An interview with David Gest was always going to be a somewhat surreal. Well-loved, well-connected and totally eccentric, the producer and personality is finally bringing his talents to Scotland.
After leaving ITV’s celebrity jungle in 2006, he quickly became the UK’s unexpected darling, a fact that still holds true today. Thirty seconds into our chat he excuses himself to take pictures with fans – I hear him making kissy noises to them on the other end of the phone.
Once he rejoins the conversation, we get onto the main business of the interview. It sounds like a question in a bad pub quiz – what links king of pop Michael Jackson and Scotland’s poet extraordinaire Robert Burns? The answer is, of course, David Gest, who in 1993 recorded the bones of a musical about the poet’s life in Jackson’s studio.
It was to be a magnum opus, written by Scottish journalist George Rosie, with involvement from dancer Gene Kelly and Psycho actor Anthony Perkins – but unfortunately fate intervened and both men passed away before its completion. “I didn’t want to do it without them. When they died, I kind of lost interest because it was something we were all doing together.”
The work of Robert Burns is an unusual passion for two LA-raised celebrities to latch onto, but Gest says that he and his friend were captivated by the poet. “Michael Jackson was such an ardent fan of Burns’ work. He and I used to collect all these books about Burns, and a lot of books of his poetry – I’m just fascinated by him as a human being. To me, he was the greatest poet of all time. What a mind – to write all these brilliant poems, and express love in so many ways.”
After rediscovering the tapes several months ago, David enlisted the help of Diane Aspinall and Tish Tindall of Rock Academy of Performing Arts in Lossiemouth to revive the project. He was adamant about the show being produced in Scotland, and featuring an all-Scottish cast.
“I think there’s so much undiscovered talent in Scotland. I’m hoping we can make a few stars out of some of the people in this play, because they’ve really got something special.”
David obviously holds Scotland and its people in high esteem. He did his first book signing in Edinburgh, and tells me “I’ve always loved the Scottish people, and they’ve always been very warm and wonderful towards me. The people in Scotland are so down to earth and real. They have a real appreciation for life – I couldn’t even compare them to Hollywood people.”
However, one thing does stump him, and that’s the accent. He’s taking on the role of Tam O’Shanter and reciting Address To A Haggis, and he reveals that it’s harder than he anticipated. “I’ve been working on my Scot’s dialect – and I have to keep working on it. It may kill me.”
Halfway through, David obviously decides to have a bit of fun with the interview, and tells me about his imaginary childhood in Vietnam. It’s a bizarre tale, featuring his parents (a nun and a fisherman, both in possession of only one leg) and two brothers with incredibly phallic names. He’s so deadpan about it all that I’m afraid to laugh – David (or Hoppity, as he claims his birth name is) spins a convincing tale.
The play, aptly enough, opens on Burn’s Night. It’s been a long time coming, and David seems eager to begin the run. “In my life, there’s never been a project that I haven’t followed through on.” The play being unveiled in Burns’ homeland seems to be the icing on the cake.
And he’s confident that his late friend and fellow Burns fan would approve. “Michael would be smiling in heaven, saying ‘About time, David!’”
Article reproduced here was originally published by Crave Magazine (August 2014) and is no longer available online.