“My mother was called Wei Wei Nani
and my grandmother was Poo
I was always very fond of Poo Nani ….”
Interview: The Peoples talks to David Gest
Showbusiness legend and friend to the stars, producer and reality star David Gest brings his snappily titled new show, David Gest Is Not Dead He’s Alive With Soul, to the Auditorium on July 3rd. With a star studded cast including Dina Carroll, Russell Thompkins Jnr, (the original vocalist from the Stylistics), Deniece Williams, Billy Paul, Anita Ward and Fern Kinney it should be a fabulous night of classic soul and if that’s not enough for you then there’s special guest star Rose Royce featuring Gwen Dickey as well.
For those who have failed to keep their basic reality TV knowledge up to date the show’s title is a reference to an incident during the recent series of Celebrity Big Brother when confusion resulting from Angie Bowie being told that her ex-husband had died left some housemates under the impression that the spirit of David Gest had departed in the night. Fortunately for us and for the entertainment industry, rumours of his death were exaggerated.
We got the chance to speak to him at the Auditorium when he came over to talk about the new show and about the fascinating story of his life and he was on great form, wickedly funny, utterly deadpan, frank and entertaining and clearly still in love with the world of showbusiness.
The Peoples: Thank you very much for finding the time to speak to us. I’ve spent most of the morning watching you on YouTube and I have to say that I haven’t laughed so much in a long time as I did watching you explaining to Richard and Judy about your uncle Dick and Aunt Fanny Hertz and their nut farm. So can I ask you first of all, have you always had this mischievous streak that makes you spin yarns with such outrageous plausibility?
David Gest: They’re not yarns. It’s all true. These are my family stories that I’m sharing. I’ve had an extraordinary life. I wasn’t born in the United States. I was born in Taiwan. My father was a one legged fisherman and my mother was a trainee nun. My real name was Hoppity. Why you laughing?
I’m sorry. It’s a very moving story.
It is a moving story. I was adopted when I was five and I’ve never seen my birth family again.
During your theatrical career you’ve produced some remarkable shows including the Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Concert, Dionne Warwick’s 45th Anniversary Spectacular and the Legends Ball starring Whitney Houston. Is there any one show that you think of as being the highlight of your career, the one you’re most proud of?
The Michael Jackson show is probably the highlight. I knew the Jacksons because they were my neighbours when I was growing up and I used to go round to their house and they’d come to mine and at the time I was living in California and one morning I put on the radio and I heard the song The Love You Save which is probably my favourite Jackson 5 song and I said to myself “I’m going to reunite them just to hear that song”. So I called Michael and he said “no” but I said to him, “This is going to be special. It’s your thirtieth anniversary and you’re going to be reunited with your brothers”.
I called his assistant Franklin and said, “You gotta help me convince him” and we all took a trip to San Francisco in a coach and we went the wrong way and we almost went off a mountain and we had such a great weekend he said “Yes”. When we started rehearsals for that show and they played The Love You Save I couldn’t believe that we’d actually done it and got them together. I remember watching the show later at home with Liza Minnelli and we sat on the couch and we both said “This is really good.” Because sometimes when you do something you don’t know if it’s good or not, but there we were watching it on CBS and the next day when they said it was the highest rated show of all time, I was so proud. I was stunned. Usually when you do something you think that you could do it better if you did it again but the Michael Jackson show is a really good show.
I designed all the numbers, like Whitney, Usher and Mya doing Wanna Be Startin’ Something and Liza singing You Are Not Alone and each one was tailored to the performer. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Do you ever watch it now?
I haven’t watched it in about eight years because I don’t like watching myself or my shows on television. I’ve never even seen myself on Big Brother.
Going into the jungle made you into more than just a celebrity. It made you into a much loved popular figure in this country. Do you feel the love from the British public?
I feel it all the time and it makes me feel very lucky. Earlier today we were in Hull and when we came out of the theatre and walked along the street all the builders and the passers by said “Hello” and stopped us for photographs. I have seldom known this happen in this way to anyone.
I live in this country now, have done for the past nine years, in York, and I love it. My heart is here. There’s a big difference between British people and American people. British people never talk about their money or what they have or what they do. There’s a refinement and reserve to the British and you’re so well educated. Kids know Shakespeare and your school system is so much better.
I love the British people I have never felt so at home. The way they react to me is wonderful. They come up to me and say “‘Ello, ‘ow are you?” and I say “‘Ello, ‘ow are you?” back in my bad Dick Van Dyke cockney accent. It’s great to put a smile on people’s faces and I’m humbled by it but I never expected it. I didn’t want to do I’m A Celebrity. I was forced into it. I’d been injured and had a head injury and I said “No” but my former security man said “You have to do this”. I had only ever seen one clip of the programme, with Carol Thatcher eating a bug, and I thought “I could do that”.
And I’m glad I did because it was the greatest experience of my life because I love nature and animals and snakes and I remember that I put a lizard on my hand and said “I’m going to call you Bonnie Tyler” and I started to sing It’s A Heartbreak to it and it turned blue and died.
The people on the show were great too. I was the only American and I didn’t know most of theme or what they did, but they were all lovely and I made lots of friends and had a great time.
Let’s talk about your new show. I’ve seen you described as a new Ziegfield. Do you see yourself that way, as a master showman? And is that reflected in David Gest Is Not Dead?
I’d love to be thought of that way. I don’t think I’ve made it yet but this is a big show. It’s starts with my funeral and then everybody shouts “David Gest isn’t dead, he’s alive right here in Grimsby” and then we go into a big gospel number. And I am actually an ordained minister and when you hear me going crazy and shouting “Praise God, Praise Jesus” (at this point he slips effortlessly into character and his stage voice echoes around the room, causing everyone else present to stop talking and look sheepishly round the room as if to say “It wasn’t me, I was whispering”), well everybody listens. I have the little people of David Gest with me and they bring me luck.
Do you ever get tired of being a reality star and start to crave privacy?
Well I don’t do reality shows as much as I used to. I like the quiet life. I’ve been a celebrity and I’ve been to the expensive restaurants and nowadays I am just as happy going to a hog roast and having some meat and Yorkshire pudding as going to a restaurant and paying £80 or £100 for a meal.
Some of the towns you’re playing are quite small. Many of them have never even had a star studded Hollywood comedy named after them. Do you like playing small towns and relatively small venues?
I love it. I love it that as I come in there’s a huge car lot with miles and miles of cars. It’s great to come to a town where the port is still a part of your community.
I noticed that you do a lot of work for charity. Do you enjoy that?
I do because sometimes people fall on hard times and it’s not because of their own fault but because their lives are out of control and if you can help people to make their own lives better that’s a wonderful feeling. And you make yourself a better person that way.
I think you’ll like it here at the Auditorium. It’s a lovely venue and a great acoustic and the audience will be buzzing. Do you have a message to the people of Grimsby and Cleethorpes about why they should come to the show?
I think they should come and see my show because I’m absolutely nuts and because they’re going to see eleven soul legends and they’re all absolutely fantastic and if they come they’ll have a wonderful night.
Thank you very much indeed.
This interview can be found in The Peoples Issue 41 Web Edition