David Essex & Tim Rice; how we met

Interviews,Veronica Groocock
Saturday 18 September 1999 23:02 BST

David Essex, OBE, 52, is a prolific performer whose albums and singles have sold millions worldwide. His first big break was the musical `Godspell', in which he played Jesus. His new album, `I Still Believe', has just been released and he is beginning a UK tour next month. He lives in London with his wife Carlotta and their sons

Sir Tim Rice, 54, is an Oscar-winning lyricist, writer and broadcaster. His partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber produced `Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat', `Jesus Christ Superstar', and `Evita'. He lives in London and Cornwall and has just published his autobiography, `Oh, What a Circus'

DAVID ESSEX: I think the first time I met Tim was on a TV programme. The pitch of the programme was how we were going to disagree about the worth of each other's show, but we didn't. Showbiz is a strange business to be in: you have thousands of acquaintances but very few friends, and I've always thought of Tim as a real friend. I have a lot of time for him, not only as a lyricist but also as a person. He is a good mate. We've played cricket together - he can play well, he bats very solidly. We've had mad nights together, we've had serious discussions together.

Tim's a public schoolboy and I'm from the East End, I went to state schools. I never really did anything academically. I got involved in music, as a drummer in blues bands, so we had completely different backgrounds, upbringings. I thought we wouldn't have anything in common, but we did.

We met socially, at meetings of the Society of Distinguished Songwriters (Sods). You had to have sold over a million copies of a song to become part of the set-up. It was a kind of elite, semi-hellfire, all-male society. They held these swanky dinners in ritzy hotels a couple of times a year. It was great fun and used to get a bit out of hand. People used to turn up with labels: "Please send me to so-and-so's." Tim was King Sod for a period of time.

He's very generous and a good listener, and even though we have differences of opinion he always seems open. With Tim, I've seen relationships come and go, but we're not the kind of blokes who talk openly too much about it. I don't go in the team changing room and say `Guess who I was with last night?" It's not my style! When we've talked about relationships, it's been on the right level, not "blokeish" talk.

Tim's got a band and his singing - his attempt to mimic Elvis the Pelvis - is probably one of his weaknesses. But he enjoys it so much that it actually is heartening. He does it a little bit too often though. You'd never get me up at dodgy dos, but at the drop of a hat Tim's there and he's going through the repertoire: "All Shook Up", lots of Chuck Berry Stuff. I think I've seen him in a gold lame suit!

If ever I want to call him, I do. That's the interesting thing: you think "Oh, I haven't called him for a year, I can't call him now", but when you do it's "Tim, what are you doing?" and away you go. Occasionally we'll go out for a drink or dinner. We always say we want to do it more often. I respect and admire him terrifically.

TIM RICE: Although I've got lots of pals in showbiz, I haven't got that many close friends. Most of my friends tend to be people who I've known since I was at school. With David and I, it's been a bit of an exception. We've got on very well from day one.

Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell appeared at about the same time, and David and I were simultaneously invited on to some religious television chat show. That was in 1972 or early 73. It was "God in Contemporary Music" or something, and Father Trevor Huddlestone was on as well. I remember Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and I were a bit worried when we heard about Godspell. We thought, "oh my God, someone's ripped us off", but the two appeared totally coincidentally. They are very different and complemented each other. I remember on this programme saying how good I thought it was, and David saying he really enjoyed Superstar. The producers, probably hoping for a bit of a punch-up, didn't get it.

He's a very natural chap. The public David Essex is the same as the private one. He's laid-back, charming, funny. There's no side to him. Godspell was his big breakthrough, and he went off into every direction afterwards. I saw him not long ago in She Stoops To Conquer - he was very good. He's a fine actor away from the pop scene.

For some time we just seemed keep running into each other. But the real cementing of our friendship came when David did Che [Guevara, in Evita]. For my money, David was the best Che ever. I remember on the opening day of rehearsals saying to him, out of interest, "Who is your understudy?" and he said: "It doesn't matter, he won't be doing it." And it was true. At one point David had German measles and still went on - we had to issue leaflets to the first five rows saying any pregnant women should ask to be moved because a member of the cast might be infectious.

We went to two cup finals together: West Ham and Fulham, Sunderland and Leeds. He is very interested in soccer, but he seems in his more mature years to have become very keen on cricket. He's quite good and he and I have played a lot of cricket together. This year we played in LA for the Lord's Taverners and played for them again in July, down in Goodwood. We meet once every two or three months. He's a bloke's bloke, if that doesn't sound too chauvinistic. He's just somebody I feel at ease with. I still feel sometimes that I'm not really in the showbiz world, I still feel slightly in awe of meeting stars, but not with him.

I don't think I've often burdened him with any of my problems but that's not because I wouldn't respect his opinions. I must have had the odd chat with him in passing and he with me, but I'm perhaps of the generation and background that thinks you can overdo the anguish and the confessional.

I can't recall that we've ever had a major argument about anything. We had different backgrounds but we've wound up in the same sort of place. His early life was probably harder than mine. I don't want to sound patronising but he probably had less laid out on a plate for him. He's had to make his own way in the world and he's done it jolly well.

Tim Rice's autobiography, `Oh, What a Circus', is published by Hodder & Stoughton, price pounds 18.99

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