Laura Davis meet American star David Gest as he prepares for his first stage role, at Liverpool’s Royal Court
He is disarmingly honest when discussing his nerves about the show, which he agreed to almost on a whim when Royal Court chief executive Kevin Fearon offered it to him in front of a queue of autograph hunters outside the theatre.
“It sounds all good until you start rehearsing and you go ‘oh my god, what did you get into?’,” he admits.
“It’s a big committment because you’ve got so many lines to learn and then all of a sudden I’m with a choreographer learning steps. It takes an hour and 20 minutes to put the prosthetics and the make-up on and about an hour to take it all off afterwards. I never realised!
“I think I’m a little shocked at all of it.”
Nightmare on Lime Street is the Royal Court’s fourth consecutive Christmas play from the pen of Liverpool writer Fred Lawless, with a cast that includes soap and stage musicals star Michael Starke and Holby City’s Mark Moraghan: “They love to hear the funny stories about Hollywood and me producing Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor and Jimmy Stewart. I love hearing about Brookside.”
Until his appearance on I’m a Celebrity. . . Get Me Out of Here in 2006, Gest was best known, at least in this country, as Liza Minelli’s ex-husband. Their marriage was a period when he “used to wear those stupid dark glasses because I was so nervous, I looked like I was with the mafia” and when they would eat at Toby carveries on trips to England “because we loved turkey and stuffing and the fact you can get as much as you want”.
With a farm in York, on which he keeps a 6ft python and a bearded dragon, Gest was made for jungle life, he says: “I could have stayed there forever. I love camping out, I’ve always loved insects.”
He finished fourth but left the show with a new fanbase and the offer of three prime time TV shows, taking him from behind the scenes producing into the limelight.
“I don’t need Beverly Hills or have to be in London at a £500 dinner to prove who I am,” he says of swapping his glitzy showbiz lifestyle for a flat in Sefton Park, where he strolls for a mile each day, greeting friendly passersby in “my bad Dick Van Dyke English accent that’s never going to change”.
With his voice to look after, there’ll be no partying – “Oh can’t. Not at 59-years-old” – and he is also very worried about the potential effects of a British winter on his vocal cords.
After the seven-week run at the Royal Court closes, he’ll be back to the theatre in February for five performances of his star-packed Soul Spectacular, and there’s the screening of his new TV series with Kerry Katona – Certifiably Nuts! – to look forward to: “It’s very funny. It’s like I Love Lucy and you’ll see her in a whole different light.”
Plus there’s his ongoing fundraising work – Gest has raised millions of dollars for charitable causes, including several in Merseyside: “I look at what they’re doing and what they’re helping. If someone with cancer wanted to meet me and was dying I would certainly go and see the person if I could.”
And after that?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next 10 years I would do charitable work in Africa or a Third World country,” he muses.
“I might write novels. I thought about it the other night. My plate is pretty full for someone who’s 18. Did you write that down? Not 59. . . 18.”
A NIGHTMARE on Lime Street is at the Royal Court from November 23 to January 12, 2013. David Gest’s Soul Spectacular is at the same venue, February 6-9, 2013.