David Essex Biography

David Essex

David Essex was born David Albert Cook in Plaistow, an only son. His father was an East End dock worker and his mother, a self-taught pianist and the daughter of Irish tinkers, worked as a cleaner in the local pub.

Essex was two-years-old when his parents moved out of the overcrowded home the family was sharing with relatives, to Canning Town, where he grew up. He loved playing football, was a member of West Ham Juniors for a while and dreamed of one day being a professional player.

In his early teens, one of his holiday jobs was working at a fun fair which may be part of why he loved mixing theatre and music later in his life. By the mid 1960s, in his late teens, Essex had joined a band called the Everons as the drummer and during the day he worked in a factory. He later left the band, became a singer and renamed himself David Essex. It was the time when British rock ‘n’ roll was riding high.

By the late 1960s, he was recording with Decca Records, as well as working for other labels. Unfortunately, his first ten singles flopped and, feeling disheartened, Essex switched to acting. He went through a demanding time of working in small theatre productions, whilst earning a living driving trucks and cleaning windows. His wife, Maureen, was pregnant and Essex was beginning to feel somewhat overwhelmed by his responsibilities.

Things started looking up when he met theatre writer Derek Bowman, who became his manager. They began work on refining his singing and acting techniques and he also took up dance. The hard work certainly paid off and he was cast as Jesus in the original London cast of ‘Godspell’ (1971), with Jeremy Irons as John the Baptist. It was a massive success and Essex won the Variety Club of Great Britain’s award for Most Promising Newcomer.

At age 24, in 1971, Essex was a star of the stage and he decided to set his sights on film. Having made his movie debut as an uncredited beatnik in ‘Smashing Time’ (1967) and being cast in a few other small roles, including being a page in ‘Carry on Henry’ (1971), he had yet to do some noteworthy film acting. His big break came with his starring roles, first in ‘That’ll be the Day’ (1973), with Ringo Starr, and then in the much darker sequel ‘Stardust’ (1974), with Keith Moon, Adam Faith and Larry Hagman, about the rise and fall of 1960s pop star Jim Maclaine.

‘That’ll be the Day’ (1973) was a major box office success in the UK and became a cult classic in the USA. Essex also wrote the single ‘Rock On’ that was used in the movie. It topped the charts in the US, reached number three in the UK, eventually going Gold and making Essex an overnight pop star. The album ‘Rock On’ (1973) swiftly followed and the single was nominated for a 1974 Grammy award. Attending the award ceremony were none other than John Lennon, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin. Essex sang a tribute with Sara Vaughan at the ceremony and was complimented on ‘Rock On’ by Lennon. The title song from ‘Stardust’ (1974) was another Top 10 hit. Essex had certainly hit the big time.

Hiring producer Jeff Wayne from the US was a smart move, as his unique production methods helped give Essex’s music an edge that set him apart from the 1970s teen pop sound. His popularity was rapidly growing and throughout the UK, he was mobbed wherever he went. His effect on the public at concerts was beginning to resemble ‘Beatlemania’ and he stopped traffic in the cities he visited. His intensely blue eyes and dark-haired good looks certainly helped his teen idol status and he adorned posters on many a fan’s wall. In 1974, he was voted number one British male vocalist.

Essex released his second single ‘Lamplight’ (1973), which reached number seven on the UK charts. The singles ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ (1974), a satirical look at his own success, and ‘Hold Me Close’ (1975) both shot to number one in the UK. His albums were selling well and after ‘David Essex’ (1974) came the hugely successful ‘All the Fun of the Fair’ (1975). However, his next album, ‘Out on the Street’ (1976), whilst being a loud and edgy record, received a lacklustre response. Essex had a fall out with his producer, Jeff Wayne, and decided to produce himself. The resultant album was ‘Gold and Ivory’ (1977).

His career was going from strength to strength but his personal life was somewhat troubled. Feeling trapped in his marriage to Maureen, Essex left her and began living a life of sexual excess. He certainly had enough female attention from his besotted fans. Enjoying his fame, Essex appeared on a number of American television and radio shows and was a guest on chat shows such as Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin. He was offered several recording deals in Los Angeles but turned them down, as it would have meant being tied to them for up to seven years. He was beginning to feel homesick for Britain and decided to return.

After being cast as a passenger in the James Frawley disaster spoof ‘The Big Bus’ (1976), he went into television work, starring in his own series titled ‘David Essex’ (1977) for the BBC. In 1978, he was the Artilleryman on Jeff Wayne’s album, a musical version of HG Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’, which was remarkably successful. He made many appearances on the television show ‘Top of the Pops’ and played the role of Ché Guevara in the stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical ‘Evita’ (1978). Essex formed his own record company, Phonogram, which released the single, ‘Oh What a Circus’ (1978), he had written for the show and it went to number three on the charts. Essex went on to produce several notable albums, including ‘Imperial Wizard’ (1979), ‘Stage-Struck’ (1982) and ‘Touching the Ghost’ (1989).

A huge motorbike fan, Essex was in his element starring as Nick Freeman, a hotheaded motorbike enthusiast, with Beau Bridges in ‘Silver Dream Racer’ (1980). He also wrote the score for the movie, including the Top 10 hit ‘Silver Dream Machine’ title track. The single ‘A Winter’s Tale’ (1982) was written especially for Essex by Tim Rice and Mike Batt and it peaked at number two in the charts. By the mid 1980s, he was concentrating more on theatre work and wrote his own musical ‘Mutiny’ (1985), based on the novel ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Essex starred as Fletcher Christian and the West End show was nominated for Best Musical in the Ivor Novello awards. The score produced three Top 10 singles, including ‘Tahiti’ (1985).

His first television-acting role was as Davey Jackson in the BBC series ‘The River’ (1988), which had good ratings. Essex’s compilation album ‘His Greatest Hits’ (1991) reached number 13 and ‘Cover Shot’ (1993), his next album, raced to number three in the UK charts. Back to the theatre, Essex played Tony Lumpkin in Sir Peter Hall’s production of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ (1993), proving himself to be a fully established stage actor, able to carry the whole show. Essex had been a long time fan of Sir Peter and was delighted to be working with him as well as his fellow actors, Donald Sinden and Miriam Margoyles.

His album ‘Back to Back’ (1995), was released by Polygram, produced by Jeff Wayne and included a 53-date tour. Essex’s composing projects branched out to include a ballet when he wrote the score for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1995) performed by the international ice skaters, the Russian All Stars Company. The delightful show premiered at the Royal Albert Hall with a gala charity performance on 5 December 1995, in aid of Elton John’s Aids Foundation. As composer, Essex got to walk across a red carpet that had been laid on the ice, to take his bow at the end of the show.

Following the albums ‘Living in England’ (1995) and ‘Missing You’ (1996), Essex went on an extended 1996 UK tour that ended at the Odeon, Leicester Square. It was the first time this film venue had been used to stage a rock concert. Having last acted in a film when he played Don Pedro in a Japanese film ‘Kabuto’ (1992), Essex had a small part as a member of the Grimley Colliery Band in ‘Brassed Off’ (1996) a film about a coal mine in northern England.

Twenty-five years after his first number one hit, ‘Rock On’ (1973), Essex celebrated with a double tour, in Spring and Autumn of 1998. In May 1998, Polygram released ‘The Very Best of David Essex’ (1998) followed by an October 1998 album of new songs, ‘Here We Are All Together’ (1998), produced by Ian Wherry. Next were the album ‘I Still Believe’ (1999) and a two-month, 54-date UK tour, starting in Colston Hall, Bristol and ending in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

In 1999, Essex was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his stage, screen and music career, as well as his charitable work. 2000 saw the release of two albums, ‘A Night At the Movies’ (2000) and ‘Thank You’ (2000) which coincided with a 53-date UK tour, during which Essex previewed some of the songs from his next album, ‘Wonderful’ (2001). He recorded his live album, ‘Theatre of Dreams’ (2001), in Bournemouth during his 2001 UK tour.

Turning his hand to writing, Essex’s autobiography, ‘A Charmed Life’ (2002), was published by Orion Books. It became a bestseller and one of the most successful autobiographies of the year. The albums ‘Forever’ (2002), ‘Sunset’ (2003) and ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ (2004) were released via Essex’s website. In 2004, Edsel Records began releasing Essex’s classic albums on CD, in skilfully re-mastered editions.

More theatre work came his way and Essex starred as St. Peter in a new musical ‘Boogie Nights II’ set in the 1980s, which played to packed houses throughout Britain, opening in Bromley in August 2004 and closing in Blackpool in October 2005. Taking time out from the show, Essex performed in June and July 2005 with David Cassidy, The Osmonds and Les McKeown on the ‘Once in a Lifetime’ tour. He also appeared as a guest vocalist on Saint Etienne’s alternative rock album ‘Tales from Turnpike House’ (2005) and in a Channel 4 television documentary ‘Bring Back…The Christmas Number One’ (2005). It was an attempt to make a Christmas-themed song the Christmas number one single. Record companies were not interested in the project so the song was made available as a download from the Channel 4 website and reached number one on the download charts.

There was an announcement in early 2006 that Essex was to join BBC television sitcom EastEnders, to play Jack Edwards, the father of Honey. However, when the role was expanded beyond the original three weeks, Essex had to decline due to his music commitments. In 2006, he returned for a week to ‘Boogie Nights 2’, playing in Wolverhampton. In February and March, DVD versions of ’The River’ and ‘Silver Dream Racer’ and ‘David Essex Greatest Hits’ CD were released. He replaced actor Stephen McGann as Reverend Shaw Moore in the musical ‘Footloose’ in London from 5 June until 29 September 2006. Immediately after that, he returned to the recording studio to complete his album ‘Beautiful Day’ (2006) and to begin his 48-date tour of the UK in Nottingham on 29 September 2006 that ends on 26 November 2006 at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London.

Essex has been involved in extensive charitable work including spending six years as an ambassador for the aid organisation Voluntary Service Overseas. During this time, he recorded an LP ‘Under Different Skies’ for their World Music Fund, spent time in Zimbabwe, gave a music and drama workshop to student teachers in Uganda and filmed volunteer projects in Malawi in June 1995. In April 1996, Essex joined a team of celebrities, including Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and Nick Hancock, in a Comic Relief venture to Africa to play football against local teams. He is also patron of the Gypsy Council, which is devoted to the welfare of gypsies and travellers in Britain. In early 1999, Essex narrated and appeared in a video of Gypsy life and traditions that was sold to aid their cause. A popular, hard working and respected star, with a varied career in acting and singing, spanning four decades, he still tours the UK annually and releases albums via his website.

His musical entitled ‘All The Fun of the Fair’ toured the UK, including London's West End between September 2008 and summer 2009.

The singer followed this with a sell-out tour across the country called the Secret Tour and has released a DVD of his last night at Bournemouth on his website.

In 2010, Essex married the Welsh actress Susan Hallam-Wright in Bangor, Wales.

Earlier this year, Essex made his screen debut in the soap Eastenders, five years after being after he was initially supposed to appear.

He first appeared on screen on 3 June 2011, playing Eddie Moon, Alfie's uncle.

However, just five months after joining the show and making a splash with his character, Essex has revealed he will not be renewing his contract in October as he wishes to concentrate on his music.

He told ‘This Morning’ in August: "It's been really, really challenging, intimidating and it does take over your life. But I've been blessed because I've worked with wonderful actors."

Essex added that the door has been left open for him to return. He is currently recording an acoustic album to be released in time for Christmas and will be touring his musical once again.

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