It’s not often bona fide big-shot American celebrities roll into Blackpool.
Which is why it was a pleasant surprise to see David Gest and Sheila Ferguson pop to town.
Gest is best known for a lifelong friendship with Michael Jackson, a brief and messy marriage to Liza Minelli, and a hugely successful appearance on I’m A Celebrity, which made him a household name in the UK.
Ferguson was the main voice of The Three Degrees, a band who enjoyed considerable success with hits like When Will I See You Again.
The pair were in the resort to promote a show at VIVA early next year, David Gest’s Legends of Soul – with a line up that, as well as Ferguson, includes Dennis Edwards, Candi Staton, Percy Sledge, CeCe Peniston and Little Anthony. In other words a who’s who of top stars from yesteryear.
Gest had the idea a few years ago and has been touring the show to packed houses around the world since.
“Needless to say we’re delighted about getting them to play our venue,” said VIVA co-owner Martin Heywood.
I was invited to meet the pair, which I was looking forward to, mainly because Ferguson is a legend and Gest is an interesting chap to say the least. And so it proved. Within moments of sitting down he is telling me a lengthy anecdote about how he used to come to Blackpool in the 70s because he had a cousin who lived in Preston. The whole thing is a lie – a build up to a joke – but I’ll give him one thing, he is certainly easy to talk to.
“I can guarantee the people of Blackpool they will love this show we’re putting on,” he said. “It flies by. As the MC I introduce each act, give a little history, tell a few stories about each one, add some humour – as I did in I’m A Celebrity.
“The audience come away feeling like they got their money’s worth because they see 10 acts in one night, and hear 30 top ten hits all sung by the original artists like they were on the record. It’s fantastic.”
One of those acts, Ferguson, has been to Blackpool before, and stayed quite a while.
“I did a whole summer season with Cannon and Ball,” she said. “We had sell out audiences and I loved it. It was my first time doing a solo show of that magnitude after leaving The Three Degrees so the place holds fond memories.”
One thing you can’t criticise Gest for is not knowing his music. He has been into it all his life. Two of his best friends growing up were Jackson and Whitney Houston.
“Michael and I used to go to KFC all the time as kids, eat loads of chicken, then buy record stores out because we loved collecting,” he said. “We were lifelong friends.”
One of Gest’s most notable achievements was producing the Michael Jackson 30th anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden in 2011, when the Jackson 5 reformed. Almost 50 acts performed, including the likes of Luther Van Dross, Justin Timberlake, N Sync and Usher.
“Myself and Michael each put in $20,000 to make it and in turne it generated 24 million dollars,” said Gest.
With his production knowledge and contacts in the music world, the show Gest is bringing to Blackpool is pretty much certain to be top class.
It takes place at VIVA on Saturday February 8, 2014. Tickets available now from www.vivablackpool.com