Tommy Steele living in a ‘showbusiness fairy story’ after knighthood

Tommy Steele has said he feels like he is living in a “showbusiness fairy story” after receiving a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

The 83-year-old, often regarded as Britain’s first rock and roll star, is honoured for services to entertainment and charity.

He told the PA news agency: “It’s like being in a panto. People are calling you Sir and you think: ‘Blooming heck. Is that in the script?’ It’s wonderful and I haven’t come down to earth yet.”

Tommy Steele Lifetime Achievement Award
Tommy Steele helping set up a press conference for the Festival of the City of London (PA)

Steele, born Thomas Hicks in Bermondsey, London, scored his first number one in 1957 with Singing The Blues, before going on to a varied career in acting and sculpture.

Recalling his six-decade career, he said: “I love finding new challenges. I love taking my career into different facets like pantomime, musicals, films.

“I just love trying things and being invited to do it. I have always been very lucky that things have happened to me.

“I went into Half A Sixpence, which was a musical, and then next thing I know I am on Broadway, then I am in Hollywood doing films.

“It sounds like a blinking fairy story and I suppose it is. It’s a showbusiness fairy story.”

Recalling hearing the news of his knighthood, he said: “It’s a combination of a bit of excitement and dreamland.

Music – Tommy Steele – London Airport
Tommy Steele was among the first artists to play rock and roll in the UK (PA)

“You naturally want to ring the world because it is a wonderful thing.

“But there is this warning. You don’t do that. The rules of the game are that you have to keep quiet and accept it, if you wish, and we will let you know when we are going to announce it.”

Steele worked in various jobs before music, including a period as a merchant seaman.

When a ship Steele was serving on docked in Norfolk, Virginia, US, he heard the music of Buddy Holly for the first time and fell in love with rock and roll.

He became a household name as the frontman of The Steelmen, who scored a hit in 1956 with Rock With The Caveman.

His early success cast him as the UK’s first teen idol and earned comparisons to Elvis Presley.

Steele’s raffish stage persona paved the way for Sixties acts such as The Beatles and Sir Rod Stewart.

He soon expanded beyond the horizons of pop music, appearing on Broadway and in the West End.

Tommy Steele as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol in 2005 (Joel Ryan/PA)

Recalling his early years in the spotlight, he said: “The most exciting thing about the rock and roll era for those that started it is that there were no rules.

“You found you could go into a coffee bar and sing sea shanties, in my case, or country music, and no-one would say, ‘You’re not doing that right’ because no-one had ever heard it before.

“So you found doing those early rock and roll songs, going into theatres – they had never heard it live before. It was like a wonderful journey.

“You were something like a magician.”

In 1985, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir in a concert performance at the Barbican in London.

Tommy Steele Lifetime Achievement Award
Tommy Steele jumping for joy at a press conference in 1966 (PA)

In 2018, he returned to the London Coliseum, 60 years after his debut there in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, to star in The Glenn Miller Story.

Steele is also a sculpture artist, with many of his works on public display in London and Liverpool.

He donated one work, titled Eleanor Rigby, to the city of Liverpool as a tribute to The Beatles.

The bronze figure nods towards the eponymous woman of the Lennon-McCartney composition and is dedicated to “all the lonely people”.

Steele was appointed an OBE in the 1980 New Year Honours.