The Big Interview: David Cassidy

David Cassidy and below, in The Partridge Family.
David Cassidy and below, in The Partridge Family.
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I’M meeting David Cassidy in a rather swanky, some might say soulless hotel, near Chelsea harbour. The kind of place where the clientele don’t need to check the price of rooms before they book.

The singer-songwriter, music producer and one-time teen idol is in London for a fleeting visit to promote his Once In A Lifetime tour, which takes in Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena in November and sees him perform alongside fellow 70s music survivors Leo Sayer, Hot Chocolate and Smokie.

Between them they have amassed a combined total of 55 Top 10 singles and sold more than 200m records over the past 40 years. Of the four, Cassidy – the Justin Bieber of his day – is arguably the most famous.

He arrives dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and wearing his 62 years remarkably well, certainly far better than many of his peers. He’s keen to point out that this isn’t his last tour, perhaps aware that some people might take the “once in a lifetime” bit the wrong way. “I can’t stand it when artists say ‘this is my last tour, so you better come and see me’, and then they’re back three years later, it’s disingenuous,” he says, sipping his coffee.

Having said that he admits he’s not exactly prolific when it comes to hitting the road. “I don’t really tour any more with a few rare exceptions. A few years ago I made a commitment to my son because at the time I was in Vegas and I was doing 10 shows a week, I was also producing two shows and I’d created a television series, set up a record company and produced two movies. So I made a commitment not to go away for more than two weeks,” he says.

“Also my mother has dementia and I’m working with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America which takes up a lot of my time. So I’m not going to say, ‘come and see me because this is my last tour’, but if you look at my history I went 17 years without touring.”

One of the reasons he agreed to do the tour was so he could perform for his fans in the UK. “I feel a real connection with this country, I did shows in the West End and I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years so it’s good to be coming back,” he says.

Cassidy shot to fame in 1970 through his role as eldest son Keith in The Partridge Family, a US TV series about a widowed mother and her five children who travel around America as musicians. The show became a TV phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic making Cassidy a household name almost overnight.

“Without that show a music career would not have happened, more than likely,” he says. In fact his career, as is so often the case, could very easily have taken a different route. The son of an actor and actress, Cassidy spent his teenage years in California and joined the Los Angeles Theatre Company before moving to New York in the late 60s to become an actor. “I went on many, many auditions and finally I landed a Broadway show for my first job,” he says.

The show in question was a musical called The Fig Leaves Are Falling and Cassidy was spotted by an LA casting director who wanted him to go to Hollywood to do a screen test for a film. “I said I couldn’t do it because I was in this Broadway show, but he said if I changed my mind to call him up. Anyway, by the end of the first week the New York Times had destroyed the show and I was out of work, so I called him up and said, ‘what day do you want to fly me out?’ It was strange, but having spent my teenage years in LA I was quite comfortable going back there.”

He appeared in popular TV shows like Bonanza and Ironside before being offered a lead role in The Partridge Family, where he ended up starring alongside his stepmother Shirley Jones. He was the only member of the cast who was also a musician, although studio bosses weren’t particularly bothered whether he could play or not. “They knew I played guitar and could sing but they really weren’t bothered about that, they wanted a young actor who looked the part.”

The Partridge Family ran for four years and spawned a string of hit singles including I Think I Love You and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. On the back of the show’s success Cassidy was able to launch his solo career and over the next five years he enjoyed a string of Top 10 hits, including Cherish and How Can I Be Sure, during which time membership of his official fan club topped that of Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

By 1971, he was famous in the US, but on the eve of his first visit to England he had no idea his fame had spread to this side of the pond. “When I first came to England I had no idea anyone knew me. I’d been up in the mountains learning to ski in this tiny Italian town for three weeks where nobody spoke English.”

He had been travelling around Europe incognito, only to fly into a maelstrom when he arrived at Heathrow Airport where huge crowds of teenagers had turned up to catch a glimpse of their new pop idol. “Apparently some DJ had said that I was flying in to England. I was completely oblivious to what was happening, I was by myself, I had no security, and I walked off the plane and there were all these cops standing there and the immigration guys waiting for me,” he says.

“There were thousands of kids waiting to see me and at one point they recognised me and started screaming. There were four cops with me and one of them shouted ‘go’, we started running down these stairs and I started laughing hysterically thinking how insane it was. I’m sure the cops thought I was out of my mind because they’d never heard of me. They pushed me into a limo to meet the head of my record company and my manager and we flew off to the hotel with a police escort - and this was the first time I had set foot on British soil.”

The “madness”, as he calls it, continued wherever he went. “They closed Park Lane at 10 o’clock at night because there were about 9,000 kids wanting to see me. People were saying it was like nothing they had seen before, not even with The Beatles or Elvis.”

Over the next couple of years his concerts sparked mass hysteria. His appearance on Top of the Pops in 1973 caused a near riot while his UK tour that same year included six sell-out concerts at Wembley Stadium over a single weekend. “Cassidymania”, as the press dubbed it, wasn’t confined to our shores. In Australia, several teenage girls had to be treated for shock and hysteria at one concert, while there was similar mayhem following a packed show in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Caught square in the middle of all this was Cassidy himself. “They called me everything, they called me an icon, they called me a demigod, they called me a legend, but I was just an actor and a singer and songwriter,” he says. “I always wanted to be a member of a band instead of being alone in a room with security guards outside. I’m fine on my own but when you’re on your own for long periods of time and it’s not your choice and you can’t interact with others then it can be tough.

“Unless you have experienced that insane level of fame it’s hard to understand. I got to meet some of my musical heroes back then, including John Lennon who became kind of my mentor. I got to play with him a number of times and we became friends. We used to sit and talk about fame because he’d been through the same kind of thing.”

Given the level of adulation that surrounded Cassidy during this period it’s testament to his character that he’s still here. “I’ve had my demons, but ultimately you have to love yourself to some degree, because if you don’t you will self-destruct.”

He views some of today’s celebrities with suspicion. “People who become famous now often do it to become famous. At the height of my fame I would never go anywhere where they knew I was coming, but nowadays they show up at all the places they know photographers will be.”

Fame is a fickle mistress and Cassidy believes the test comes when it starts to fade. “Fame is something I’ve experienced, but when that goes you have to think what do you want to do with the rest of your life and for me it was working, because I love playing music live and I love producing.”

Since the mid-90s, he has been involved in big shows in Las Vegas as a performer and producer and has been able to distance himself from his teen idol past. “In a way I remember it all very vividly but I don’t recognise myself.

“I’ve lived an insane life in a lot of ways, but I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to do what I’ve been able to do. I have a motto,” he says, leaning forward in his chair. “Act as if everything depends upon you and trust that everything depends upon God.”

The Once In A Lifetime tour, Sheffield Motorpoint Arena on November 16. For tickets call the box office on 0114 256 5656.