The one and only Chesney Hawkes on music, celebrity and life in Chertsey
Best-known for his chart-topping tune The One and Only, Chesney Hawkes is back with a new album – though his recent attempts to win a medal on Dancing on Ice left him with more than he bargained for. Here, the Chertsey resident chats to Angela Wintle about his music, career and happy family life in Surrey – from visits to Hampton Court maze and strolls in the Surrey Hills to his favourite local eateries
In 1991, Chesney Hawkes, then an unknown 19-year-old, shot to worldwide stardom with that uplifting, air-thumping anthem, The One and Only. It catapulted him to No 1 in the UK charts, where he remained for five weeks, as well as the US Top Ten, and went on to become one of the best-selling songs of the decade. It also earned him a devoted teenage fan base, who camped outside his house in all weathers in the hope of catching a glimpse of the young singer.
“There were girls everywhere,” he grins. “There were always at least 50 teenage girls camped outside my parents’ house, and I took to sneaking out in the boot of Mum’s car or creeping over the back of the neighbour’s fence.”
But the title of his song was to prove strangely prophetic. One minute he was playing to hysterical, screaming audiences around the globe, the next battling to get airplay and fending off a barrage of negative press criticism. Needless to say, his baby face, long blond hair and squeaky-clean image didn’t help, and the tabloid press delighted in knocking him.
“I didn’t get into drugs, but I was caught cheating on my girlfriend, prompting the inevitable front-page headline: Cheating Chesney,” he says with a pained expression. “Thankfully, my stable family background helped to keep me grounded.”
Life in Chertsey
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Chesney, who has retained his boyish good looks at 40, is speaking from his home in Chertsey, where he lives with his American wife Kristina, a model, yoga teacher and crystal therapist, and their three children Casey, ten, Jesse, eight, and Indiana, six.
“We moved here from West London eight years ago, partly because we fell in love with the house, which is very child-friendly and borders lush farmland, and partly to be near my parents and younger brother Jody (the former drummer in his band) who all live in the neighbourhood,” says Chesney. “I grew up in Sunningdale on the Surrey/Berkshire border, so I knew the area well and it’s tailor-made for us.
“Our working week is jam-packed, so we try to chill out and relax at weekends. We love visiting the local cinema or strolling along the river, through the park or abbey grounds – or even through the Surrey Hills. I’ve also performed a lot locally for charity fund-raisers, particularly at the White Lodge Centre in Chertsey, which offers a range of creative activities and opportunities for disabled children, young people and adults across Surrey.”
But performing is currently the last thing on Chesney’s mind because he’s still nursing a painful leg injury sustained while rehearsing for ITV1’s hit celebrity ice skating show, Dancing on Ice.
“It was New Year’s Day and I was just getting in a little extra skating time with my professional partner, Jodeyne Higgins, when I took a tumble and fell awkwardly on the ice, rupturing a couple of ligaments in my ankle and fracturing my fibula,” he groans.
“I was gutted not to be taking part in the show. I’d spent nearly three months in training and was getting quite good. But I think my children were the most disappointed. They were so excited at the prospect of watching me skate on national television.
“I’ve been on crutches for the past five weeks and I’m only just starting to put weight on my foot again. I certainly won’t be back on skates for a while. But who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to compete in next year’s show.”
It seems he had little choice about his future career path: music and performing are in the blood. His father, Len ‘Chip’ Hawkes, enjoyed a successful career as the lead singer in the Sixties beat band The Tremeloes, and his mother, Carol Dilworth, is a former actress and game show hostess.
“I had a talent for music, singing and instrumentals from a young age, probably because there was always a guitar propped up in the corner!” says Chesney. “My dad took me to gigs when I was as young as nine and his friends included John Lennon and Gerry and the Pacemakers.”
It was in 1991 that Chesney hit the big time when he landed the title role in the film Buddy’s Song, in which he played a young lad determined to make it as a pop star, aided by his dad, played by Roger Daltrey. The accompanying soundtrack featured the hit single, The One and Only, though it was included as something of an afterthought.
“It was the very last song we recorded. We needed one extra song to complete the album, so my dad borrowed a cassette tape of Nik Kershaw demos from a music publisher. Nestled in the middle was The One and Only, though only Dad anticipated what a huge hit it would be.”
It changed Chesney’s life overnight. One minute he was a piano man, playing at pubs, clubs and weddings, the next he was the main attraction on Top Of the Pops. The song has since featured on numerous compilation albums, TV ads and movie soundtracks, most recently in director Duncan Jones’ 2011 film Source Code, as an alarm clock ringtone. “It has a life of its own,” smiles Chesney. “It’s a song with wings.”
But how to top a song like The One and Only? Well, of course, he couldn’t. And when his career began to slide, he began attracting headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“Oh, I got some stick for sure,” says Chesney, without rancour. “The British press loves to see people fall, though a lot of the criticism was unfair and untrue. Piers Morgan, then showbiz editor at The Sun, was at the forefront. Every single day he wrote something negative about me, though he claims to barely remember it.
“In the end, my publicist suggested we took him to lunch at the Groucho Club in the hope of winning him over, and thankfully it worked. I was more hurt than I let on, though the people closest to me, like my mum, took it hardest.”
Wisely, the young musician decamped to the US where he reinvented himself as a songwriter, penning tracks for A1, Tricky, Hear’Say and Caprice, as well as gigging with different bands. “I played in lots of grotty little clubs and was pretty much broke. At one point, I was even renting a one-bedroom apartment in the red light district.”
When he was dropped by his record company after the release of his second album, he did his damnedest to shake off his squeaky-clean image, growing his hair and stubble long. As for The One and Only, he refused to perform it for seven long years. “If people requested it, I’d just tell them to get lost,” he admits.
Back in demand
Then, in 2002, he received a call from a small agency asking if he’d like to play a couple of student union gigs. “I didn’t want to do it,” he admits. “It had been ten years since I’d been in the charts and I couldn’t imagine that any student would remember who I was. But I was wrong.
“When I first walked out on stage, 3,000 people went absolutely nuts. Since then, I’ve performed around a thousand gigs all over the world and they look on The One and Only as a cult record. I don’t understand it, but I’m very grateful because it has paid my mortgage for the last decade.”
Gradually, he has rebuilt his public profile, appearing on reality TV shows such as The Games, Sing If You Can and Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, and touring in Bill Kenwright’s musical Can’t Smile Without You, featuring the songs of Barry Manilow.
But he hasn’t forgotten his roots and still writes and produces songs from his home studio. “In the music business, I’m one of the ‘go to’ guys people send artists to, and I’ve worked with everyone from Jennifer Paige to Tears for Fears,” he says.
“I’m also working on a new album, which should be out in a couple of months, as well as my autobiography. Will there be big revelations? Probably. Writing it is certainly proving quite a journey.”
It seems Chesney is so much more than a one-hit wonder.
My Favourite Surrey
Restaurant: The Inn at Maybury on Maybury Hill, Woking. The food is incredible, the decor is amazing, it’s comfortable and very toasty in the winter when they light crackling log fires. It’s a five-star restaurant, but very reasonably priced.
Shop: Full of Surprises on Guildford Street in Chertsey, which sells party goods and novelties. It’s such a fun place and my kids love it. They sell the weirdest collection of stuff from little toys to novelty pens.
View: The view from the Surrey Hills looking down on the olde worlde village of Shere. You can drink in the whole of this picturesque village and it makes you realise that we still live in a green and pleasant land.
Place to chill: My studio at home. It’s my little man cave, full of recording equipment, gold discs and memorabilia from my career.
Place to visit: Hampton Court Palace, which has everything for a fun day out. The history of the place is awe-inspiring, our kids love the maze and we’ve visited the skating rink a lot this winter.