It’s crazy, isn’t it?’ laughs Chesney Hawkes as he considers that his massive 1991 hit The One And Only is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. ‘I still can’t quite believe it.’
The song, which was featured in the film Buddy’s Song, also starring Hawkes, topped the UK charts for five weeks and became a hit all around the world, catapulting the teenager to global fame.
But when Chesney landed the film’s title role, he was already far more interested in the music than acting.
Speaking to WOW247 from his home in LA, Chesney says: ‘For me it was always about the music, since I was a baby really.
‘I grew up in a house with a very musical background. There were guitars propped up all over the house and my dad obviously lived and breathed music.’
His father is Len ‘Chip’ Hawkes, former singer with ’60s stars The Tremeloes.
‘That’s what formed my early years. I was obsessed with music – I was a big Beatles fan from about nine years old. I would sit and play the piano for hours and hours and hours.
‘When the film came along, it was more like a way into the music industry. It was a music-based film, so I thought I might get a record deal out of it, that’s why I auditioned for it.’
In the film his father was played by legendary Who frontman and occasional actor Roger Daltrey.
‘When I met Roger I was only 17, but I had a band at the time, and to anyone who has leanings towards rock and roll and guitar-based pop music, The Who is it as far as energy goes.
From about ’95 to the beginning of the 2000s, I didn’t play The One And Only at all. I was rebelling against pop, I was listening to Nirvana, Radiohead and Soundgarden and bands like thatChesney Hawkes
‘I was a huge fan of what they were, which was just energy on stage.’
However, follow-up singles fared less well and by the mid-’90s Chesney had rejected the world of pop and headed to America to reinvent himself as a serious rocker. He also refused to play his biggest hit live.
‘At the time, about ’95 to the beginning of the 2000s, I didn’t play it at all. I was rebelling against pop, I was listening to Nirvana, Radiohead and Soundgarden and bands like that. I was very much ensconced in that and formed a band.
‘I came here to The States to try to make a go of it as a band and to get away from “that” kind of world, and what my friends called “him.”
‘I would get people shouting from the back of the crowd sometimes: “Do The One And Only!” But I was completely adamant that I wasn’t going to do it.’
It was only when his manager twisted his arm into doing a couple of dates at universities on 2001 that Chesney realised that the song had taken on a life of its own.
‘I was very nervous about it, thinking for a start that they’re students, so they’ll be too young to remember it. I went up there with my bass player for moral support and two acoustic guitars.
‘Even backstage, there was this pumping house music before we went on, and I was thinking: “What am I doing?”
‘That first gig was in Lincoln and I’ll never forget it. When we walked on stage it was amazing, there was this real warmth from everyone – Chesney banners, people with my face on their T-shirts.
‘What I didn’t realise was that in those 10 years the song had been kind of handed down and become an anthem without me even knowing, it had become a bit of a cult record.
‘That sparked a whole new career for me. I decided to hang up the rock boots and go back to my roots, as it were. I‘ve never really looked back.’
While The One and Only has endured, Buddy’s Song has slipped a bit out of sight. Although the film was often shown in schools where the source novel by Nigel Hinton was taught, it is now no longer available.
‘It was never released on DVD, and I can’t tell you the number of times I get messages on social media and emails from people asking ‘‘can we get it released on DVD?’’, or ‘‘where can we get it?’’ Because it’s not on iTunes or anything like that.
‘I’ve tried to get it together myself. My old management, Trinifold, which was Bill Curbishley, they were involved in the production of the film but there were so many different people involved in the financing, it’s this huge conglomerate of people, so it’s a huge job trying to get it all together.
‘I would love it to come out somehow, just so I can direct people to where they can get it, if nothing else!’
Since embracing the song again, Chesney has found himself a regular on the nostalgia tours and festivals.
‘I get lumped in with the ’80s a bit because I’m on the cusp and I have the ’80s connection with Nik Kershaw because he wrote The One And Only, so I’ve been kind of adopted by that gang.
‘I’m the baby, it’s funny. I was backstage at Let’s Rock (the ‘retro festival’) the other week and it was me and Holly Johnson, Jimmy Somerville, Midge Ure, Howard Jones, Katrina and the Waves, Sinitta. I’m by far the youngest.’
Chesney now lives and works mostly in LA, where the day job is ‘writing and producing and developing new acts, doing music for film and TV, there’s always something for me to do over here.’
The song was a big hit Stateside as well and remains popular there too, but it has become detached from its singer.
‘Over here I didn’t have the same kind of celebrity. People know the song and the film, but when they hear the song, they’re like, was that Richard Marx, or was it Bryan Adams? They know the song but they don’t know me so much, which is nice because I can be anonymous over here and it’s not an issue.’
Chesney’s last album was Real Life Love and he is looking at releasing new material of his own again.
‘I am going to be concentrating more on myself as an artist, I definitely feel the urge to do that now.
‘Even when I’m writing with other people and working on different projects, sometimes there are certain songs that I just can’t let go of and they go on the Chesney pile, and I think, I’ll readdress that one when I’m making an album for myself.
‘You never really stop being an artist, it’s something that burns within, for me, anyway.’
Recently, Chesney recorded the rather prescient football song The Realistic Anthem, which downplayed England’s chances in Euro 2016, with none other than former England keeper Peter Shilton performing a rap to rival John Barnes’ performance in New Order’s World In Motion.
‘I had this lovely message from Peter after the Iceland game which said: “I guess we hit the nail on the head there, didn’t we, son?”
‘I wish we had more of a chance to promote it before it came out, but I was busy running around with other things.’
The song was originally intended as an advert for Rustlers Burgers, but soon became a fully-fledged song in its own right.
‘When we got Peter involved it became a real thing. Peter was brilliant, he’s such a gentlemen.
‘Everything was done in one day – my vocal, his rap, the video. Maybe we’ll wheel it out in a couple of years for the World Cup.’
In the meantime though, there’s the matter of marking his best-loved song’s silver anniversary.
‘I wanted to mark it somehow. I thought about rereleasing it, but I didn’t want to take away from the original record itself, so I’m doing a bunch of gigs where I’m getting some friends along to play.’
n Chesney Hawkes and Friends: 25 Years of The One And Only is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday, July 27, doors 7pm. Support is from Percival Elliott and the Urban Vocal Group. Tickets £14.50. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or call 0844 847 2362.