Fans flock to worship Elvis

We can't get enough of the burger King.
The King of Rock and Roll may be dead, but his British subjects remain faithful. And in August over 1,000 UK Elvis fans will be heading to Graceland, the Presley home in Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their idol's death.

Most of them may be middle-aged - teachers, accountants, policemen or grandmothers - but two decades on they can't let go of their obsession with the man who put rock on the map.

No matter that the King had grown monstrously fat when on 17 August 1977, at the age of 43, he toppled from his Graceland throne (he had a heart attack in the loo brought on by his diet of burger buns and fried peanut- butter and banana sandwiches.) For the 20,000 members of The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain, he will be forever young and slim, with his sneer, kiss curl and swivelling hips. House? Garage? Techno? Drum 'n' Bass? Forget it. Give us the rockers: Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Heartbreak Hotel, Don't be Cruel. Give us the ballads: Are You Lonesome Tonight? His Latest Flame, It's Now or Never, Suspicious Minds. We accept no substitute.

"It's going to be wonderful," says Eileen Weston, 55, of London, a fan for 40 years and a member of nine of the UK fan club's branches. "Elvis is just one marvellous human being and I know his spirit is going to be with us all in Memphis."

On their pounds 1,600 trip the fans will visit the annual conference, this year entitled, "Elvis 20/20: Past and Future", take riverboat cruises, visit Elvis's school, karate studio and recording studios, gather for a candlelit vigil, and attend a concert at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. In total, more than 100,000 fans from all over the world are expected.

White jump suits will be dry-cleaned, blue suede shoes dusted down and the waists of poodle skirts let out in preparation for what is purported to be the biggest event in the history of Elvis fandom. "The concert is going to be the biggest reunion of musicians that worked with Elvis ever," says Todd Morgan, of the Elvis Estate, Memphis. "And Elvis himself will be singing - through the use of video technology and dramatic production, of course."

Julie Mundy, the UK fan club president, has commandeered 20 buses, booked five hotels and arranged four Hawaii blue weddings for the three-week tour to Memphis, Los Angeles and Hawaii. "It's going to be a very emotional visit this year," she says. "I've cried at the Graceland gates myself before but this year is going to be quite something."

For those UK fans who cannot afford the trip to America there is always Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, where the annual Elvis Party Week will take place at the Havens Golden Sands Resort. Alternatively, there will be a night of live music at the Equinox Ballroom at The Empire, Leicester Square, London, where Alvin Stardust, Darrel Higham from Elvis The Musical, and Elvis's girlfriend from the Fifties will be appearing.

The spirit of Elvis lives on, and the hiccoughing and crooning of the King will be heard across the nation as branches arrange their own discos, barbecues and parties on 17 August.

According to Bill Burk, publisher of the internationally-distributed magazine Elvis World, British fans are the most enthusiastic in the world. "You can spot them a mile away. They're the only ones that walk everywhere over here [Memphis], they're white as sheets and they don't stop talking about Elvis."