I was officially discovered by accident at a strip club in Stoke-on- Trent. The compere asked the audience if anyone could sing or tell jokes and my mates all shouted, 'We've got Roy Orbison here.' I went up, sang three songs and brought the house down. That was my first time on stage.
I was offered a job on the spot and within six months had given up welding and was performing six nights a week as Roy in pubs and clubs all round the area. I became quite famous in Stoke-on-Trent.
With or without my glasses on I look exactly like Roy. The similarity is uncanny. I don't need make-up or any props to make me more Roy-ish, although I do dye my blond hair black. But then Roy did this as well. I don't have a huge wardrobe of Roy clothes either. Just two velvet suits, one black and one blue, and the dark glasses for when I perform. During the day I wear tracksuits or dress normally. I actually try not to wear my glasses because I attract so much attention in them. While the people in my village, Biddulph, are used to seeing me around, it's always caused people anywhere else to do double takes. When Roy was alive I was always being mistaken for him, especially when I had my shades on.
Once, when I was looking for TV work, I drove a maroon Pontiac into the Pebble Mill studios. I was wearing a white suit, white boots and full stage makeup. I dropped off my demo tape at reception, but as I was driving out was spotted and mobbed by a group of girls. Some TV producers saw it happen, and it got me a TV appearance. They asked me to come back and sing live the next day.
I met Roy once. This was when I'd become quite well known and he'd heard of me. I went to see him sing at a Manchester nightclub called The Golden Garter, and was sitting at a table in the audience, when a spotlight happened to fall on me. I was stampeded by fans who thought I was Roy and bouncers had to hold them back, explaining I was just a lookalike. After the show he asked to see me. He was amazed at the likeness and said he didn't mind me impersonating him, as long as I did it well. I was so thrilled I sped home later to tell my mother and got stopped by the police. They too thought I was Roy, but when they realised I wasn't, they fined me.
I'm 49 and have made a living from performing as Roy for 30 years now. These days I do over a dozen shows a month at select venues, but I can be as busy as I want. My real break came when I appeared twice on Stars In Their Eyes in the last two years. Since then I've been inundated with work. I mainly do tours with the Great Legends of Rock, a lookalike outfit who do a two-hour show. In fact, I met my wife Annette while I was on tour in Ireland. She thinks I'm great. We've never had children, but I have met Roy's son, Roy Kelton Orbison, who came to stay with us once, and I've been in touch with Barbara Orbison, Roy's wife, who lives in Malibu. So I feel I'm actually quite close to the Orbison family.
There are only two well-known Roy lookalikes worldwide: myself and Larry Branson, who's now appearing in the West End show. There's no rivalry between us, in fact I was asked to understudy him for the show. But I turned it down because I was too busy.
I love what I do. Singing is a great way of getting rid of frustrations. I used to have a bad speech impediment and the singing has helped cure it. When Roy died I was devastated. It was as though a life-long friend had been taken from me. Since then sometimes younger people make cheap jokes and call out, 'Aren't you supposed to be dead?' I don't think it's funny at all.
When I take my specs off I can get away with looking like myself. My face is like a mask and underneath it I'm just an ordinary guy. I just happen to look exactly like Roy Orbison.
Irving Wardle, page 26Reuse content