In My Life
Chesney Hawkes talks about living with dyslexia
POP star Chesney Hawkes was earning money as a jobbing pianist when he shot to fame with the song ‘The One and Only’ which featured in the 1991 film ‘Buddy’s Song’ starring Hawkes as Buddy and rock musician Roger Daltrey as his father.
The film performed moderately well at UK box offices but the song spent five weeks at number one in the UK singles chart and became a hit in the US.
Born in 1971 in Windsor, Berkshire, Chesney’s father is Len (Chip) Hawkes, the singer of The Tremeloes (known for their hit ‘Silence Is Golden’) and his mother Carol Hawkes was a TV hostess and actress.
‘The One and Only’ written by Nik Kershaw also featured in the 1991 film ‘Doc Hollywood’ starring Michael J. Fox and peaked at number 10 on the US Billboard singles chart that year.
Chesney lives in LA with his wife and three children but travels frequently to London, touring festivals all over Europe. Artists continue to cover his songs and he has had material recorded by three international Pop Idol winners.
“When I was young my dad was in the Tremeloes and that was probably my first experience of music. My first instrument was the piano. My dad had a piano in the garage and my mum used to park the car up against it. I was nine years old and we were back in England. I used to sit on the bonnet of mum’s car playing – it had thumb tacks so it sounded like a bar room piano.
I was Billy Ocean’s paperboy when I was growing up in Sunningdale, Berkshire. He lived two roads down from us and I remember he was a really good tipper at Christmas.
I was a bit lost at school. I was never diagnosed with dyslexia and was only diagnosed many years later when my son’s school was saying he might be dyslexic. Everything they were saying made me think “that’s me”. My son was tested at nine and I got tested with my son. I had struggled a bit in school and because of that I was seen as a bit of a trouble maker. All I ever wanted to do was get out and play music, so I knew my path.
When I first started earning professionally playing music I was 14 or 15 years old and I was literally playing piano in pubs, wine bars and at weddings. I was that person playing Billy Joel songs, then I got the part of Buddy with Roger Daltrey. In the early part of my career I didn’t have setbacks. I had a silver spoon in my mouth then, I had it easy. The setbacks all came after that and I am very happy to have experienced the ups and downs of the business and life. I had a tumultuous beginning to my career and it was crazy touring the world and playing stadiums. Then a couple of years later I was dropped by the record labels and management wouldn’t call me back. It went from one extreme to the other and I had to learn about life. I had so much money and so many people around me then suddenly I was on my own and I had to learn how to pay bills. I am very grateful for that, I don’t regret anything – it moulded me as a rounded person.
In 1991 when it all first kicked off for me there were fans waiting outside my parents’ house. There was a fence all around it, but a girl rang the doorbell and asked to use the loo. My mum being the person she is let her come in but the girl stole the toilet roll and sold it off one sheet at a time! Another girl broke into the house via the dog flap and took pictures of all the rooms inside the house. She then sent the pictures to me asking me to sign them!
These days I am touring like crazy. I have just finished a tour with my dad – it was like the Fabulously Flying Hawkes and my brother was on drums. I am working on an album and I’m writing a musical. I am doing lots of festival gigs and I have three children so I have a busy life!
On average I travel from my home in LA to London every six weeks but at the moment it is every month back and forth. I am literally in the UK and Europe all summer. I am also still working on my autobiography which is a work in progress but it is taking a long time now. It started as a cleansing thing but then I didn’t want to bring out too many secrets and affect relationships. I’m having a hard time working on how to phrase it. I have done most of it, I just need to figure out how to finish it.
I love LA but I now have the best of both worlds. LA is idyllic with perfect weather and my kids are thriving here. London is always going to have a place in my heart but any English person abroad is going to feel that way. I miss so much about it – like using irony without people taking offence. I miss a good pint of beer, the football and the history of England. If a building is 60 years old in LA then it’s old!
My eldest son is at a performing arts school, my middle girl is into acting and my youngest loves music and playing the piano.
I support A21, a charity which is looking at child sex slavery and last year I did a charity single in aid of missing people. I am also a charity ambassador for Global Angels.
This year I am doing a lot of festivals in the south. The Let’s Rock festivals are really fun. People come and relive their youth and there will be individuals come as Freddie Mercury. There’s 20,000 people in the crowd and there is nothing like a festival crowd – I am really looking forward to it.
For me I think the most important thing a young person needs is persistence and drive to get on in the music industry because you are really going to get knocked back in so many ways. You have to believe in yourself even when knocked back. I used to always remember the Beatles being turned down by every single record label in the country before their big break. Nothing has changed. You can have a lot of talent but if you don’t believe in yourself it’s not going to happen.
Because I’m so busy when I have free time I spend it with my family. My children are aged 15, 13 and 11 and because I’m away so much when I’m home I literally want to spend time with them, going to the beach, hiking, going to the cinema as a family and spending time with my wife – I am at that stage in my life.”