He’s polite, charming,
and quietly spoken. He also comes across as down to earth and genuine. In
fact, Martin Kemp is very un-showbiz. Rarely seen at celebrity bashes, he
prefers to spend his free time with his wife, Shirlie, (who he married in
1988) and their two children, Harley 13 and Roman, 9. ‘They are my best
mates’ he says ‘I enjoy being with them.’
Born 41 years ago in Islington, North London, Martin has only fond memories of that time. ‘I grew up in a really happy family. My brother, mum and dad and me are still really close.’ The Kemps, like their neighbours at that time, were poor. ‘I remember my mum crying ‘cause we couldn’t go to school because we had no shoes to wear but although we didn’t have any money, I still remember it as being a really happy time.’ It must have been a leap of imagination on his parents part to send him and his brother to a drama school, I suggested. He laughed. ‘Not really. The Anna Scher Theatre School was just across the street from where we lived!’ At the famed drama school, Martin discovered his true personality and speaks warmly of the legendary drama teacher, Anna Scher. ‘I think she was my biggest influence while growing up. I was there when I was seven and stayed eight years. I think what you learn from drama lessons at that age is that you are given your personality. All of my personality comes from Anna Scher and I think if you were to ask my brother, Gary, he would say the same.’
This sounded like a Svengali type scenario. ‘No’ he laughed ‘I meant she brought out the real me. Gave me the confidence I was lacking because before I went to her, I was the shyest little boy.’ adding ‘I owe her everything really.’
In 1978, Martin joined his brother’s pop band and went on to enjoy life as an idolised pop star in frilly shirts and knickerbockers. But his dream was always to return to acting. When Spandau Ballet broke up, he went to Hollywood and spent the early 90s travelling back and forth, making several ‘B’ type movies. ‘It was a great experience’, he recalls, but it was also where he discovered he had a brain tumour. ‘When it was diagnosed it was the size of a peach and apparently I’d had it for about ten years. Luckily, it was benign but my life changed forever at that time.’ Then, unbelievably, he was told there was a second tumour. Fearing he might not always be around to tell his children about his early life, he decided to write ‘True’, his autobiography. Happily, he survived the surgery. These days, the book can sometimes work against him. If he tries to discipline the youngsters; ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you cant do that’, they say ‘Hey, dad, have you read chapter 7?’ His voice fills with fatherly pride. ‘They’re fantastic kids. My little girl already plays piano really well and Roman plays guitar’.
Roman has also just completed his first acting role – playing his father as a 10 year old in ‘Family’, the 6 part series set in the East End about a gangster family, which surprisingly pulled in few viewers. ‘It was not about ‘the murder of the week’, it was about the life and loves of the family, how they got on with each other. The loves and hate. Its delved inside that world without being crass.’ He was disappointed by the viewers reaction. ‘I thought it was a fabulous piece. I was with Jamie Foreman (the son of Freddie Foreman, the gangster) so he knew about that world first hand. I’ve also had lots of experience of that world, over the years, but only through some of the stuff (work) that I’ve done. Like me, Jamie has been acting since he was seven so between us there was a lot of experience. I still feel it was probably some of the best work I’ve done.’
Years ago as a child actor, the young Martin was frequently cast as a orphan. ‘As a kid I looked very Jewish so I was always given the parts of Jewish refugees.’ adding ‘This meant lots of dressing up in period costumes, which was fun’. Just recently he was back in period costume. This time in ‘Brides in the Bath. A thriller set around the turn of the century, in which he played George Smith, the almost forgotten serial bigamist who married eight times and killed the last three of his wives, before disappearing with the insurance money. ‘I liked this one because it’s a story we have almost forgotten about so and didn’t really remember the ending’. George Smith (whose effigy is in the dungeon at Madame Tussards) is a interesting but unpleasant character so how did Martin shed his ‘character’ at the end of the day. Did he take ‘him’ home? ‘Tell you what’ he confided ‘the older I get, the harder it is to do that. It was difficult this time but I shot the whole thing up in Leeds so I was away all week, coming home only at weekends’. He paused, thoughtfully. ‘It was a very strange experience. I grew this huge moustache so I was waking up in the morning in the part and going to bed in the part. The moustache helped in a way. As soon as I woke up and looked in the mirror, there he was.’ Another pause. ‘It was very strange really ... it started to haunt my psyche. I would wake up in the middle of the night and I was sure I was going to see him at some point. It was really creepy.’
There is much speculation that he is to play ‘Dracula’, at the end of the year. All things considered, life is indeed looking good for Martin Kemp, who was once a teenage Pop icon and is now one of Britain’s busiest and most likeable actors.
Can there be any unfulfilled ambition left ...?
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