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The auld acquaintances David will never forget

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I was sitting opposite David Gest in an Elgin hotel as he professed his love for Robert Burns. It was a surreal moment. Rain spluttered intermittently outside the window, but the American producer’s apparent adulation for Scotland seemed unshaken.

In fact, the grey weather perfectly matched his attire – his ankle-length leather jacket, replete with grand fur collar, as jet black as his hair and tightly-manicured beard.

It was like interviewing a fashion-forward member of the Stark household from the Game of Thrones series. The only thing missing was a wolf at his side.

“He wrote from the heart,” David said of the Scottish bard.

“He was a real cocksman who loved women and even though he was married, seemed to have children by a number of people. And he loved living life, he always said what he felt. For example, if he was here today and he was here for the vote, you know which way he would go.”

When it comes to Robert Burns, David knows his stuff. Such is his knowledge of – and passion for – his poems, David’s now finally nearing the end of a 20-year journey to bring a theatrical production about the poet’s life to the stage. It’s a journey he set out on with his childhood best friend, Michael Jackson, but sadly one he will have to finish alone.

Michael Jackson. David Gest. Robert Burns. It’s an odd trinity, you’ll agree, but then in the world of Hollywood, where reality is no hindrance to ambition, this is surely the bonkers stuff dreams are made of.


On January 25 next year, the world premier of David’s musical production, One Fond Kiss, will be unleashed on the world from Elgin Town Hall. A co-production between the “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here” star and Lossiemouth-based Rock Academy, it is a new iteration of a show initially dreamed up by David and Michael.

Based on the life and times of Burns, performed by a 32-strong Scottish cast and taking inspiration from music Michael actually wrote to the bard’s lyrics in 1993, the show is clearly dear to David’s heart.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said sincerely in his Los Angeles drawl.

His and Michael’s love of Burns began at the age of 14, the 61-year-old explained.

“Michael and I as kids used to go around antique bookstores and buy everything we could on Burns. Every edition we could. We were fascinated by the words of his poetry – it was so enticing to read these brilliant lyrics and we felt that they had to be songs.”

In 1992 Michael gifted the use of his studio and considerable talent to put the poetry of Burns to contemporary music.

The initial idea was for it to be used for a new production, Red Red Rose. Plans moved apace over the following 18 months, and a star-studded production took shape. Hollywood icon Gene Kelly took the reins as director, Psycho actor Anthony Perkins joined as executive producer, and a cast including the then-unknown John Barrowman as Burns himself was pulled together.

However, after the deaths of some key players, including Perkins who succumbed to Aids-related pneumonia in 1992, David had a change of heart.

“Even though we had the money to do [the show], I didn’t want to do it without them. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve done something where I didn’t complete it. I’ve always completed things – it’s just in my nature,” he said.

And so the show and Michael’s recordings lay dormant. Until recently, that is, when new life was breathed into it by Lossiemouth’s Rock Academy, run by singer-songwriter Tish Tindall, and partner Diane Aspinall.

“I was moving nine months ago to York, and I found the tapes,” David added.

“A friend of mine brought them to Tish and Diane, they said they wanted to do the play, to put some new music to the songs and rewrite some of the script, and present it on Burns Day right here in Elgin. And I thought, ‘why not?’ So that’s how what was originally called Red Red Rose, became One Fond Kiss.”

The day we spoke, David had just been shown the first elements of One Fond Kiss. The cast members, who have been drawn from a Scotland-wide catchment, performed their hearts out for the producer. Twenty-three hours of rehearsal time had clearly come up with results, as David issued huge praise on the quality of what he saw.

And as if regular trips to Lossiemouth weren’t enough for David, he will actually join the cast on stage come January 25.

That’s right, David Gest, best friend of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, former husband of Liza Minnelli, and eccentric TV personality will portray Burns’s most famous invention – Tam o’Shanter.

“Yes it’s true, and I’ll be addressing the haggis,” he said, a cheeky glint forming briefly on his otherwise deadpan face.

“I’m trying to get my Scottish accent to be acceptable. The worst they can say is that Dick van Dyke appeared in the show, but it doesn’t matter because, you know what? It’s my love of Robert Burns that will show.”


Stepping into the limelight, while a joy for David, is still a relatively new phenomenon for the American. Before his marriage to Liza in 2002, he was always the guy in the background. The successful producer, mover and shaker, but never the main attraction.

“But you never know what’s going to happen in life. If you were to tell me that I would be a TV star, when I remember I used to hide in dark glasses behind Liza Minnelli and never did interviews, I would have said you were out of your mind,” he said.

The real transition, he explained, came with his appearance on I’m a Celebrity. When his participation in the reality show was announced, the odds were 53:1 that he would be out within the first hour.

But the diva that the UK public expected didn’t reflect the reality of the man. This wasn’t who they had imagined from reading tabloid tales of his infamous break-up with Liza just a year after their wedding.

His warm heart, cheeky pranks, and bizarrely endearing creativity with the truth brought adulation in great waves.

“I was just myself,” David maintains.

“Michael was living in Ireland when I was on the show, and he would just watch and laugh because this is the me he had always known. It’s just that nobody knew me as a personality. And when you’re married to somebody famous, people start making wrong analogies of who you are, so you have to show them who you are.

“And when people saw me tear a snake in half, be in a tank with a crocodile, and when I picked up the Black Widow and said ‘didn’t I see you at my wedding’ the whole nation went crazy.”


If truth be told, David is still somewhat dumfounded by the love he gets in the UK. As ever, his vision is firmly set on the near horizon and doing what he does best – producing.

With January 2015 not all that far away, it’s full steam ahead for One Fond Kiss. He’s mooted taking the show to Aberdeen and beyond, so what’s the plan after Elgin Town Hall?

“We’ll see what happens from there. Hopefully it will tour throughout Scotland. I would like it to play everywhere because I’m really proud of it. And I’m really proud of Tish and Diane for their enthusiasm, for their stamina and take-charge attitude to making this happen. That’s something that I love in people – I love people that are do-ers,” he said.

It’s been a long road, but he’s delighted to be able to complete the project he set out on more than two decades ago. A Hollywood dream made reality in Moray might seem unlikely, but here we are.

And Michael? What would he have made of all this?

“I think he’s smiling up in heaven, because he was such a fan of Burns, that he would be happy to see this finally happening and coming to fruition. He was a do-er as well, and an innovator. He was the greatest talent I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

As to David’s forthcoming turn treading the boards as Tam o’Shanter, Michael would surely be smiling about that too.

“I was very blessed to have two best friends, both of whom died within a year of each other – Michael and Whitney. They were like family to me and I miss them both. Every time I turn on the radio and hear a song of theirs, I think of them.

“The memories come back, of the three of us in a car, they would start singing and tell me to ‘please stop’. I would say, ‘you can’t say that’, and they would reply, ‘yes we can’. But I love them with all my heart.”