE on it.”
In 2002, David’s first autobiography, A Charmed Life, was published, becoming a best-seller. A further autobiography, a book of rhymes and a novel have followed, adding writer to the list of holes he has popped out of, not to mention his appearance as Alfie Moon in Eastenders in 2011.
David is still touring, and while there may not be quite as much screaming these days, his fans are as loyal as ever… which David Essex do you know?