David Essex was born David Albert Cook in Plaistow, London, in 1947, of gypsy stock – hence the ‘Romany Romeo’ tag he eventually received in the tabloids during his teen idol days.
David started his musical career as a teddy boy drummer playing with a band called The Everons in East End pubs at the age of 14, until a showbiz columnist, Derek Bowman, told him he would make a star out of him and sent him off for voice training and dancing lessons.
After David’s first two singles flopped, Bowman persuaded him to join a repertory company who were performing a show called The Fantasticks.
In 1971, after touring with various repertory companies, David was chosen – from hundreds of auditioning hopefuls – to play the starring role of Jesus in the London stage version of Godspell.
While performing in the rock musical, he was offered the leading role in the movie That’ll Be The Day (1974).
He was given two months leave from Godspell to complete the filming and kick-started his solo career with the singles Rock On and Lamplight.
By May 1974, David had a third smash hit single (America), and his first LP, Rock On. He also embarked on a successful 14-day promotional tour of the USA.
His first UK #1, Gonna Make You A Star, was an amusing take on the music scene, with the mocking lines “Is he more, too much more than a pretty face?” (to which his backing singers respond “I don’t think so!”).
Stardust, Lamplight, Hold Me Close (his second #1) – all of which he wrote – gave the lie to that.
Offered the sequel to That’ll Be The Day, he continued the story of young Jim Maclaine – the lad from the East End who wanted to reach the top of the pop music world in the 1960s – in Stardust (1974).
In 1978 David gave one of his finest vocal performances as Che Guevara in the musical Evita, delivering Oh What A Circus with exactly the right blend of tenderness and bitterness. Even the Latin bit sounded good!
He also wrote the words and music to the movie Silver Dream Racer (1980) – in which he also starred – but to less effect.
With his cocksure grin and knowing twinkle in his eye, Essex was the 1970s blueprint for Robbie Williams. As his 1973 debut Rock On demonstrates, he wasn’t sure whether to compete with Marc Bolan (Lamplight) or Charles Aznavour (On and On), but there is no denying the surreal splendour of that debut single.
He would go on to do some other stuff, including a musical based on Mutiny On The Bounty with Catherine Zeta-Jones, and tons of good work for charities in Africa, but like Cliff Richard and Barry Manilow, he seemed to have been taken hostage by an avid female fan base from which he has never really escaped.