Ahead of performing this week, 90s icon Chesney Hawkes speaks to Lorraine Wylie about going up in the limelight and what’s next
In 1991, his debut single The One and Only took pole position in the UK charts, fending off competition for five consecutive weeks. Thirty-one years later, Chesney Hawkes is still performing, his career firmly on track.
Granted, it may not be the direction he’d envisaged. The days of being a pop idol, when his face was splashed across the covers of celebrity mags not to mention the bedroom walls of teenage fans, are long gone. His brief spell in the limelight earned him the unfair title ‘one hit wonder’ but Hawkes, now 51, insists he’s more than happy with his lot.
Now as part of the Let’s Rock 80s tour, the singer is looking forward to reuniting with fans in Northern Ireland. Ahead of the performance, Chesney looks back on his glory days, sharing the highs as well as the lows of teenage fame and explains why Northern Ireland feels like home.
At just 19, he had the world at his feet. As well as securing a role, in the film Buddy’s Song in which he played alongside Roger Daltry, his debut single had been a roaring success. Far from being overwhelmed, the teenage Chesney took fame in his stride.
“You have to remember, I grew up surrounded by famous people,” he laughs.
“Back in the Sixties, my dad played bass in the group the Tremeloes and my mum was also involved with showbusiness. She was one of the hostesses on the television show The Golden Shot.
“Our house was always full of famous people and groups, like Herman’s Hermits, the Marmalade, Gerry and the Pacemakers etc.
“At the time, ‘fame’ was normal to me, at least it didn’t feel alien. I guess I just assumed I’d follow a similar path. Let’s face it, with our genes, we were never going to be accountants! As an adult, looking back, I realise, I was young and those were my perceptions at the time. Still, it was a very defining period in my life.”
The phenomenal success of The One and Only, written by Nik Kershaw, made it a hard act to follow and while Hawkes did his best, with singles such as, I’m a Man Not a Boy, What’s Wrong with This Picture?, Stay Away Baby Jane and Another Fine Mess, he could not replicate his former triumph.
“By the time I was 23, I felt as though I was already washed up,” he says.
“Having said that I’m not bitter; I really appreciate that period of success and the amazing things we got to do! I mean, I travelled the world, visited some incredible places and performed for thousands of people plus, I had my brother Jodie with me, playing drums! It really was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“But, when things started to go wrong and I wasn’t having any more hits, the record label dropped me and people I’d once considered as close as family, stopped taking my calls. It was tough.
“As a young man, I tried to push my feelings down and brush everything off. Now, as an adult, I can look back and acknowledge that, yes, I went through some really tough s**t. I mean, as a dad, I can’t imagine my son, who’s a bit older than I was at the time, coming through the same thing unscathed.”
Now happily married and living with his wife Kristina and their three children, Casey (21) Jesse (19) and Indiana (16) in America, he appears to have escaped any lasting effects.
“I consider myself very fortunate. I’m very much in love with my wife, have three brilliant kids and I get to play my music. I am happy with my life.”
Although, beneath the friendly, laid-back manner, I detect a hint of anger at the way young and often vulnerable artists are treated by the media as well as the entertainment industry.
“It can be really hard for young people,” he says.
“Showbusiness by its nature can be a harsh environment but you do have to ask, ‘Where are the adults in the room?’
“The people in charge should be looking out for kids and to be honest, I’m not only referring to the music industry. Television reality shows where kids become famous for five minutes, are not prepared for the backlash.
“One minute they’re getting nothing but love and the next social media and the press turn on them. They simply aren’t prepared or supported. We’ve all seen how these cases can end in tragedy.
“I was lucky, I had a good family behind me. My dad gave me good advice when he told me not to believe the good stuff they say and don’t believe the bad because if you take it all onboard, it’ll change your psyche.”
The singer has reached out and tried to help.
“With just over three decades in the business, and having been through the machine myself, I thought I could utilise what I’d learned to help others. I wanted to give something back.
“Over the years, I’ve mentored young artists, giving them advice etc and I’m currently involved with a lot of charities including Back on Side, a great place for anyone just needing to talk.”
It comes as no surprise to learn that all three of the Hawkes children have inherited the artistic gene, ensuring Chesney is no longer the one and only star in the house!
“They’re all insanely talented!” he says, parental pride on full beam.
“Casey wants to be an actor and to be honest, he’s incredibly good, so watch this space. Jesse who’s also very gifted is at St Andrews, and Indiana is an amazing guitar player, he’s really very good, if fact he’s so good he was accepted at the Brit School in London.”
Like everyone in the music industry, Hawkes didn’t escape lockdown although for him, being stuck as home, was a welcome change.
“The pandemic was a terrible time, especially for people who lost their income. Like everyone else, I found it difficult, but the best thing was being able to spend more time with my family.
“Normally, I’m away touring so I loved being able to do simple things like have dinner with my wife and kids. I appreciated being able to just stop and breathe for a while.”
As life regains a sense of normality, what does the future hold?
“I’ve so much going on! I’m currently on tour and will be a while yet, then there’s the Edinburgh Fringe, I also have podcast about mental health, (We’re all a bit mental) which has been going well.
“Then there’s my Box Set called the Complete Picture, which looks back over three decades of my career. I’ve also taken over the franchise of the Tremoloes and am really excited about our next big event, The Sixties Gold Tour. It’ll feature big names like Herman’s Hermit and Marmalade and, will be coming to Northern Ireland later in the year.”
The next stop on the tour, brings him to Northern Ireland – ‘one of his favourite places’
“I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with fans. I love doing live performances, especially the smaller gigs where I can get close to the audience and tell the stories behind the songs.
“Having said that there is nothing quite like a nostalgic gig. People turn up dressed in their 80’s gear, they leave their inhibitions at the door and have a great time.
“They want to relive a part of their youth and music allows them to do it. It’s absolutely brilliant to be part of that atmosphere, especially in Northern Ireland. I mean, the thing about playing in Northern Ireland is that you know you’re going to have a fantastic time!
“People are incredibly friendly. have many fond memories of my time there. There was one occasion, when I was there along with Ant and Dec and we ended up in a fantastic bar in Belfast….Wow!”
So, they had a good night?
“Oh come on! It’s always going to be a good night when you’re in Northern Ireland!”
Chesney performs at Let’s Rock 80s festival tomorrow in Ward Park, Bangor. For more information on him, see www.chesneyhawkes.com