Martin Kemp: “When I was on stage, I was playing the role of the pin-up”

Gold star of song, stage and screen Martin Kemp talks about how drama school legend Anna Scher cured his chronic shyness, his parents gave him and his brother creative freedom, his early dreams of being in a punk band and why there’s no future for Spandau Ballet in his Letter To My Younger Self

Spandau Ballet’s bass-playing heartthrob, badass EastEnders legend, movie star from The Krays, Roman Kemp’s Gogglebox sidekick – there are many reasons to be a fan of Martin Kemp. And in this week’s Big Issue, his Letter To My Younger Self provides a few more.

The 58-year-old star, who first found fame in New Romantic band Spandau Ballet in the 1980s, cuts a long story short as he talks about the crippling shyness he endured as a boy, how Anna Scher’s drama school opening near his childhood home helped him lose his fear and find his inner performer, and his long and varied career.

But most of all, he talks with deep love of the huge influence of his parents on his career, his enduring relationship with singer Shirlie, and the way he lives his life.

“I was the shyest kid you could imagine,” he says. “When I was eight or nine, I found it difficult to even look people in the eye. It wasn’t so much a shyness, it was a sickness.

“And I got rid of it when a drama school called Anna Scher’s opened across the road from where we lived. My mum enrolled me not to try to make me into an actor, but to get rid of my shyness.”

Kemp, who grew up worshipping charismatic stars such as Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee and Marlon Brando, credits his parents with allowing him and bandmate brother Gary the freedom to express themselves.

“We used to wear some mad clothes. I remember coming downstairs with make up on and a robe like Jesus’s,” says Kemp. “My dad was sitting in his chair. I said: ‘I’m just going to the pub.’ He looked over, didn’t even smile and just said: ‘Have you got your keys?’

“I owe so much to mum and dad for giving us that much freedom. I have tried to pass that on to Harley and Roman, but it was easier for me because we were more financially secure.

“Everything when you are 16 is exciting – and if it is not, you want to ask yourself why. It was a super exciting time to be young in London, watching all the punk bands at The Vortex and The Roxy and being involved in that scene.”

On the pop stardom that accompanied his outrageous outfits, Kemp says: “Because of my background as a child actor, I understood that music was a piece of theatre. When I was on stage, I was playing the role of the pin-up. Looking at it like that was key to keeping my feet on the ground.”

I was lucky. I met the right person. I met Shirlie

Kemp describes his upbringing as being a world away from the lifestyle he was able to afford when Spandau Ballet hit the big time. “We had zero money. We had nothing. We were so poor,” he says.

Reflecting on advice he would offer his younger self on matters of the heart, Kemp says: “I was lucky. I met the right person. I met Shirlie.

“And maybe it goes back to my mum and dad again – they showed me how to be a good person, they showed me how to love in the right way, they showed me how to build a relationship. They were together 55 years until they died – and they died three days apart. So their relationship is the one I base mine on.”

The latest twist in a career that has seen him as a pop pin-up, a soap superstar, and a serious actor sees Kemp and brother Gary in BBC2 mockumentary The Kemps: All True.

For Kemp, it was a chance to act with his brother again following their breakout acting performances in The Krays back in 1990.

“I was really lucky to work with Gary on The Krays. Working with my brother was half the job done because we were playing twins,” he says.

“It was nicest way to go back into acting. Both of us leaning on each other. If my first job was on my own, I can imagine it being stressful. Working together was one of the loveliest experiences.

The Kemps: All True was a lot of improvisation, taking the piss out of each other. The nicest thing for me was that Gary was taking the piss out of himself, which you don’t see that often. I have done it all my life, but for him to do it was really different.”

Read more from Martin Kemp in this week’s Big Issue magazine. Available now from via print subscription or as a one-off purchase or a subscription through our new Big Issue app or in stores. Big Issue vendors will return to the streets on July 6.

The Kemps: All True airs Sunday July 5 at 10pm on BBC2

Image: BBC