The silver racer still rocking on
IT is always nerve-wracking when you interview someone you have admired from a distance for many years.
I didn't want my carefully constructed illusion shattered after more than three decades.
So it was with great trepidation, and more than a little heart flutter, that I sat down for my chat with the man whose poster had adorned my bedroom wall throughout my teenage years.
I was 16 when David's pop career was at its height. He scored huge hits with tracks such as Rock On, Gonna Make You A Star and Hold Me Close.
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During his heyday, he was Britain's biggest pop pin-up. Indeed, at the height of his fame police would use dustbin lids for shields to keep the fans back.
His concerts were a sell-out with herds of screaming girls throwing themselves at the stage. I was once pictured on the front page of the Sunday Mirror as a 'dazed fan' after getting crushed under the rush at a gig in Manchester.
Quick-thinking bouncers pulled me to safety on stage, while a concerned David looked on and called on the hysterical audience to calm down.
Unfortunately for me I was out cold when my idol checked to see if I was OK – but I wore those trample bruises like a badge of honour for weeks.
All those memories came rushing back as I steeled myself for my interview with my all-time idol.
I needn't have worried. David was charm personified. Patient, interested and full of humour. Nicer than even I had imagined.
We started off talking about his new tour, which comes to Plymouth on November 4. He admitted it had been a while since he has been on the road with just a band.
The Over The Moon and On Stage tour takes a journey through his 40-year career.
Included in the show will be classic tracks from a selection of his 19 top 40 hits, plus songs from iconic films That'll Be The Day, Stardust and Silver Dream Racer as well as belters from theatre triumphs when he appeared as Che in Evita and Fletcher Christian in Mutiny. "What I'm really looking forward to is getting back on the road with the band. It's three years since we've toured," he said.
"Since then we've had All The Fun Of The Fair, which was a great success. I've been working on the Traveller film and doing EastEnders, so it will be nice to get back to where I started, with a band up on stage.
"We're going to do something a little bit different this time. We're going to have a big old film screen at the back which will have relevant images of what we are playing on stage.
"There'll be clips of films and photographs. So it is kind of the story of my career.
"All The Fun Of The Fair has been to Plymouth and it did feature my music, but it was a story. It wasn't autobiographical. This is purely a concert tour."
So is he ready for the 34-date tour up and down the country?
"I hope so," he smiles with that famous twinkle in his eye. "Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll is page one of the rule book for going on the road. I think I'm on page two now.
"Once the tour finishes, I'll put my feet up over Christmas and we'll see what happens next year."
But does this busy man have something in mind?
"I should probably put more energy into film-making. It's an area I've not really explored as much as I'd have liked," he says. "Obviously I did That'll Be The Day, Stardust and Silver Dream Racer and they were successful, but there was a pressure for me to go to Hollywood after them and I didn't particularly want to.
"Even though Rock On has been number one twice there, I've always been very English, my family are here and everything I've been doing has been based locally, really. What's brilliant for me is being able to work in different mediums, as a writer, as an actor and as a singer. It's perfect.
"You don't get bored or complacent and I think that probably radiates to an audience and they don't get complacent about the things you are doing."
And David has certainly done a lot in a career that has taken him in many different directions.
His big break came in 1971 when he was cast as the lead – and so the first person permitted to play Jesus Christ by the Lord Chamberlain's office – in the massive West End hit Godspell.
His pop career followed and then he moved back into the theatre with success in a number of productions. In recent years he has been back on the TV in the role of Eddie Moon in EastEnders. It seemed a natural fit when he agreed to join the cast in the BBC soap. The son of an East End docker father and Irish gypsy mother, it seemed a role he was born for.
Although he really enjoyed his time on Albert Square, he admits life as a soap star is far from easy.
"It takes over your life, I didn't realise how much," he laughs. "I was foolishly doing a film score at the same time for the first couple of weeks so I was only sleeping for an hour a night.
"I was there all day, every day, and I had to get up at 6am which was a shock for an old rock star. We normally don't get up 'til the sun goes down, we're like vampires. It was a bit strange at the beginning, but I really enjoyed it."
His character, Eddie Moon, was a loveable rogue and David freely admits he changed the part to suit his style.
"I tweaked the accent a bit, and Eddie Moon is not a million miles from David Essex," he smiles. "Any actor who says their character is nothing like themselves – unless they're playing Quasimodo – is probably telling a fib. You bring yourself to it."
So will he ever return to the Square? "I've not locked the door on EastEnders but I've kind of shut it. I enjoyed doing the show. It was fast and furious, and it worked a treat as I think the viewing figures were at a ten-year high when Eddie (Moon) was in it.
"And at the moment it looks like the Moons do need a little help. But I have lots of other things to do."
And he has been a very busy man since leaving. He's completed a rock tour, two albums as well as appearing in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, and Footloose, in the West End.
And with his new tour looming, that workload has not eased up.
"I'm in and out of the studio at the moment doing some film music for Traveller, which comes out next year. It's about a boy who is half gypsy and he's trying to work out where he belongs in life.
"I've a cameo role in it as a character called Blackberry, who is the gypsy patriarch. But they asked me to do the music as well. They're working on the post-production now so it should be in the cinemas, hopefully next year."
It is obviously a part he is very proud of.
"It's a very powerful script and very positive from a gypsy traveller point of view, which is nice," he says. "There is some bare-knuckle fighting in it but it's more of a spiritual journey.
"And it was shot with real travellers so it's very authentic."
As our interview draws to a close, I asked David how he felt in those early years, when he set teenage girls screaming.
Always modest, he thanks his former mentor Derek Bowman, for his glittering career. "I started off in blues bands and then I was lucky enough to meet Derek – he introduced me to theatre, until then my life was just football and not much else.
"If I hadn't met him, things would have been very different. But here I am, 250 years later," he says with a broad grin.
"But if showbiz hadn't called, I couldn't have managed a nine to five job. I'd have done something with freedom," he explains. "I'm not good with routine."
He said he never really got to grips with his sex-symbol status. "That's never been my focus," he insists. "It's a side issue. I was never comfortable with the bedroom poster aspect. I just get on with things."
And how. Does he ever rest?
"I don't read – I've got the concentration span of a gnat. And I don't sit on beaches," he confesses. "But I like travelling alone to places. I'm very happy by myself. I like to get off the beaten track, I've gone through South America and Cuba and India, just wandering about. I like the freedom."
Hardly surprising when you remember his mother, Dolly, was from a family of Irish travellers.
And just to put the icing on the cake of my dream interview, David tells me his grandad had the same name as mine.
"Tom Kemp," he laughs. "Perhaps we have both got gypsy blood."
Rock on, David.