David Essex was born David Albert Cook on the 23rd of July 1947 in the County Borough of West Ham in the East End of London. His mother and father married in wartime, in the Spring of 1940 and at the time of his birth, they were living in Plaistow. His father, Albert Charles Cook, was a dock labourer before ill health forced him to a desk as a tally clerk. His mother, Doll, nee Kemp, was the daughter of a "travelling tinker man" named Tom Kemp from Cork in Ireland. She is the great niece of Gypsy Rose Lee who was once known as 'The Queen of the Gypsies. The 'travellers' blood runs deep in David's veins and he is an active patron of the Gypsy Council, an organisation that cares for the travellers. He introduced a video, made on behalf of the GC by Jeremy Sandford, better known for the acclaimed play 'Cathy Come Home'. The video is called Spirit of the Gypsies and is available from The Gypsy Council at 8 Hall Road, Aveley, Romford, Essex, RM15 4HD. Tel 01708 868986. David is an only child and, although it was a poor childhood, he was happy. The family was split up temporarily, with David and his mum being forced to live in a council run home while his father was living with his sister. While still a very young boy, his father contracted TB which in the early 50s was a 'killer' disease. As a young child he went to school at Star Lane Primary School in Canning Town, a school whose teachers David has many fond memories of. As an older child he attended the Shipman Road Secondary School in Custom House. " Not a very good school" apparently as David said in an interview once. "We didn't have Music or we didn't have Art, we just had fighting in the playground!" After lessons, he frequented a youth club where he was taught the rudiments of drumming by an ex member of the Sidney Lipton Band. Even his drum rehearsals were supported by his parents, whose neighbours in the council flats were understandably not so enthusiastic! He applied for a job advertised in a local paper with a band who needed a drummer. The music they played was waltzes and quicksteps and it was not long before David was on his way again. This time an engagement with a band called The Everons (meaning they were never off! )who played regularly in The Eagle in Leytonstone. It was there that David's mentor, Derek Bowman, heard him for the first time. The group comprised of Brian Mundy 19 on rhythm guitar, his sister Sandra 16 who played bass guitar, and Sandra's fiance John Kneller who was 18 and played lead guitar. On the drums was Dave Cook who was by now 17.
After a time listening to the band, who were very nervous, Derek and his friend, Stanley Murray went home. Stanley's words "I think Dave Cook could be an enormous star" proved to be prophetic. Bowman and Stanley Murray formed a partnership and signed up the Everons to a contract and urged them to change their name to the China Plates ( Cockney rhyming slang for mates)! The group was eventually seen by an A & R man from Decca who told Bowman to "take that boy away from the drums and put him in front of a mike and then contact me again!" His next decision was supported by his parents, with the vain hope that eventually he would get a 'proper job'. David decided to leave his toolmakers apprenticeship at Plesseys in Ilford and join up with Derek Bowman as his sole manager. It was in December 1964 he changed his name from Cook to Essex.... and a legend was born.
His film debut as ' A Swinging Londoner' in 'A Smashing Time' came in May 1967. And if you can spot him amongst the 'extras' you have better eyesight than me! He made a number of records with Fontana, MCA, Pye and Decca, eight in all. None was a hit and he spent time in repertory learning the art of The Stage. During 1970 David married his long time girlfriend Maureen Neal and they set up house together. In September 1970 he formed a recording parnership with Rozaa Wortham and released Time Of Our Life on the Phillips label. Not successful, the partnership was ended after their second record also flopped. He took small parts in some films such as Carry On Henry, Assault and All Coppers Are..... Unfortunately, his part in the Carry On film ended up on the cutting room floor!
Meanwhile, David was getting disillusioned with the constant knock backs and was thinking of getting a 'normal' job, due in part to Maureen expecting their first child before the end of 1971! In October 1971 he attended an audition for a show called Godspell. He warned Derek Bowman that if he didn't get the part, he would quit the business. Various audition tunes have been mentioned by David over the years. From Going Out Of My Head to What A Mouth, to Flash, Bang, Whallop! Whatever it was he sang at the audition, he wowed the producers of the show! John Michael Tebelak then approached him and said "I would like you to play Jesus Christ." David asked if he should grow a beard and was swiftly told that it wasn't that sort of play. " Our Jesus has a red nose like a clown!" David returned home to Maureen dazed and declared "I'm Jesus"
The rest is stage history. His performance was proclaimed in the Sunday Times, Feb 72. " Mr. Essex's is the best performance in London." That was fine praise considering Laurence Olivier was performing in London at the time! In the Melody Maker, their verdict was " A GREAT ADVERT FOR GOD!" On December the 18th 1971 Maureen gave birth to their first child, Verity, in Ilford Maternity Hospital. The news was given to him by Jeremy Irons who danced onstage to deliver the news - "Its A Girl"! In October 1972 he was given 7 weeks leave from Godspell to film 'That'll Be The Day' on the Isle of Wight, returning to the show in December. In April 1973 That'll Be The Day was premiered to rave reviews and the next twelve months were a round of personal appearances and a trip or two to the USA. Rock On was released in August and went to number one in America and number two in the UK. On September 15th 1973 David played his last appearance of Jesus onstage in Godspell, the rest of 1973 was spent promoting That'll Be The Day and pre production began on the sequel to it......Stardust.
Ringo Starr turned down a reprise in the role of Mike Menarry saying the role was " Too close to home" The role of Mike went to Adam Faith and David and Adam became good friends. In March 1974 David appeared as Jim Maclaine in a recording of The Stray Cats on stage at Belle Vue, Manchester in a scene from the forthcoming movie Stardust. September saw the release of Gonna Make You A Star which went straight to number one. October 24th 1974 saw the premiere of Stardust and David started his first major British tour on November 1st at the Southampton Gaumont. The 31 date tour was a sellout, the last performance at the New Victoria, London was recorded for a live LP. In January 1975 David became the biggest seller on the CBS label in ten years. During the rest of the 70s David had success after success with his albums and singles. (See Discography) Rock On & Lamplight in 1973, America, Gonna Make You A Star and Stardust in 1974, Rolling Stone, Hold Me Close & If I Could in 1975, City Lights & Coming Home in 1976, Cool Out Tonight in 1977 and Stay With Me Baby, Oh What A Circus & Brave New World in 1978. In early 1978 David played Che Guevara for about six months in Rice & Lloyd Webbers 'Evita' to international acclaim.
Tim Rice to this day attests that David's Che was the finest. It was during the madness of the success and tours of the mid seventies that David and Maureen added to their family with the birth in Spring 1977 of Danny Lee, who is now a successful record producer in his own right. His production team is called Whiteburn, namely himself and business partner and guitarist Dave Needham. After David's brief but glorious few months in Evita he appeared on Jeff Waynes musical concept album 'War Of The Worlds' alongside such greats as Richard Burton. During 1979, David had some success with his album Imperial Wizard but the single of the same name wasn't so much of a hit. It was around this time that David separated from Maureen. In 1980, David appeared as Nick Freeman in the hit movie Silver Dream Racer which was a straight acting role for him. His only singing in the film was over the credits. The film also starred Beau Bridges and was marketed in the USA with a 'happy ending'! The following year saw David return to the stage appearing as Lord Byron at the Young Vic Theatre in London. This, while he was carrying on with his recording and extensive touring of the UK! His unrivalled ability to cross over from stage to music to films is almost unique to David. His versatility is to be applauded.
David continued with some limited chart success over the next couple of years and in 1982, a successful run compering 9 talent shows for the BBC, namely, The David Essex Showcase, put him back into the public eye. In November,he rang his old friend Mike Batt and asked him to write him a hit for Christmas. By some good quirk of fate, Tim Rice was with Mike when David phoned him and they collaborated on the hauntingly beautiful romantic ballad, A Winters Tale. It shot up the charts but was pipped to the number one Xmas spot by the cheesey Save Your Love by Renee and Renato!! He is never one for resting on his laurels and it was around that time that the idea to write, star in and produce a West End musical took root. By the time that Mutiny! was staged he had been working on it with writer and dramatist Richard Crane for over 18 months! The logistics of staging such a large project were a nightmare, as the design and erection of a large full rigged boat which was hydraulically moved up and down on stage proved to be quite dangerous for the actors during rehearsals! Lights falling from the rigging were the norm! By the time that Mutiny! made the stage of the Piccadilly Theatre on 18th July 1985, David had been working on it for nearly two years! It then ran for 15 months to good reviews and great audience reaction. It was during this time that his relationship with his co-star Sinitta Renet who played Maimiti, hit the headlines. Her undignified "kiss and tell" never dented David's popularity with his loyal fans who are with him to the present day. A brief synopsis of David's career since then:- he has continued with sell out tours every year and released records which would have been hits if not for the radio stations stoic refusal to play them! While staying in his 'loft' in New York in 1984, David met and fell in love with Carlotta Christy, an American singer in a nearby club. Their relationship continued over the next few years, with many cross Atlantic flights back and forth! In 1988 he appeared in a BBC TV comedy series called The River which was very well received. He was asked to repeat the success but declined. It was during that year that Carlotta gave birth to their twin boys, Kit and Billy, on the 19th of May. In 1989 he undertook a gruelling world tour which took in Australia and USA with great success.
In 1990 he was asked to be an ambassador to VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) which supplies skills and teachers of skills for third world countries. Such was his commitment to and success at raising awareness for VSO, he has since been elevated to the VSO council. In late 1993 he appeared in She Stoops To Conquer for Sir Peter Hall with Donald Sinden and Miriam Margoyles, to more critical acclaim. In the January of 1994 his beloved father Albert succumbed to illness and passed away and David's mum Doll moved in with her beloved son. He extended his skills when he wrote the music and lyrics for an ice ballet performed all over the UK in 1995, danced by the Russian All-Stars! At the star studded premiere at the Royal Albert Hall which was in aid of Elton John's Aids Trust, Michael Aspel skidded onto the ice via a red carpet to deliver that immortal line :- "David Essex, This Is Your Life". He took part in various Children in Need fund raising and, for Comic Relief in 1996 he took a team of celebrities to Africa to play some football matches against local villages teams. This was televised by the BBC in the late summer and titled "Balls For Africa" Unfortunately, his long time friend and mentor Derek Bowman died on the 1st of June 1996. During this year he also finally got a divorce from Maureen after around 17 years of separation. They are still great friends. In May 1997, he released an album of Movie songs with the backing of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra called Night At The Movies. On the 4th of July 1997, David and his long time partner Carlotta Christy married in a quiet ceremony at a registry office. His mum and 'Mick the Greek' being his only guests! They even forgot to take a camera! Their twin boys, Kit and Billy didn't even get a day off school! On February 18th 1999 David was honoured by the Queen with an OBE presented to him at Buckingham Palace and attended by his mum Doll, daughter Verity and son Danny. This was for his services to charity and VSO, of which Prince Philip is the patron.
He continues to tour every year to packed houses and his Wonderful album released in 2001 was the best since Touching The Ghost in 1989. He released an album in the Spring of 2002 called Theatre Of Dreams which was recorded on the last night of the 2001 Autumn tour in Bournemouth. That he could have performed the show at all was remarkable, as it transpired that he had been ill all that day with food poisoning. In all his many years of performing, he holds the incredible record of NEVER missing a show. During his run in Evita he did the show with German Measles and one London paper apparently warned 'pregnant ladies to sit in the dress circle!' His daughter Verity married on the 9th of Dec 2001 at Eastnor Castle and 'dad' was there to give the bride away. His autobiography A Charmed Life was published in August 2002 and reached the top of the Best Sellers lists. He undertook a gruelling book signing tour too, signing literally 'thousands' of his books for fans who lined the streets for the privilege. This preceded a new self penned album (Forever) and another sell out tour. David sells his albums directly from his website ( www.davidessex.com )or at his concerts, so they cannot be included in the charts. However, sales of the album would have put him in the top ten had they been eligible.
On June 5th 2003, Verity gave birth to David's first grandchild, Joseph. David's autumn 'Sunset' tour was very successful and, yet again, the Sunset album would have zoomed up the charts if not sold only on the internet. 2004 saw David returning to the Musical stage to star as Peter the Angel in the new production, 'Boogie Nights 2, The 80s', launched in August and continued into 2005, which included a long run in Blackpool. During the BN2 run he also found time to write and produce a new album, It's Gonna Be Alright. In 2005, David appeared in a retro tour named Once In A Lifetime starring alongside David Cassidy, The Osmonds and the Bay City Rollers. He won many more fans from all the other artist's fans for his professionalism and charisma.
2006 saw David appearing as the Reverend Shaw in the West End Novello Theatre production of Footloose alongside Cheryl Baker who played his wife. He released a Greatest Hits album in June of 2006 which got into the top 5 albums charts. Also in September of that year he wrote and released an new album, Beautiful Day. 2007 saw David very busy yet again, fitting in another OIAL Rewind tour with David Cassidy, The Osmonds and Showaddywaddy. Followed by a run playing George in Lloyd Webbers Aspects of Love and finishing up with a pantomime in Northampton playing the villainous Captain Hook opposite his Boogie Nights 2 co star Sophie Lawrence's Peter Pan.
In May 2008, David's beloved mum Doll, passed away. She was a regular visitor at David's concerts around the country and always had a ready smile and a friendly greeting to his fans at stage doors, me included. In 2008 David did a Summer tour named the Happy Ever After tour which saw yet another self penned hit album of the same name. On this album, one track, 'Emily's Book Of Life', includes a monologue from Doll about her wedding day, which is a fine tribute to that lovely lady. After the sell out tour, David embarked on another stage musical, this time from his own 1970s inspirational hit album All The Fun Of The Fair. The story was written by Boogie Nights 2 producer Jon Conway and revolved around a 1970s fairground owned by Levi Lee, played by David. It ran to packed auditoriums all over the country, starting in Bromley in September 2008 and ending it's run in Bristol in May 2009.
And it has not stopped there! He became a grandad again in March of 2009, his daughter Verity giving birth to a little girl who was named Daisy. In October of 2009, David embarked on yet another successful tour. Named, The Secret Tour, it kicked off in Norwich on the 12th of October and finished almost 30 dates later at Bournemouth on the 29th of November! His eldest son Danny and his wife Sarah gave David his third grandchild in early 2010 who was named George.
2010 saw his return to London's West End with his successful show, All The Fun Of The Fair. It opened on the 20th of April 2010 at the Garrick Theatre in Charing Cross Road. Starred David as Levi Lee, Christopher Timothy as Harvey and Louise English as Rosa and an ensemble young cast who have all performed in many shows in the West End. Most of the reviews were favourable but it had a few iffy ones too, mostly from critics who just did not 'get it'. He took a week or so off from the show to take part in yet another sell out Once In A Lifetime arena tour with The Osmonds, Bay City Rollers and Leo Sayer which ran from 25th of June to the 3rd of July. This man never stops! All The Fun Of The Fair ran until the 4th of September,then David took a well deserved rest andgot married again for the third time. On the 21st of September 2010 he married actress Susan Hallam Wright in a small church in North Wales where Susan's family are from.
Throughout the winter months of 2010/11 David wasshooting scenes in and around London and Bournemouth for a long awaited return to the cinema screen. The movie, named Tribe, is from the book of the same name by John F. McDonald who has also written the screenplay. It portrays a year in the life of a half-breed Gypsy ( Owen McBride ) as he tries, against the odds, to adjust to the 21st century and leave his roots behind. David plays a gypsy horse trader/trainer named Blackberry and one of his twin sons, Billy Christy Cook is in it too as Owen McBride. Thisbeing Billy's first feature film,David will be 'on hand' to help him out with the role.Billy has been busy on the domestic front too, providing David with his 4th and 5th grandchildren. A boy named Joe David and a girl named Sophie. There was also talk about David appearing as a horse racing trainer in another film, the working Title of which is called Weighing In, but it hasn't yet got off the ground. More news on that as soon as it is confirmed.
As if that wasn't enough to keep him occupied, he appeared in the pantomime, Peter Pan, at the Darlington Civic through December and January. He played the 'evil' Captain Hook and his new bride, Susan, played the eponymous hero, Peter Pan to packed out houses day and night.In the spring and summer of 2012 David starred in the BBC soap opera, EastEnders, as Eddie Moon. Eddie is the uncle of Alfie and the father of Michael Moon. That did a lot for the BBC's audience figures!
From September 2011 through until 2012, All The Fun Of The Fair toured the UK again to dozens of provincial theatres. Birmingham, Southend, Richmond, Edinburgh, Southampton, Norwich, Bradford, Stoke, Dartford, Wimbledon, Bath and Cardiff etc to name but a few. Theatres queued up to sign the show when it completed it's West End run! Since the summer of 2012 David has been working on the soundtrack to his latest film which now has the working title of 'Traveller'. As I type, the director of All The Fun Of The Fair, Nikolai Foster, has just finished editing the DVD of the show due to be released in time for David's new tour in the autumn of 2012. Playing 33 concerts in England, Scotland and Wales from 25th of Oct in York to Southend on the 3rd of Dec. He is also putting the finishing touches to a new album which will be available to purchase on the tour. Last, but by no means least, just before the tour David is to be honoured by the Variety Childrens Charity. He is to be presented with their Lifetime Achievement Award in Manchester on the 20th of October in front of a packed room of his friends, family and fans, of whom I am one. Can't wait!
Oh yes, he IS too much more than a pretty face!
Copyright - Julie Waller, August 2012(C)