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David Essex

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David Essex
Essex performing in 1987
Essex performing in 1987
Background information
Birth nameDavid Albert Cook
Born (1947-07-23) 23 July 1947 (age 76)
Plaistow, Essex, England
GenresClassic rock, glam rock, pop, musical theatre
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, actor
Years active1963–present
LabelsColumbia, Lamplight

David Essex OBE (born David Albert Cook; 23 July 1947)[1] is an English singer-songwriter and actor. From 1973 to 1994, he had 19 Top 40 singles in the UK (including two number ones) and 16 Top 40 albums.[1] Internationally, Essex had the most success with his 1973 single "Rock On". He has also had an extensive career as an actor.

Early life[edit]

David Clark was born in Plaistow, Essex (now part of the London Borough of Newham, in Greater London) on 23 July 1947.[2] His father, Albert, was an East End docker, and his mother, Olive (née Kemp), was a self-taught pianist and an Irish Traveller. His grandfather, Thomas Kemp, was nicknamed "Philimore", which was the anglicised version of "Philly Mor" (Irish for "Big Philly").[citation needed] In his early years, the family was at times destitute. When his father had to enter hospital for bronchitis, David and his mother were forced to move to a workhouse; later the family was moved to temporary housing.[2] David was two years old when his parents moved out of the overcrowded home the family was sharing with relatives to Canning Town, where he grew up.

Clark attended Star Lane Primary School. He loved playing football and did not answer any of the questions in the eleven-plus exam for entry to a grammar school, so that he could ensure he attended Shipman County Secondary School where he knew they played the game. His parents subsequently moved to the Marks Gate Estate, near Chadwell Heath and Romford, and David attended The Warren secondary modern school in Whalebone Lane, Chadwell Heath.[3] He was a member of West Ham United Juniors for a while, and dreamed of one day being a professional footballer.[4] He then also became interested in music and played drums with a local band (China Plates), before becoming a singer.[2]


Early career[edit]

Essex made his first record, titled "And the Tears Came Tumbling Down", for the Fontana label[5] in 1965. He then toured with a band called "David Essex and the Mood Indigo" for two years, and released a further seven singles in the 1960s. He also recorded two songs, "A Rose" and "Leon and John and Billy and Me" which remain unreleased, but exist as acetates. His first notable acting role, aside from small appearances in the films Assault and All Coppers Are..., was the lead in the stage musical Godspell[6][7] in 1971 at the age of 23.

Two years later, he starred in the film That'll Be the Day (1973)[8] and recorded his international hit single, the self-penned "Rock On", in the same year. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in March 1974. It was nominated for a Grammy and reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.[9] A second single, "Lamplight", also reached the Top 10 in the UK Singles Chart.

In the 1970s, Essex emerged as a performer of some note. Contrary to a claim made in his own biography, his first concert was at the Granada in East Ham on Saturday 2 November 1974, and not at the Odeon. His biggest hits during this decade included two UK number one singles: "Gonna Make You a Star" (1974) and "Hold Me Close" (1975). He also appeared in Stardust, a 1974 sequel to That'll Be the Day.[10] The title song was another Top 10 hit. In 1976, Essex covered the Beatles song "Yesterday" for the musical documentary All This and World War II.

Essex's pop idol looks gave him many female fans, and his British tours created scenes of hysteria reminiscent of Beatlemania. According to The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles,[11] he was voted the number one British male vocalist in 1974, and was a teen idol for more than a decade.

Musical roles[edit]

In December 1973, Essex appeared in the stage version of Tommy at London's Rainbow Theatre.[12]

In 1978, he appeared on Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds, as the Artilleryman. In the UK the two-record set remains a best-seller.[13]

In the same year, Essex played the character Che in the original production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Evita,[14] and his recording of the show's "Oh What a Circus"[15] reached number 3. As the best known of the principal performers, Essex actually received top billing, above Elaine Paige whose stardom seemingly arrived overnight with her casting in the show.[16] His contract required him to remain with the show for just 5+12 months during which, unusually and as Essex had predicted, his understudy, Nigel Planer, was never required to perform.

Two years later, he starred in the motorcycle racing film Silver Dream Racer; and the soundtrack song "Silver Dream Machine" was a top 5 hit in the UK Singles Chart. Essex, a keen motorcyclist, waived his fee for the then-new 1980 electric-start Triumph Bonneville he had contracted to advertise on behalf of the struggling Triumph motorcycle workers' co-operative.[17]

In 1981, he starred in Childe Byron, a play staged at the Young Vic theatre.

In 1985, he co-wrote and starred as Fletcher Christian in the West End musical Mutiny!, based on the novel Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The score produced two more hit singles, including "Tahiti", his tenth Top 10 success.[18]

Essex continued to perform in all areas of show business. A 1988 sitcom, The River, achieved good ratings. In 1991, a music compilation entitled His Greatest Hits reached number 13; a 1993 album, Cover Shot, featuring a cover version of the Buzz Cason/Mac Gayden song "Everlasting Love", peaked at number 3. His autobiography, A Charmed Life, was published in 2002, and became a best-seller.

In the 1999 New Year Honours, Essex was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) "for charitable services, especially to Voluntary Service Overseas."[19] He still tours the UK every year and releases albums through his website. Despite his long and successful British career, he remains largely unknown in the United States. "Rock On" reached Number 3 in 1974, and was his only US Cash Box Top 40 hit single.

Essex, who comes from a family of Irish Travellers, played a kind-hearted nomad in one episode of ITV1's 1960s Yorkshire-based drama Heartbeat in 2000. He played a character called Johnny Lee[20] Essex told Jake Bowers of the BBC's Rokker Radio, a programme for Gypsies and Travellers, on 30 July 2006, that he has always been openly proud of his Traveller family history. He was Patron of Britain's National Gypsy Council, which works for equal rights, education, and services for Romany and Irish Travellers.[6]

In 2005, he appeared as a guest vocalist on, and wrote songs for, Saint Etienne's album Tales from Turnpike House.[21] Also that year, he appeared in the Channel 4 documentary Bring Back...The Christmas Number One.

Essex was due to join the cast of soap opera EastEnders, in early 2006, as new character Jack Edwards. However, the role was expanded beyond the three weeks planned, and Essex was unable to commit the time.[22] The role instead went to Nicky Henson.

A model and recording of Essex is featured in the museum of West Ham United Football Club. In the recording, he explains his reasons for supporting West Ham and his love of the team.

Essex spent six years as an ambassador for Voluntary Service Overseas, which earned him an OBE in 1999.[6]

In February 2016, Essex performed in The War Of The Worlds at London's Dominion Theatre.[23]

Recent years[edit]

Essex used to record and release records on his own record label, Lamplight. He has since changed the name of his company to Joseph Webster Ltd, named after his first grandchild. He tours regularly and continues to act, appearing in Boogie Nights 2, Footloose and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Aspects of Love.[24] From September 2008 to the summer of 2009 he took his own musical, All the Fun of the Fair, on a tour of the United Kingdom. He followed this in the autumn with a sell-out solo tour of the UK, named the Secret Tour. Essex has released a DVD on his website of the last night of the tour, filmed in Bournemouth. He returned to London's West End with All the Fun of the Fair but with a different ending from that performed in the provinces.

In January 2011, it was announced that Essex had finally joined the cast of EastEnders as Eddie Moon, five years after he was initially supposed to appear in the show.[25] His first on-screen appearance was on 3 June 2011. Eddie left the square on 6 October 2011. He then wrote the music score for the film Traveller (2013), in which he co-starred with his son Billy Cook who played the main role as a half-gypsy trying to find his identity.[26]

Personal life[edit]

During the 1990s, Essex was an ambassador for the aid organisation Voluntary Service Overseas. In 1991, he produced the album Under Different Skies for their World Music Fund, as well as contributing the song "Africa You Shine" to the album.[27] He traveled to several African countries to participate in volunteer projects, and in 1996 he joined a team of celebrities in a Comic Relief venture to Africa to play football against local teams.[4]

As of 2007, Essex was a patron of the Gypsy Council, an organization devoted to the welfare of gypsies and travellers in Britain. In early 1999, Essex narrated and appeared in a video of gypsy life and traditions, marketed to raise funds for their cause.[4]

On 20 September 2010, Essex married Welsh actress Susan Hallam-Wright (born 1973) his third wife, at St Cross Church, Talybont, near Bangor, North Wales. He first met her at the end of 2008 when she was auditioning for a role in All the Fun of the Fair. She got the part of Sally, then got promoted to the role of Mary, Jack's girlfriend, for the West End version at the Garrick Theatre in London in April 2010. Essex had previously been married to Maureen Neal (in 1971) and Carlotta Christy (in 1997).[28]

Essex has five children: two with his first wife, Maureen Neal; twins with his second wife, Carlotta Christy; and a fourth son with his third wife, Susan Hallam-Wright.[29]


  • Rock On (1973)
  • David Essex (1974)
  • All the Fun of the Fair (1975)
  • Out on the Street (1976)
  • Gold & Ivory (1977)
  • Imperial Wizard (1979)
  • Hot Love (1980)
  • Be-Bop the Future (1981)
  • Stage-Struck (1982)
  • The Whisper (1983)
  • This One's for You (1984)
  • Centre Stage (1986)
  • Touching the Ghost (1989)
  • Cover Shot (1993)
  • Back to Back (1994)
  • A Night at the Movies (1997)
  • Here We Are All Together (1998)
  • I Still Believe (1999)
  • Thank You (2000)
  • Wonderful (2001)
  • Forever (2002)
  • Sunset (2003)
  • It's Gonna Be Alright (2004)
  • Beautiful Day (2006)
  • Happy Ever After (2007)
  • Reflections (2013)

Selected filmography[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19 ed.). London: Guinness World Records. pp. 186–187. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  2. ^ a b c Sarah Fielding. "From Rags to 'Rock On': How David Essex Became a Star." Music Scene. December 1973. p. 18.
  3. ^ A Charmed Life: The Autobiography of David Essex: Amazon.co.uk: David Essex: 9780752851600: Books. ASIN 0752851608.
  4. ^ a b c "David Essex" biography at Biography Channel: Music Stars. (Archived 18 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine)
  5. ^ David Essex, "Over The Moon" page 70 ("with my new name on the label next to the famous blue and white Fontana logo"), Virgin Books 2012, ISBN 978-0-7535-4033-6
  6. ^ a b c "Rags to riches tale of Essex boy David". BBC News. 28 August 2002. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  7. ^ Sarah Fielding. "From Rags to 'Rock On': How David Essex Became a Star." Music Scene. December 1973. p. 17.
  8. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 243. CN 5585.
  9. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 327. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  10. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 254. CN 5585.
  11. ^ 16th Edition – ISBN 0-85112-190-X
  12. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 257. CN 5585.
  13. ^ "History of Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds, part 1. War of the Worlds Invasion website". War-ofthe-worlds.co.uk. 28 May 1953. Archived from the original on 29 March 2012. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  14. ^ Rich, Frank (21 August 1978). "Theater: Eva Peron, Superstar". Time. Archived from the original on 24 December 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  15. ^ [1] Archived 1 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Rice, Tim (1999). Oh, What a Circus: The Autobiography. London: Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 406, 410. ISBN 0340648953.
  17. ^ Rosamond, John, Save The Triumph Bonneville! The Inside Story Of The Meriden Workers' Co-Op ISBN 1845842650
  18. ^ "All the Fun of the Fair – New Wimbledon Theatre – Your London Reviews". IndieLondon. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  19. ^ UK list: "No. 55354". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 31 December 1998. p. 10.
  20. ^ ""Heartbeat" – The Traveller". IMDb. 2000. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  21. ^ Album of the Day. Saint Etienne: Tales From Turnpike House BBC Archived 18 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Essex withdraws from EastEnders". BBC News. 2 December 2005. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  23. ^ Porteous, Jacob (21 January 2016). "Casting Announced For Jeff Wayne's Musical Phenomenon The War Of The Worlds With Liam Neeson In 3D Hologram". London Theatre Direct. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  24. ^ "Aspects of Love musical on stage: Ticket and UK tour information". Thisistheatre.com. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  25. ^ Kilkelly, Daniel (24 January 2011). "David Essex lands 'EastEnders' role". Digital Spy. Hachette Filipacchi (UK) Ltd. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  26. ^ Gelder, Sam (10 December 2013). "David Essex launches new film in Romfo". Romford Recorder. Newsquest Media Group. Retrieved 15 January 2024.
  27. ^ "Under Different Skies". Discogs. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  28. ^ David Essex, Over the Moon, Virgin Books, 2012, ISBN 978-0-7535-4033-6
  29. ^ "David Essex facts: Singer's age, wife, children, songs and career revealed". Smooth Radio. 2 July 2022. Retrieved 15 January 2024.
  30. ^ "Various - Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Dick (The Unmaking Of The President) | Releases | Discogs". Retrieved 28 April 2024.

External links[edit]