An interview with David Essex
PUBLISHED: 13:55 18 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:55 18 July 2016
David Essex took the county of his childhood as his own name when he began on the road to stardom. Mica Bale spoke to him about that journey and his love of our county
If there is one star who promotes this great county everywhere he goes, it must be David Essex. Of course, this is no accident, as David decided to take on the county of his birth as his stage name, and you could say it has reaped rewards as when David Essex appears at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion in November, unless you already have your ticket, you are too late – that is how big a star he is in this part of the world.
‘I moved to Essex when I was a kid and it was so different,’ David explains. ‘I have loved it ever since, so it made sense to call myself David Essex instead of David Cook.’
Life began for David Cook in Plaistow, on the edge of East London. His father, who was one of 13 children, was a docker and his mother, who was the daughter of an Irish traveller, used to help boost the family income by cleaning.
‘They were like so many in the East End; they worked hard and did their best to make ends meet,’ says David. ‘It was difficult, but they made the best of it. I didn’t have a brother or sister, which was probably just as well because we lived in a one-bedroom flat. Even that changed when I was quite young because the landlord decided that he didn’t want kids in his place and we had to move.
‘We went on the list for a council house, but it took a little while to get somewhere. My dad got TB and he was in and out of hospital a fair bit which made it hard for him to find work, so it was a struggle. When we moved into a prefab in Canning Town it was much better. We loved it and we even had a garden, which was something new to me and a place to play football without having to be in the street all the time.
‘I loved my football and I was not bad at it. That’s why I played for West Ham juniors when I was still at school. I had this great dream that one day I would be a professional footballer and play in the Hammers’ first team, maybe even play for England. Yes, that was my dream, along with a few million other boys of course.’
Growing up in Canning Town is something that David remembers with fondness.
‘It was a fantastic place for me, I enjoyed it. I went to Star Lane Primary School, which was all right, and then I went to Shipman County Secondary School which was very keen on football and just right for me. I wanted to go there so I did not try very hard with my 11+ exam. The school was all right, the football was great and by the time I was 12 I was even earning a few bob by helping out at local markets. I enjoyed that, I liked being outdoors and the life of the market trader and fairground people really appealed, perhaps it was my mother’s heritage coming out.
‘We even managed to get holidays now and then. We used to go to the Isle of Sheppey, but my favourite was going to Clacton. Around where we lived there were still the results of World War II, with bomb sites and the odd crater here and there. Going to the seaside was totally different, travelling through the great Essex countryside and then going onto a beach and paddling in the sea. It was brilliant. Clacton was the best place in the world to me and I still have a very soft spot for the resort. We usually stayed at a holiday camp in a caravan or a chalet and had loads to do. We had cheap and cheerful holidays, but we had great fun and I remember those childhood holidays as very special times.’
When he was 13, David took a trip to Soho. That might seem like a strange trip for a young boy, but David went because he had developed a love of music and had heard of the Flamingo Club, which was a popular R&B venue.
‘It made a huge difference to me,’ David recalls. ‘I suddenly found that music became more important than football and I wanted to be a drummer. I bought a kit and even though the neighbours sometimes complained about the noise, I kept at it and joined a band.’
David’s career was on its way because it was not long before he met Derek Bowman, who was basically a writer but saw a lot of potential in the young drummer.
‘Derek was brilliant. He knew exactly what was needed and saw more in what I could do than I ever did. It was really down to Derek that I became David Essex. We had moved to Marks Gate, near Romford, which was pretty good. I liked being an Essex boy. Derek advised me to join Equity but there was already a David Cook, so we decided that I needed a different stage name. Derek suggested David Essex and it sounded all right to me, so I have been Essex through and through ever since – and proud of it.’
David still occasionally goes to watch West Ham play and still visits the cemetery where his parents are at rest.
‘They were good to me,’ he says. ‘Despite all the difficulties and the fact that they were not the sort who gave you hugs and kisses, I always knew they loved me and gave me the best childhood they could.’
David, who dotes on his own children and grandchildren, is proud of his heritage and has played a major role in defending the rights of travellers as well as supporting a number of charities. He received an OBE in 1999, but despite his stardom and a popularity that has never decreased in the 50 years he has been a major performer, his feet have never left the ground.
‘I have enjoyed the success, of course, and I have enjoyed the fact that i have been able to go places, ride motorbikes and do the things I enjoy, but I have never taken myself too seriously as a pop star or anything else. If I hear myself on a radio in a shop, I am more likely to turn my collar up and pretend I am someone else.’
It is difficult to know which label to put on David as he is a multi-million record selling artiste, a top billing star of musicals and other stage productions as well as a very talented actor, even appearing in EastEnders a few years ago.
‘That was really for my mum’s benefit because she used to watch it. I enjoy acting, but I don’t like to do too much television. You will never catch me on one of those reality shows. I am really a theatre and concert venue performer. I have done a few films, but I prefer to have a live audience and live performers on stage with me.’
That brings us back to Essex, and Southend in particular where David will appear at the Cliff’s Pavilion.
‘I am looking forward to it on November 17,’ David reflects. ‘The night before, we are in Ipswich, but I am especially looking forward to Southend because I always remember it as a wonderful place for a day-trip from London. It still is very special and I really like the Cliffs Pavilion.’
What better ambassador for the county could there be than David Essex?