Icon: David Essex

He may have had 23 top 30 hits, but David will remain a one-race wonder

With smouldering looks, shoulder-length locks and a pug-ugly Grand Prix bike, Essex put bikes on the map in the seventies (a small map of Silverstone)

If you were a teenage girl in the 1970s, you're panties belonged to David Essex. If you were a teenage boy, they probably didn't, but chances are you still wanted to be David Essex, especially after seeing him in Silver Dream Racer in 1981.

The tousle haired, gypsy king played bike racer Nick Freeman in the film which took every Rocky-style rags-to-riches cliche and unashamedly applied them to bike racing. And why not? Cliches are only cliches because they're good.

Viewed now, you'd be right in sniggering at the thought of a one race 500cc world championship (although the Formula 1 world championship started at the TT as a one round affair in 1977) and you'd marvel at how Freeman manages to induce a massive tankslapper crossing the finish line which ended in a fatal crash into the pit wall. And that's beside the fact that Essex's character found a piece of shit home-made bike in his dead brother's garage and used it to beat the might of the works factories at Silverstone.

But cynicism is largely a product of age and for a teenage bike-mad kid, the film was bloody fantastic, goosebump-inducing stuff, all set to a soundtrack which was composed and performed by Essex himself.

The title song Silver Dream Racer in particular was a huge hit for the South London boy and the film, which co-starred Beau Bridges and Cristina Raines was also a moderate success and still enjoys the odd late night outing on terrestrial TV.

But the one thing that wasn't fiction in the film was Essex's love of bikes. He rode in real life even though he was only insured to ride below 15mph in the film itself. He got his first bike, a Lambretta TV175, when he was 16 and hasn't looked back since. Essex has a penchant for British bikes now though and currently owns a 1976 Triumph Bonneville.

Born in London in 1947 to an Irish gypsy mother and East end docker father, Essex got into music by playing drums in a blues band. His first big break was playing Christ himself in the 1971 musical Godspell. The number one songs Rock On and Gonna Make you a Star were the first of 23 top 30 singles in the UK and the former apprentice electrical engineer was awarded the OBE in 1999 for services to charity. Better still, he got to shag '80s pop babe Sinita when she starred in a musical alongside him.

Chief among his charity projects is the work Essex does for his fellow gypsies. He's a patron of the Gypsy Council and campaigns to improve living conditions for gypsies and travellers in Britain.

His tousled mop may be thinning and those cheeky chappie laughter lines may have turned to wrinkles but David Essex can still manage to look cool on a good day. And for inspiring all those '80s youngsters to have a crack at the 500 Grand Prix title on bikes they found in sheds. We salute you Mr Essex. You are a biking icon.

This feature was first published in the February 2002 issue of TWO