As I unpacked my case on the hotel bed, a girl emerged from the wardrobe. 'I love you,' she cried: David Essex on the perils of 1970s pop stardom
22:00 GMT, 10 March 2012
22:01 GMT, 10 March 2012
I was determined that my first tour should be in my homeland, where it had all happened for me: Britain.
When my manager delivered the itinerary, the opening date jumped off the page at me: East Ham Odeon, not three miles from Plaistow, where I had been born and enjoyed such a wonderful childhood.
I knew the omens were good. It was 1974. My film Stardust had been released to a similar fanfare to that which had greeted That’ll Be The Day.
David Essex in Tahiti promoting his single Friends, which featured in the musical Mutiny! Of his fans, he said: 'They loved an impossible, glossy, unrealistic ideal of me'
The David Essex album was to reach No 2 in the chart, while Gonna Make You A Star became my first No 1 single. Yes, movies and albums I was well versed in. Playing live was a new experience.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more nervy and psyched-up than as I sat backstage before the first show and heard the excited crowd streaming into the venue.
Eventually our road manager tapped our secret-coded knock on the door and told me: ‘They’re ready when you are.’
So this was it. Show time. I slipped on my jacket and made my way to the wings.
I could hardly believe the volume of the noise as the band went on and the lights went up. But even this caco-phony seemed like nothing compared with the frenzy that erupted when I joined them on stage. It sounded as if 20 Concordes were lifting off all around us. How could anything be this loud
The noise was so relentless that my mind seemed to be shutting down. Everything felt like it was in slow motion. I walked as if through quicksand towards the microphone, certain that nobody would be able to hear a word I sang.
David delights his fans in concert in 1975. He says that fame did not destroy his 'basic shyness'
Somehow, I became aware of a shadow looming over me. As I twitched in shock, a girl who had jumped from one of the side boxes 10ft or so above the stage landed at my feet in a crumpled heap, yelling as she bounced on the boards.
What should I do Retreat Pick her up I moved to the other side of the stage, hoping security would sort it out.
I had fondly imagined that I was prepared for being the object of mass worship and adoration. I could not have been more wrong. They were screaming just for, and at, me. I felt grotesquely uncomfortable. What was so special about me
I also felt a slight, strange resentment. We had worked for weeks on songs and arrangements, rehearsed and honed them until they were perfect, and now nobody could hear a thing through the shrill, piercing wall of screams. We might as well have been playing anvils and didgeridoos.
The show went well. But the bouncers needed sharp reflexes to intercept the countless girls launching themselves towards me.
Afterwards, to put it simply, we had to get out of the building. Every exit of the Odeon was blocked as girls milled around, chanting my name and longing for a close encounter.
So we crept across the Odeon’s roof to an adjoining building, down through its service entrance and into a waiting car.
These thrilling, sometimes terrifying scenes of lunacy followed me through the entire tour. Even the scenes after the opening gig paled next to the mayhem in Liverpool.
The crowd for the first show at the Empire decided to stick around outside the venue, which meant that when the second performance finished, there were not one but two audiences blockading us: 6,000 people.
The police were called, and roamed the area outside the Empire with dogs as the superintendent in charge hatched a cunning plan.
Disguised in a police uniform, I would burst out of the venue with nine or ten ‘fellow officers’ and be rushed back to the Adelphi Hotel.
Unfortunately, the plods had no shoes for me to change into, which meant that I dashed into the throng in a too-big uniform and the same bright red, instantly recognisable boots I had been wearing on stage.
I was twigged immediately, my police escort was sent flying, and I would have been torn to pieces had a burly sergeant not put me over his shoulder and dumped me in the back of a police Land Rover.
'I never liked the idea of a fan club… I cringed whenever I saw a David Essex tea towel,' he said
For my own safety, I spent the night at the police station. When the tour hit South Wales, the band and I checked into our hotel and I was shown to my room.
As I opened my suitcase and began to unpack before heading off to the soundcheck, a girl emerged from my wardrobe. I gazed at her in shock.
She cut straight to the chase. ‘I love you,’ she told me.
I asked her what she was doing there, and she fell silent. This was a phenomenon to which I was to become accustomed in years to come: girls who were utterly obsessed with me would meet me and be struck dumb.
‘You shouldn’t be here,’ I told her.
‘I know,’ she agreed.
‘How did you get in’
She gave no answer, so I opened the bedroom door and politely gave her a red card: ‘I think you’d better leave.’
She trudged off down the corridor.
Of course, many would have behaved very differently when confronted with a nubile young lady leaping out of a wardrobe at them.
So why didn’t I take advantage of the hundreds – thousands – of girls who would have liked nothing more than a night of passion with David Essex
The main reason was simple. I had a wife, and a young child.
Maureen and I had our ups and downs, but I hated the thought of cheating on her. I loved my family. I also had a strong moral code.
I knew that these girls who ‘loved David Essex’ didn’t even know me, with all my foibles: they loved an impossible, glossy, unrealistic ideal of me, assembled from the music, the cinema screen and the pages of Jackie magazine.
I knew it would be wrong to abuse their ‘love’ for me.
I was also keen not to exploit fans with tacky merchandise. I never liked the idea of a fan club, and although I occasionally wrote a letter for mine to send out, I generally kept such activities at arm’s length.
I also cringed whenever I saw a David Essex tea towel, or opened a copy of Jackie or Look-in to find a pull-out poster of me. Fame had not destroyed my basic shyness.
'I was still the same East End boy who had driven minicabs,' said David
Possibly my most perilous encounter with out-of-control fans came when I was due to go into Radio 1 for an interview with breakfast-show DJ Tony Blackburn.
As we were about to leave, my promotions man, Colin, received a call warning us that an enormous crowd had gathered outside Broadcasting House.
The most sensible reaction would have been to postpone the appearance, but this was a high-profile publicity opportunity.
So it was suggested that I travelled in my blacked-out Mini, and put one of CBS’s promotional cardboard cut-outs of me in the limo.
But fans are not stupid and they pounced on my poor little Mini as soon as they saw it.
There were so many girls on top of the car that we thought the roof would give way. The weight broke the back springs.
I was trapped and engulfed in a sea of shrieking girls.
Twenty or so faces pressed against the car’s windscreen and windows, and fans fought behind them to get to the front.
I stared vaguely into the middle distance as if I were oblivious to the carnage around me.
But I couldn’t help catching the eye of a black girl with her face squashed against the windscreen, who helpfully explained their motivation in this scene: ‘You know why, don’t you It’s because we f****** love you!’
Blackburn was not to get his scoop interview.
I might have been enjoying No 1 records, selling out venues and entertaining thousands of besotted fans, but I knew I was still the same East End boy who had driven minicabs, trod the boards in rep and made up the numbers in pantomimes.
No matter what Jackie magazine might think, I hadn’t turned into a god.
David Essex 2012.
Over The Moon, by David Essex, is published by Virgin Books, priced 18.99.
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A sting in the tale of my old school
My East End secondary school was a horror show. We didn’t study art, music or anything creative, and a bleak mood of edgy indifference permeated the school.
We had science lessons, for a while, but even these stopped after the ‘Gassing of the Bees’ scandal.
Mr Dines, known to us for some reason as Daddy Dines, brought in some of his pet bees for us to see.
He was proud of the way that they would fly out through a small hole in their glass case, somehow locate pollen in the urban sprawl of Custom House by the Thames and return to the glass hive with their spoils.
Mr Dines showed us the queen bee and her workers, and then made the mistake of turning his back.
As he headed towards the blackboard, a couple of the boys inserted the rubber tube from a nearby Bunsen burner into the hole, fastened it in place with chewing gum, and turned on the gas.
By the time Daddy Dines returned to the case, his precious bees were in a lifeless pile.
Mr Dines went completely crazy. Thinking back now, he may have been having a nervous breakdown.
He leapt on a chair waving his cane and began yelling at us: ‘Who gassed my bees’ smashing desks and test tubes as the kids ran for cover.
A few of the more sensitive ones were crying.