Interview: Des O'Connor
For the first time in 46 years, Des O’Connor doesn’t have his own TV show — and the veteran entertainer couldn’t be happier about it. He spoke to us ahead of his East Lancashire appearance.
“I’ve never been to Colne,” says Des, after a career which spans more than 50 years, and has included cabaret, talk shows and even a number one record.
“I know, can you believe it after all these years,” he laughs. “There aren’t many places. So I’m really pleased to be coming. When we were discussing this show I said lets do places I haven’t been to before and let’s do the smaller venues. I said I don’t want to be playing 3,000 seaters, I prefer the intimate contact with everybody.”
“Oh and,” he adds. “You can bring auntie, there’s no rude stuff, it’s a family night out.” You can tell he’s happy about that fact. At 77 he’s proud to be one of the world’s old fashioned gentlemen.
Des's journey to stardom took off when he was given his own television series, The Des O'Connor Show, in 1963, Des O’Connor Tonight which ran for 25 years followed, then came Today With Des And Mel plus a stint on Countdown to replace Des Lynam.
And to many it’s his TV work that Des is most famous for.
But it is as a crooner that he first made his name, and singing is what he loves doing best.
In 1967 he had his first hit single, Careless Hands, followed by I Pretend, which went to number one in the UK. Since then he has made 35 albums with sales of over 16 million.
“It’s what I do best. I always say if you haven't seen me do live shows you haven’t seen me. When you host shows you’re making the show look good or the guest look good. When you’re doing the show yourself that’s your turn to twinkle,” he grins.
“I’ve been doing that my whole life but a lot of the younger generation don’t realise that I do anything other than TV presenting. Back in 1972 I was awarded at the London Palladium for 1,000 live solo performance. I think that must have been my dad or something, I mean all those years ago that can’t have been me.”
And Des says a break in his TV career couldn’t have come at a better time allowing him to concentrate on his first love.
“This is the first year in 46 years I’ve not done a TV series and I’m kind of happy in a way. I’ve been able to do a new cd, and dvd and this tour, which is the thing I really get a kick from. To hear the live laughter and cheers immediately is fantastic.”
On his own national tour, calling at Colne Muni next month Des will be singing all your favourites and chucking in a few jokes as well. But he reveals none of the show is planned, and no two nights are the same — not even the band know what’s coming next.
“The first part of the show is very loose its just me and Ray Monk the musical director who is brilliant.
I’ll chat about my day then I’ll chat to the audience. The other night I invited people to come up and play the piano and they are fantastic.
Last week I asked for singing volunteers and this lady got up to sing Memories and she did the first line and then she stopped. I said ‘what you doing?’ and she said ‘I forgot the words,’ I said ‘you can’t come up sing memories and not remember the words,” he laughed, “you just cant write that stuff!”
And it’s laughter that enriches Des’s career. He may have interviewed legends such as Robert Redford, Barbara Streisand, Sylvester Stallone, and Mel Gibson but give him a comedian whose name he’s never even heard before and as he admits himself he’s in his element.
“I love humour. I’ll not tell jokes in my show mind you, just happenings, we see what happens with the crowds,” he explains. “But I don’t want to frighten anyone off, I hate that, they’re won’t be any bullying, we just have a giggle.”
But when all is said and done Des loves nothing more than family time at home in East London with his five-year-old son, and his fourth wife Jodie Brooke Wilson.
“I won’t do more than three concerts on the trot so that I can have more than half the week at home,” he says. “I’ve got a lovely son, he’s started at school, then I have four daughters, one who is older than me, well that’s what I joke with her. It is amazing to have a new little boy, it keeps you fit and young.
“I never thought I’d still be on the stage or have young children at my age, but it seems to me I’m just beginning I might take it up professionally. I always hoped to still be around now, when pop stars were all starting out all those years ago my friends used to say to me forget this comedy lark, but I said no I don’t want my career to be a sprint, I want it to be a marathon.”
But there is one last thing Des is longing to do in the world of showbiz before any thought so hanging up his microphone. He wants to star in a film.
“Film is the only thing I’ve not done ever. I’ve done everything else in showbiz. Nobody has ever given me a film, and I reckon, says he showing off, that I’d do a pretty good job on it. I wouldn’t mind playing a baddie because I’ve always been the good guy. One of my daughters said I should do it and I thought what is she trying to say?
“But whatever I do, nothing will beat that buzz I get when I walk on that stage. I just love it.”
• DES O’CONNOR — Colne Muni, November 15. Box office 01282 661234.