Chesney hawkes, the only one, sits on my couch with a mug of lemon and ginger and recalls some meetings with fans. “I was told that this one guy, The One and Only was his favorite song, and every time it came to the pub, his friends would pick him up and he would be like …” He makes disco fingers in the ceiling. “Then he sadly died, but they played it at the funeral, and when it came, that was when they raised the coffin.”
We are silent for a moment and imagine the scene.
Whoa, I say. “I know, right? Really lump in my throat time. That was when I realized that this song I have no ownership of it. It went out there and created an emotional connection with people, and it has nothing to do with me, He says, sipping his tea.
Before Hawkes arrives, I’m worried I will fight to see him as the 50-year-old father of three he is, rather than the teenage heartbreaker who sang one of the most catchy No. 1 singles ever. Luckily, he makes it easy for me, because he shows up with his son Casey, who is 20 years older than his dad was in his pop heyday. They have an agreement to renew Casey’s passport later this afternoon – and you can not really faint over a man on his way to the passport office, even though he was once the biggest pop star in the world.
We meet at mine because it’s between the pass and where the Hawkeses are staying on this trip. Hawkes’ wife, Kristina, is American and the family lives in Los Angeles, but it is the United Kingdom where Hawkes was born and where he works. “A typical day here might be: get up, do a few interviews; there may be a rehearsal with the band, possibly a concert. I just made Butlin’s up in Skegness, ”he says with the sweet smile that has not been subdued for the last three decades. He is so sunny, as open as a flower, that it’s hard to believe he’s ever heard a harsh word in his life, let alone been the subject of scorn for years, his name an adjective for superficial pop and short-lived success.
Many one-hit wonders follow a short news story – Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot, e.g. or Mr Blobby – so those who persevere, as people still dance to in their kitchens decades later, are an elite, eclectic bunch. There are of course Knack’s My Sharona plus 99 red balloons by Nena, Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and Steal My Sunshine by Len. And then there’s Hawkes ’The One and Only, which still sounded just as sweetly captivating as it did in 1991. During the lockdown, Hawkes and his kids cheered the country up by singing it on This Morning. For Hawkes, there is a kind of justification in this, not to mention some hiring, and it has been a long time coming.
I was 12 when The One and Only was released, only seven years younger than Hawkes. My friends and I read every interview with “Chezza” in Smash Hits, so we knew everything about him: that his father was in a 60’s band that did not interest us at all, and that his younger brother, Jodie, was his drummer, who interested us very much. We knew he – along with an old guy named Roger Daltrey – was the star of the movie Buddy’s Song, where he sang The One and Only, and some of us even went to see it. We followed the intriguing rumors about the mole over his right lip – or was it his left? – and whether it was false. Most of all, we sang the song and put it out in the schoolyard every break.
I noticed that his follow-up singles (I’m a Man Not a Boy and Secrets of the Heart – and no, I did not need to Google the titles, thank you very much) did not sell so well, after which he disappeared, but I was not worried. After all, he had been No. 1 in the UK for five weeks. He probably just lived off his riches somewhere.
What happens to one-hit wonders once the hit is gone? Their names are too recognizable for them to get a normal job, but they can not live without one. Hawkes was in the extra unfortunate position of not having written The One and Only – Nik Kershaw did – which means he did not get as much out of the song as I had assumed. The money he did gets him used exactly as a nice but naive 19-year-old would: “I bought cars for everyone in my family; I bought the stupid little red sports car. And my parents were not so good at money either, so they could not afford me, ”he says.
Nor did his record company offer any guidance. Two years after The One and Only, with his subsequent singles – which he wrote – and albums did not live up to expectations, it fell to him.
“It was like losing a family: the record company girls who feel like sisters because they travel a lot with you; the people involved in the campaigns. I was 18 when I met them all, so I was really surprised when I suddenly could not get any of these people on the phone. It was a big learning curve for me when I realized, ‘Oh, okay, none of that was real, and I’m a washed-out pop star at 23,’ he says. Together with friends, he formed bands “and gave them names like Ebb and Fly. We basically thought we were Radiohead.” Over the course of three years, he went from tinkering with Take That to sharing apartments in Barnes in west London.
In the ’90s, the press took it for granted that Hawkes was just another boring handsome boy, but his background is fascinating. His father, Len “Chip” Hawkes, was a singer in the beat group the Tremeloes, so Hawkes and his siblings grew up in a house often filled with 60’s rock’n’rollers. Gerry Marsden from Gerry and the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, Marmalade, the Searchers and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich were regular guests.
“My parents were like rock’n’roll hippies, with my mom always in really short skirts; my dad still has long hair. They held parties all the time, and when we had to go to school, we had to step on one or two musicians to get to our cornflakes, ”he says.
On top of that, his parents were – unlikely – reborn Baptists. “They pulled us kids into it,” he says. They sent them to Christian camps, where the leaders would say that angels had visited the night before. Some of the children spoke in tongues. “It was the worst,” Hawkes says.
Somehow, despite this double plaster of rock surplus and religious hardship, Hawkes remained a gentle, balanced boy who just wanted to make music. But that dream turned sour when he was barely in his 20s. “Piers Morgan and [the entertainment journalist] Rick Sky – do you know the guys? They nipped me a lot. It was a daily thing. At that time I thought: ‘I’m fine, I’m fine’, but I was still really young at the time, and you realize later that things went in, ”he says. Hawkes tried to block the noise by sticking to his brother and the friends he had had since childhood. But how did he not lose the plot?
“I think it was Jodie, to be honest with you. He’s been a huge, huge crutch for me. He went through it all with me and he’s a very stable guy, so he really helped me. “And my father, bless him, as sparse and crazy as he can be. There is a lot of love in my family,” he says.
Another stabilizing force came into his life in 1995, when he happened to be walking into a pub in Barnes to see a buddy play a concert, and two American models came in. “It was crazy that they were there and not the West End, for example, but I went to one and asked if I could buy her a drink and she said, ‘I want a pint of lager, please.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God! Do you want to marry me?’ “She did – a little later – and he and Kristina have been together ever since.
“She had no idea who I was when we met and she keeps me emotionally level. Also financially, because when we met I was very much in a hole. Then she came along. Her father was a banker and she is very , very good for money. So she said, ‘OK, let’s restructure you here.’
The family moved to LA 10 years ago, primarily for adventure, but also with the idea that Hawkes could write music for other artists. “But the business is tough and that was the wrong timing for me. Nowadays it’s no use just getting a song on an album because there’s no money in songs. You need a single unless you’re with Adele or Ed Sheeran, ”he says.
Instead, Hawkes has found an unexpected career on what he describes as the “legacy cycle.” The second week he played a concert in Manchester with the Vengaboys and “the band that sang Cotton Eye Joe” (Rednex). Other bands and singers he often shares a bill with include Katrina and the Waves (“always looking forward to seeing them”), Jason Donovan (“a buddy”), Tiffany (“so lovely”) and Carol Decker from T’Pau (“love Carol Decker. ”) I tell him I had a taste of the hereditary cycle when I took my kids to Camp Bestival a few years ago and Rick Astley was the main name.
“Rick has had a fantastic career with the Rickroll thing,” he says enthusiastically, referring to the online prank, whereby a click on an unrelated link leads the browser to the video for Astley’s 1987 hit, Never Gonna Give You Up.
It’s a little over 30 years since The One and Only. To mark the occasion, Hawkes is releasing a set of five CDs, The Complete Picture, with all the songs he has written over the years. He hopes it will awaken people to the fact that he is more than just to song.
Did he ever consider leaving the music? “I can not – it’s like breathing for me. I can not even walk past a guitar without picking it up. I’m not bitter about what happened, but I sometimes have a torment and think: what if my career had run a little longer? What if I had released different singles? You rethink things, don’t you? But overall, I’m very happy with where I am. I am very much in love with my wife; my kids are amazing. It is a fixed, day-to-day form of happiness. “
Things have not been easy for the Hawkes family lately. His father was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago. Eight years ago, his father and another of the tremelos, Richard Westwood. was charged with indecent assault on a minor in 1968. After two years, a judge ordered the couple to be found not guilty.
Hawkes thought he had already experienced all the disadvantages of fame, but this was a new low. “It was a terrible time when people showed up at the house. But my dad is made of stronger things than most,” he says. As his dad has felt uncomfortable because of the cancer, Hawkes has signed up for him at Tremeloes concerts – a kind of double-legacy concerts.Of course he would like if people would hear news from him, but it’s fun too.
It’s time for Hawkes and Casey to catch the train if they’re to make their appointment. I walk with them towards the station and we talk about his game plan. I also ask if his mole was genuine. He does not manage to roll his eyes and says yes, but sometimes image editors turned his pictures around so it looked like it was moving. It’s faded a little, but when he points at it I can see it, under the stubble. I always knew it was real.
His daughter calls to ask how our interview went. He laughs and says he will call her back in a little while because he is still with me. They tell each other that they love each other.
You really landed on your feet, I say; things could have gone completely differently. “Oh God, yes – believe me, I know. And it would not have been good. I feel very, very lucky,” he says – and I believe in him.
I wave goodbye to him and watch him as he walks. And as he always tried, he walks with dignity and pride.
The complete picture: The albums 1991-2012 is out on 25th of March