David Essex…..and me

“If I was a plumber would you love me? If you were a waitress, I’d love you. Could you picture us on a number 9 bus to Canning Town we two. Just me….and….you”.

(If I Could – David Essex).

In the 70s, in the country town I grew up in, the best Saturday night you could hope for was at the Regal Cinema. For many, it was the site of their first pash…or not. For us bored adolescents, in winter it was almost literally the only place in town.

All the teenagers went there on a Saturday night. And some adults who were there to actually watch the films – they sat in the upstairs expensive seats, ‘the lounge’, and left us to run amok in the stalls.

I lost count of the times me and my girlfriends got kicked out for talking or laughing too loud. We’d have to whittle away hours, walking the freezing empty main street until the designated (often pissed) dad was due to pick us all up.

If we had any cents left over from buying a film ticket (now wasted) and a Pollywaffle, we’d sometimes take refuge in the local Chinese and order one steamed dim sim each and try and stretch it out for an hour to avoid having to huddle together in a shopfront to avoid the cold.

Our Saturday nights really were like Groundhog Day – many seemed the same week after week.

But one day, the world came to the Regal Cinema and suddenly my country town existence didn’t seem so small anymore.

I was obsessed with English popstar David Essex – he of the twinkling blue eyes, curly dark hair – the Gonna Make You a Star one. The one who had world-wide hit with Rock On, a song loved by John Lennon and McDonalds.

I was a fully paid up member of the Australian branch of his fan club. I think for a $2 annual fee I got a black and white photo and a roneoed yearly “newsletter” sent from a flat in Carnegie or thereabouts – it was some exotic place in Melbourne I had never heard of.

My music loving dad used to pay for UK pop mag Music Star to be delivered monthly to the local newsagency for my sister and me. We would take it in turns to be the first to read each edition, which was full of colour posters and photos and gossip of our favourite Davids – Essex, Cassidy and Bowie.

My sister and I shared a bedroom – her side was wallpapered with David Cassidy and mine of course, David Essex.

In the mid-70s David Essex came to Festival Hall. There was a competition run by The Sun to win tickets. Of course I entered but the outcome didn’t matter as at the time of the concert I was in hospital getting my appendix out and having a little cry at such a lost opportunity.

But one weekend, the Regal Cinema gave me the ultimate consolation prize. Out of the blue it announced a ‘blockbuster” weekend – BOTH Friday and Saturday nights it would screen a David Essex double header – “That’ll Be the Day” and “Stardust”.

I went both nights of course.   I have no recollection of either night. But I remember at the end of the Saturday night screening I tried to tear down the posters outside the cinema as keepsakes. I got sprung but for some unknown reason the grumpy bugger who ran the cinema said I could have them and gave me some untorn copies as well.

My bedroom wall was resplendent – I was in love and I could not imagine an event EVER in my life coming close to equalling the weekend I had just had.

Fast forward to 1991: David Essex is now in his forties and coming back to Melbourne. I am 29 and as luck would have it, I was living in St Kilda and he was performing around the corner at the Palace.

But true to form the universe again tried to intervene. I injured my knee playing basketball and had to have a complete reconstruction the month before THE gig.

My great mate (now husband of 21 years) Chris had a cunning plan.   He was determined that this time I was going to see David Essex. In an amazing coincidence Chris found out that the sound mixer for Chris’s band was moonlighting as David Essex’s tour manager!   The plan was hatched – nothing was going to stop us now!

On the night of the gig, accompanied by our best mate Rog and his girlfriend and fortified by vodka, we began our adventure. Although the venue was only about 300 metres from my flat, I was on crutches and heavily bound up. The walk turned into a half hour and two VB can per man/woman trip.

We got to the venue – let’s just say the view upon arrival was underwhelming. In a space that could accommodate 2,000, there was probably about 200 – 99% women in their late 20s to late 30s – and Chris and Roger.

But our adrenalin was surging and I was about to see my first love (well second after Donny Osmond, but that was only puppy love……).

The lights went down the music came on and the show began!   Chris and I got to the front as fast as we could considering my physical handicap.   It was pretty easy to get a great spot as there wasn’t much competition and certainly no crowd surfing.

I was euphoric – he looked the same to me as in the glossy pages of Music Star.   I swayed on my crutches singing every word to every song. He sang all the hits. When he sang Gonna Make You a Star I was 15 again in my bedroom watching Countdown on the little black and white telly.

He was a good sport despite what must have been a disappointingly small crowd, flashed genuine smiles and really tried to connect with everyone.

But in a wink it was all over – or so I thought….

Noel came out and grabbed Chris and said that he would be happy to get David’s autograph for me. I had brought a black and white photo I got from the fan club in ’74 or so with me “just in case”.

Noel disappeared for a few minutes and then returned with the photo personally inscribed by David using a pen with gold ink. I was in ecstasy – I’d seen him perform and now I had his autograph.

Noel then told Chris that David was now upstairs in the “VIP Lounge” and encouraged us to try and get in. At the top of the stairs you could see the VIP area – it was enclosed by glass and there he was! He was standing at the bar by himself with a glass of white wine.   The only thing standing in the way of me and David was a six and a half foot tattooed bouncer.

Chris took charge and talked to the bouncer for several minutes presenting our case for entry.   Meanwhile I pressed my face against the glass pane in a pitiful attempt to get David’s attention – hoping he would see my crutches and my obvious physical ‘suffering”– and like the Pope diem that I was deserved of an audience with him.

All of a sudden, the bouncer was opening the door and saying Ok you’re in. Chris had somehow convinced him we were worthy of mixing it with the “VIPs”.

Chris ran to David and said “Hi David I’m Chris but there is someone you really need to meet!”, gesturing towards a wild-eyed visibly excited flame-haired red lipped woman on crutches who had obviously had a few and was hobbling precariously towards him.

In an instant, those sparkling Gonna Make You a Star blue eyes were on mine and I started rambling and didn’t stop. I told him about Music Star. I told him about how as a teenager I would listen to his song If I Could over and over again, lying starfish on the carpet in the back room, pretending he was the plumber and I was the waitress and we were home ‘having tea’ and he was pashing me off.

I actually said those exact words to David Essex.

He put his hand around my wrist and said: “That’s delightful”.   He actually said that.

I gushed more and more – I asked him how his infant daughter Verity was – I knew about her existence through Music Star –he said she was great and now 21 years old.

I thanked him for giving me a wonderful adolescence and he said: “Thank you for sharing it with me”.

And then he leant in close to me and kissed me on the cheek!   It wasn’t the If I Could pash I had dreamt of but bloody hell it was David Essex and his lips had had contact with my face.

He was a lovely, humble, gentle man.

I floated for the next 24 hours and couldn’t sleep. I rang my parents the next day who still lived in the same family home in the same town 200 kilometres away and said; “You are not going to believe what happened to me; last night I met David Essex!!”

I’m sure I must have sounded semi-hysterical – still not believing as I said the words that it had actually happened.

Dad said; “What are you carrying on about?!” He yelled out to mum: “It’s your daughter she reckons she met David Essex!”

I don’t think Dad could immediately process what I was telling him.

After all, during the 70s the entire family had been forced to endure my teenage obsession and the significance of his daughter meeting the face on her bedroom wall decades later was akin to him meeting Burt Bacharach.

I have retold this story many times and I still think about how implausible the night would have once seemed.

And I think about that 15 year old and how the weekend at the Regal Cinema watching two David Essex films in a row on two nights in a row seemed to be about the biggest thing she could have imagined happening in her life.

Now I’d tell her no matter how small you think you are, the universe still sees you.

And just when you least expect it – and often when you most need it – your greatest, most improbable dream may come true. Even the one you’d forgotten.

Never ever give up – it might just happen.





  1. Wonderful Tess
    pollywaffle and reneoed. There’s two words I’ve not heard for far too long.

  2. They say it’s better not to meet your heroes because they will only disappoint you, but I’m glad yours lived up to expectations. He must have been gutted to see just a couple of hundred punters in the Palace, but the fact that he put on a great show and worked the small crowd is a measure of the man. I can’t say I was ever a fan, but I will listen with renewed interest next time I hear him on the radio. Great story, Tess.

  3. Loved this Tess. Fantastic.
    I remember D.Essex eating where I worked one time in London – it was probably during his “musical theatre” phase. He was lowkey and unremarkable, a world away from the idol that had bedecked my sisters’ walls.
    He seems to keep pretty busy still, writing and performing. Last year he apparently had a “Once in a Lifetime” tour, accompanying Showaddywaddy and the Bay City Rollers. eeek!

  4. Spotted David Essex at Lord’s at an Ashes Test a few years ago. With slightly greying curly hair and a dark blue velvet jacket, he still oozed charisma.

  5. Polythene Pam says

    Superb Tess, thank you.
    I’m a bloke of your age but was also a big David Essex fan back in the ’70s – much underrated in my view – there’s a reason John Lennon loved Rock On.
    By strange coincidence we went looking for David on you-tube last night – there’s a great live version of Gonna Make You a Star there.
    One quibble? You would have seen Gonna Make You a Star on Countdown in 1975 when you were 13.

  6. Yes you are right I was 15 when the double-header hit the Regal Cinema and only 13 when those eyes first twinkled on Countdown! How lucky were we to be teenagers in the 70s!
    Yes apparently David has aged gracefully through musical theatre these last three decades – thanks Crio and Robert for sharing your spottings. Lucky he wrote Rock On eh – a few years ago I pulled out some old LPs and scanned the tracks mmmm its hard to admit but it was pretty tough listening ….even If I Could…

  7. Great work Tess….not an Essex fan, but love your writing, and your suggestion that Carnegie represented ‘exotic Melbourne’

  8. Tess- great yarn. Love a sweeping saga such as this. Pleased he didn’t disappoint.

    Along with January by Pilot, Gonna Make You a Star is among my favourite ’70’s songs.


  9. Polythene Pam says

    And by further coincidence, I have just now found out David has just this month released his first book of poetry – Travelling Tinker Man and Other Rhymes – available now on Amazon/Kindle.

  10. Great story Tess. The first Mrs B had as big a crush on David Essex as you. I secretly hummed along to some of the songs, but my head was firmly stuck up my prog-rock arse.
    I think my then dark curls must have sold me on her. Poor woman. I hope DEssex has more hair than me these days.

  11. Tess- I listened to David Essex on spotify today and was reminded that he sang on Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.

    The mix of science fiction and long, almost prog-rock like songs was irresistible to my adolescent self. If I get brave I’ll sit through the whole thing!

    Thanks again.

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