From teen idol to TV star, and music manager to financial advisor, Adam Faith was a master of reinvention who, according to ’60s rock critic Nik Cohn, introduced “the concept of pop singer as thinker.” He was one of Britain’s first pop idols, but he proved himself to be more than just a pretty face by forging an ever-evolving career that lasted over 40 years.
Adam Faith was born Terence Nelhams-Wright in 1940. His father was a bus driver and his mother an officer cleaner, and they lived in a council house in London with Adam’s four siblings. While still at school at the age of 12, Adam had a job as a newspaper delivery boy, using his earnings to buy his own clothes, and then he boosted his income by selling newspapers from a pitch, earning him enough to buy a record player. He left school at the age of 15 with ambitions of working in the film industry, but his first full-time job was as odd-job boy for a local screen printer.
However, he soon switched to become an errand-boy at Rank Studios, showing early signs of his entrepreneurial spirit by working his way up to film editor’s assistant.
Inspired by Lonnie Donegan, Adam formed a skiffle group in 1956, naming it The Worried Men. In his first autobiography, Poor Me, published in 1961, he said, “Skiffle hit Britain with all the fury of Asian flu. Everyone went down with it.”
They played in coffee bars in London’s Soho, eventually becoming the resident band at the famous Two Is, and it was here that Adam was spotted by Jack Good during the filming of his Six-Five Special TV programme. Jack saw Adam’s potential as Britain’s own James Dean and, still known as Terry Nelhams at the time, convinced him that a change of name would boost his career.
Adam gave up his day-job and became a professional singer, but he soon found himself out of work. The stage version of the Six-Five Special that he was appearing in closed after only four performances, and his first single, released in 1958, failed to make the charts.
Two more singles followed, both failing to make an impression, leaving Adam convinced that he should give up on music and focus on acting instead. However, it would be nine years, 35 singles, two No. 1’s and seven albums later before he made the move, becoming one of Britain’s most popular singers and a ’60s teen idol alongside the likes of Cliff Richard and Billy Fury.
He had a glittering music career, but, as a “thinking pop star”, he knew all too well the potential pitfalls of becoming an overnight sensation, and he continued to develop his acting skills. Two No.1 singles, What Do You Want and Poor Me, had made him a wealthy man, but his head for business was already becoming clear as he chose to buy himself a car, a house for his parents, and to invest the rest.
Adam Faith the singer soon became Adam Faith the actor. In 1968, he was on stage in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in ’69 he was playing the lead in Billy Liar, and in 1971 he found TV fame in the popular TV series Budgie.
The 70s turned Adam into a star of stage and screen, but his reinvention didn’t end there. In the 1980s, he turned to the financial world, writing a column for The Mail on Sunday in which he claimed that he could make anyone a millionaire within six months. This particular career move didn’t work out as planned, but he remained a popular TV star into the 90s, playing Frank Carver in Love Hurts, and on stage touring with Alfie.
He said later in interviews, “I did Alfie for a year on the road and it broke records everywhere. It also changed my relationship with the public. For the first time, they were looking at me as a man instead of a young pop kid who was growing old.”
Adam died suddenly after a heart attack in 2003, aged just 62. At the time. Michael Parkinson said of him, “He was one of my best friends. He was an extraordinary guy, if you look at where he came from and where he got to. And not just in entertainment – he had various flirtations in business, from television companies to stamps to paintings. Everything was possible to Adam. I doubt he had a boring moment in his life. He had great verve…”
It was his verve and resolute determination to succeed that kept Adam going at every stage of his varied career.
From having to swallow his pride and return to work after the failure of his early singles, to surviving a near fatal car crash, and then recovering from bankruptcy, he showed incredible resolve throughout his life, truly living up to the Denholm Elliot quote he was known to carry around with him: “Surprise yourself every day with your own courage.”