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“I’m a restless person by nature”

From the role in Godspell that made him a star, to Top Of The Pops, Evita and EastEnders, David Essex has never been far from the limelight for more than 40 years. Nicky Household meets him.

David Essex arrives for our rendezvous in the lounge of a Covent Garden hotel, wrapped up against the icy December wind in a cashmere overcoat and peaked leather cap. As we start to talk, it seems almost incredible that this modest, quietly-spoken, 65 year-old is the same David Essex who, back in the Seventies, had to be protected from his adoring fans by policemen wielding dustbin lids.

With his pop idol looks, his string of top ten hits and his phenomenally successful stage debut as Jesus in the 1971 musical Godspell, David remained a teenage heartthrob for more than a
decade. But his career didn’t end there, of course, because his acting, singing and song-writing talents took him on to starring roles in the films
That’ll Be The Day (which contained his hit single Rock On) and Silver Dream Racer as well as the role of Che Guevara in the original stage version of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita.

In the Eighties, he co-wrote and starred in the West End musical Mutiny! (based on Mutiny On The Bounty) and played the roguish cockney lock-keeper, Davey, in the BBC’s romantic comedy series The River – for which he also wrote the music.

David has, in fact, never stopped writing music, doing rock tours and appearing in musicals, including Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love and his own successful musical All The Fun Of The Fair. He has even done some straight acting – notably in Sir Peter Hall’s 1993 production of She Stoops to Conquer for a year and a half. “That was interesting,” he says, “but I’m more comfortable with things that involve music.”

Yet he did agree to play the enigmatic Eddie Moon – yet another loveable rogue – in EastEnders for five months in 2011. But five months was enough. “Longer than that would have been too much of a commitment,” he explains. “I’m a fairly restless person by nature and I felt it was time to move on.” Will the character ever return? “I doubt it, but we’ll see. I’ve shut the door but I haven’t locked it!

“I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to work in different mediums with a certain amount of success,” he continues, “and, at the moment, my main focus is filmic music.” The film in question is Traveller (based on John F McDonald’s book Tribe) in which David plays “an elder statesman gypsy” but which stars his 24 year-old son, Billy Cook, as a young half-gypsy caught between two worlds. “There’s quite a buzz around Billy as an actor. He’s got presence and charisma and I’m very proud of him,” says his dad.

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