David Gest lived a colourful life that began in Los Angeles, travelled across the world and settled in York before his sudden death aged 62.
As a lifelong member of the entertainment business, a producer and, later in life, a reality TV star, Gest never strayed far from the industry, accruing a number of famous friends along the way. Arguably his most high-profile friendship was with the late Michael Jackson, who Gest met as a teenager and went on to become his lifelong friend. He also had a fleeting relationship with Jackson’s sister Latoya.
“I was about 14 when I became friends with Michael,” he told the Yorkshire Post in 2014. “I’d be at his place or he’d come to mine. At 16 I was going out with Latoya Jackson, it was just puppy love and nothing serious. She got sick one night and Michael asked if I would drive him to a memorabilia show in Pasadena. We ended up going out regularly to antique and record stores and became best friends.”
Gest, who moved to London in 2009, once recalled his earliest memory of the capital as a mushy pea fight with Jackson in The Sea Shell chippie on Lisson Grove in the 80s during an interview with The Evening Standard.
Gest was also famously close friends with Elizabeth Taylor who he met in the 1980s ahead of the American Cinema Awards, which he produced for 14 years. In a tribute piece marking her death, he credited Taylor for helping him successfully direct his first ceremony.
“The awards show was only the third thing I had produced and she sat and told me exactly how to do it,” he wrote.
“Initially, I said: 'No, I want to do it my way.' But 20 minutes after leaving her house I called her back and said: 'No, I am going to do it your way.'
Some of his acquaintances proved more surprising than others and a number were revealed by Gest during his second reality TV stint.
“I’m friends with all sorts of footballers, and Kym Marsh is like a little sister to me,” he said after arriving in the Celebrity Big Brother house. “I’m friends with Liam Gallagher, too.”
Gest also expressed a fondness for Pete Doherty (“He’s an amazing guy”) and was apparently good friends with former Busted singer Matt Willis, with whom he met the Prodigy singer Liam Howlett.
His turbulent marriage to Liza Minnelli only propelled his name to the top of many tabloid spreads. But despite courting celebrity circuits and collecting a number of high-profile friends, Gest insisted he never wanted to be famous and in a recent interview with the BBC, ahead of one of his shows in Eastbourne, he spoke frankly about not wanting to be famous during his brief marriage to Minnelli. “I never wanted to be in the public eye. It's very hard when you wake up each day and there's press outside your house. I would never want to live that type of life, I live a very simple life.”
Gest also insisted he lived a relatively immaterial life and described how he would do more to help the homeless if he was ever granted a day as the Mayor of London. “To spoil myself I go to Harrods, but I'm not really into material things,” he once said. “I go to Tesco for food, and I love the 99p packages at Iceland. I still go to McDonald's - give me McDonald's fries over gourmet chips any day.”
He eventually began making plans to permanently move to Harrogate, in York, and would be often be spotted frequenting local cafes and shops, even popping up behind the counter of a local fish and chip shop.
There were even proposals for Gest, a Methodist who already had a licence to marry people in the US, to officiate Kerry Katona’s wedding in 2013. “I took Kerry to a church in Memphis,” he said. “When I preach I get very into it. It’s like PRAISE GOD! I speak about life, obstacles and how you can overcome anything if you have determination.”
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