Interview: David Gest
This interview was originally scheduled for the Nottingham Evening Post, in order to promote the touring show David Gest is Nuts: My Life as a Musical. As the entire tour was subsequently and indefinitely cancelled, the interview never made it into print – so here’s more or less the full transcript.
How’s it going there in Nottingham?
I had a bit of a rubbish morning, and I need cheering up. So hopefully you’ll do that for me.
Oh, I’ll make you laugh.
Good stuff. Well, first and foremost, I want to ask you about this forthcoming show which you’re bringing to Nottingham. It sounds like it might be one of the most extraordinary shows this city has ever seen. It’s essentially a comedy musical based on your life, but with a lot more besides. Am I right?
Yeah, it’s a musical with comedy and dancing and singing, and it’s kind of a show that you really want to come to if you’ve had a few drinks, or on ecstasy, a joint, or absolutely out of your mind and like to laugh the night away, or dance the night away, because that’s what you’re going to do. It’s really a ball. You’ve got such a great cast. You’ve got K-Ci and Jojo, Shalamar, Coolio, Candi Staton, Martha Wash of the Weather Girls, Gloria Gaynor, Peabo Bryson, Deniece Williams, Billy Paul and Patrice Rushen.
It’s an incredible line-up. I notice that all the artists are from that soul/funk/r&b tradition. That must be the music that’s closest to your heart, I guess.
Yeah. And then there’s characters like the Little People of Davidland: eight midgets, who travel with me for good luck. Every time I see one, it’s good luck for a day. If I see two, it’s good luck for a week. But eight makes the month work fine. Then I have the Chinese Girls With Herpes…
What on earth are they?
Well, they were my charity when I was in the jungle. Girls with herpes in the mouth and in the vagina. What I do is that I raise money for them, on the side – because there’s 75,000 Chinese girls with herpes, in different places. Some get it from sucking cock, some get it from other things. Some just get it from not having safe sex. So I try to help them, because I love them so much. And then I have the Tess Tickell Dancers. Tess Tickell is one of the great dancers of all time, and she put together a troupe of dancers, which are so exciting. They’re – what’s the word – ambidextrious? They’re like contortionists, but they can actually have sex in fifteen different positions, all at once. They can use every orifice to its fullest extent.
We have never seen the like on a Nottingham stage, I tell you. But there’s so many artists appearing with you, how are you going to fit them all in? Are we going to be there until midnight?
No, it’s a two and a half hour show. And I have the Von Snatch Family Singers. You’ve heard of the Von Trapps, but the Von Snatches sing “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every byway, till you’re on your knees.”
[after a shocked pause] That’s a significant departure.
Do you follow?
I think I follow, yeah.
Well, you have to be on your knees to use the snatch. Right?
So I’m taking it that this is a show with adult content? This doesn’t sound like a family-friendly experience…
I don’t use any foul words. I use foccacia. I use very good language, and am on my better behaviour. And so the children come, and I tell stories, and there’s no foul language or nudity. It’s uniqueness. You have to see it to believe it.
I’m trying to work out what your role is going to be on the night itself. Even your own best friend Michael Jackson has publicly stated, and I quote, “David can’t sing and can’t dance.” So what can you offer us as a stage performer? How do you fit in?
I’m singing now, and I’m dancing, and I do a double or triple flip with Deniece Williams. We do the Footloose dance for Let’s Hear It For The Boy. With Marsha Wash we do that song, Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now), with little midgets. I go [sings] “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW! OOH, BA, BOOM!” and I get the little midgets, and they bring me good luck, and then I jump in the air and she catches me, and I’m on top, and she’s on the bottom, because it would be a hell of a hard time if it ended up the other way.
Well, she’s a well-proportioned woman. I’m sure she can cope.
Yeah, I mean, this is a kind of family entertainment where you never know what’s coming next.
Is it loosely based on events in your own life? Is it like a life story?
Well, I tell the story of my life, you see clips from the jungle, and you see clips of Michael Jackson and myself, and I tell about my wonderful marriage, ha ha ha!
I wondered whether that was going to come up…
It does. It’s very short. But I tell how Gloria Gaynor and Candi Staton were so good to me when I had this head concussion from Miss Minnelli, and how they came over when I was getting eighty shots, and they gave me the impetus to go on.
I Will Survive, indeed…
Yes – and look what’s happened. I had my own three shows; she didn’t.
She is actually performing in the same venue, two months later.
I know. I’ll warm it up for her! But she doesn’t have my whole cast of characters.
No, I think she’s just… she’s just got herself. And a few musicians. Well, are you going to cover the more painful aspects of your life? It’s more of a celebration, I guess. We’re not going to get: boo-hoo, my unhappy childhood, and all that…
It’s more of a celebration. I talk about it a little bit. I talk about what you can learn from something bad, how something good comes out of it. It’s really a fun time. I talk about my cousins, I talk about the people in my life who have influenced me, and the things that have been so important to me.
A lot of people in this country only really got to know you after your stint in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, and the light entertainment shows which followed on from that. So they’ve seen a lot of you goofing around, and not taking yourself too seriously. Because we haven’t seen the various award shows and TV spectaculars that you’ve produced in the States for decades, people may not realise that you have that professional background. So they may be expecting a bit of a shambles, and maybe they need to understand the background that you have.
Well, they’ll get to see a little bit of the Michael Jackson special, and they’re going to see some things I did with Whitney, and they’ll get to see clips, and they’ll get to see a whole celebration of all of us, singing together and dancing. They’re going to see me doing things they’d never expect. But you know, it’s all done in fun. It’s just good, wholesome entertainment, with a twist to the wild and weird. But then, you know, I’m nuts. So that’s what you’re getting: David Gest Is Nuts.
Well, you have great taste in guest artists, I have to say. There are a lot of my favourite artists appearing.
Oh yeah, who’s your favourite?
Shalamar. I saw them playing in Nottingham twenty-five years ago, and they were fantastic.
I’m singing with them.
Which song are you doing?
[sings] “I can make you feel good…”
Wonderful. And Patrice Rushen is a big favourite of mine.
Isn’t she good? And she doesn’t perform any more. I called her and said: Patrice, get off your tushie, and come on over. She can sing Forget Me Nots for the people, which Donny Osmond said was one of the ten greatest records ever made. He was at my wedding too. Who wasn’t? I had eighty people perform at my wedding.
Oh well, this is small scale by comparison.
But I wasn’t an entertainer then. I was just a mealy old producer.
I’m curious about that change of image. I was watching an interview clip from about four years ago, when you were still married to Liza. During that interview, you came across very differently to the person that we see today. You had a very conservative suit on, and you were quite reserved and softly spoken. Now we’re seeing your extrovert, almost rock and roll side. Has the person on the inside changed, as well as the public image?
Totally. Inside, I’m a twenty-four year old wild person. I hang out in Camden. My best friends are Matt Willis, Alfie Allen – Lily Allen’s brother – and my best friend here is Mathieu Flamini, who’s on the Arsenal team. I’m the mascot for Arsenal this year. I go to all the games. I’m friends with Gallas the captain, and they made me their mascot.
So it’s a real lifestyle change that’s happened.
Yeah, and I will never wear suits and ties again. I don’t do that for anybody. They ask me and I say: I’m sorry, I don’t have it. I wear very David kind of outfits, that kind of make a statement, and jeans, and tennis shoes, and that’s who I am now. I live the life. There’s been four parts to my life. There was the part with the movie stars, when my best friends were Robert Mitchum, and Gene Kelly, and Bette Davis, and Ginger Rogers, and Joseph Cotton, and Anthony Perkins, and Glenn Ford, and…
So it’s like you’re growing up in reverse, really.
Yes. I am a nutcase.
And you’ve also moved from being behind the scenes to being the person on the stage. Was there a frustrated performer inside you all the time?
Never. I don’t know what happened to me in the jungle. It was like someone cast a spell on me. I came out of there, and all of a sudden, I’m just this outgoing person: talking to the fans, talking to people, telling jokes, just having a great time. I don’t know what happened. But I transformed into maybe who I’ve always been and never knew it.
Do you spend most of your time in the UK these days?
I live here in Cambridge, and I just moved into my flat in Hampstead two days ago.
Have you had your first winter in Cambridge yet? It’s bitter. The wind blows straight in off the North Sea and across the fens; you’ll want to invest in a woolly hat.
I think I’d better get one. And also I’d better get something for my balls, so I don’t freeze to death.
Yeah, you’ll need that in Cambridge. I also want to ask you about fame, because you’ve spent most of your life in the company of extremely famous people, while not being famous yourself for most of that time. Most of us rarely come into social contact with a star, and when we do, it can be a nerve-wracking experience. We can become very self-conscious. I wondered what advice you would give to a non-famous person who finds themselves in the presence of a star?
Well, my philosophy is this. We all go to the bathroom the same way; we all pull down our pants. So there’s no difference between you, in my eyes, who writes for the paper, and the guy who is a dish washer at the local diner, to the person who delivers the papers. I’ve never felt, even throughout my entire life, any superior or any better than anybody. We’re all created equal. Just because you may be in the public eye doesn’t mean that makes you any better or any worse than anyone else. I’m a real stickler about that. You know, we’re here to do something good on this planet, and if we can use our fame to do something good and help other people, then we’re that much more of a mensch. You might shine in life, but I never look at it as social status. I’m not impressed with celebrity. I am impressed with writers. Not writers for papers; I’m talking about, like, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. If he was in front of me, I probably would go up and say: I’m your biggest fan.
That’s the difficulty for us non-famous people, you see. We wonder if we should say: wow, I’m your biggest fan, and start telling them how wonderful they are, and risk flattering – or do we play it cool, and run the risk of looking like we’re stand-offish or not bothered. These are the sort of thoughts we have. We think we know the famous person, because we’ve seen their public image – but actually, we don’t know them at all.
I love it when somebody comes up and tells me that they love me, or that I make them laugh. To me, that’s a thrill. So I’d rather people say it, than not say something. When you write an article, don’t you love it when somebody says: wow, what a great article that was? It’s better than hearing somebody say nothing! We’re human! If someone tells me: oh, I don’t like it when I get comments from people – bullshit! We all like to know that we’re loved, and that what we’re doing makes people happy. It makes you feel good, and you want to do even better.
Well, that was my last question, David. Thanks very much for that, and I can’t wait to see this show.
Come backstage and say hello!
OK. Tell the people who’s going to be on the show! They don’t know! So they know they can dance the night away and have a party!