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Breakfast Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 04:13 GMT 05:13 UK
Rags to riches tale of Essex boy David
David Essex
'A charmed life' - the autobiography of David Essex
He's best known for his seventies pop classics 'Hold me close' and 'Gonna make you a star' but now fans of David Essex can read for themselves his remarkable story of his journey from rags to riches.

His biography 'A charmed life' comes out on the 29th of August and follows his life from humble beginnings in London's east end to the dizzy heights of pop superstar.

  • David Essex talked to Jeremy and Sian about his autobiography and a new tour.

    David Essex
    'Rock on' reached number 1 in the USA

    David was born on 23 July 1947 in the East End, the only child of an East End docker. David's mother, who now lives with him, was the daughter of Irish tinkers, a cleaner in a local pub and a self-taught pianist.

    When he was two years old, his parents were living with relatives but left because the overcrowding became unbearable.

    David's father went to lodge with his sister, and the local council put him and his mother into an institution for the homeless and mentally ill.

    Writing the book has been an emotive time for him as memories have flooded back. He can still recall the institutional smell of the workhouse and the deranged shouts of the 'inmates'.

    His mother wasn't allowed to stay there during the day, and after breakfast at 7am she walked the streets, pushing David in his pram.

    She never let her son see her fear or sadness and he says: 'It was only as I talked to Mum when I was researching the book that I realised how dark and tragic those days were for her.'

    Nearly a year later, they got a council prefab with a garden in London's Canning Town.

    The book recalls the frustration of those early days, his time hop-picking with his gypsy relatives in Kent, his early love of football and his desire to be a professional player.

    All that changed when he bought his first drum kit and started playing with local blues and rock 'n' roll bands - David was originally a drummer in the semi-professional Everons.

    In December 1964, David Cook changed his name to David Essex after his band 'The China Plates' broke up and faded into oblivion, he subsequently turned to singing, and recorded a series of unsuccessful singles.

    Although great things were predicted, they never materialised. By the start of the seventies, he was working as a lorry driver and a window cleaner to support himself and his wife Maureen.

    Then on the advice of his influential manager, Derek Bowman, he switched to acting and after a series of minor roles received his big break in 1971, at the age of 23, he was chosen from 6,000 young hopefuls to star in Godspell.

    The first night was a tumultuous success and the next morning he was hailed as an overnight star.

    In 1973, he landed the leading role in That'll Be The Day, opposite Ringo Starr. Early 1974 was spent filming 'Stardust' (the sequel to That'll be The Day).

    In Stardust, he played a pop idol called Jim who was destroyed by adulation and excess, which was dangerously close to home.

    'All of a sudden you become God, but you know you're not God. So many of the things we were doing in the film were happening in real life. There were times when I didn't know whether I was David or Jim.'

    During the making of That'll Be the Day, David wrote 'Rock On' hoping it would be the soundtrack for the film, but it was rejected as too strange.

    But he refused to give up and recorded it with Jeff Wayne. It was released on 10th August 1975 by CBS and a month later peaked at No.3 in the British charts, reaching Number One in the US.

    But while his public life went from strength to strength, his private life was plunged into turmoil. David marriage to wife Maureen, ended because David felt trapped. What followed were wild years of sexual excess.

    Throughout the seventies he was pursued on all sides by nubile, besotted girls. During one performance, a fan jumped from a theatre's royal box on to the stage, miraculously not killing herself.

    On another occasion, he even brought traffic to a halt in London's Bond Street as hordes of screaming, lusting teenagers fought to get close to him.

    For years he had to deal with numerous affairs and a failed marriage but now he's put the troubled times behind him.

    He's patron of the Gypsy Council, and actively works to improve conditions for gypsies and travellers in Britain.

    David Essex
    Receiving his OBE in 1999
    David also spent six years as an ambassador for Voluntary Service Overseas, which earned him an OBE.

    "That was a big day. I took my two eldest kids, and me mum even went out and bought a hat," he laughs.

    He goes on to say it really was something very special: "But it didn't change me in any way. I don't have headed notepaper with David Essex OBE on it."

    As well as the book, David starts a country-wide tour on the day his autobiography comes out to promote his new album "Forever".

    His first number one, Rock On, and subsequent hits Hold Me Close and Gonna Make You A Star still pack dance floors, and at his concerts they stand side by side with material from his newer albums.

    Old favourites can be a bit daunting though. He says: "I find it surprising that you can write and record something that people still relate to 25 years later."

    David Essex's biography: A charmed Life is published by Orion. ISBN 075285 160 8 and new

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