MY NAME is Ross Kemp and this is my life. Where do I start? No seriously where do I start? Gareth? F*cking hell, Gareth I need a hand here.
Oi where’ve you gone? Gareth??!
It’s a minefield of choices this writing business. So many ways to skin a cat. So many ways….
Part1: The school years. 1966, Aged 6, Ilford, Kent
I am a man. Then I was a boy. 1966– I remember it like it was 43 years ago. I can still picture the tall red, brick building towering over my head. The high walls, high ceiling and high gates of High Wycombe High School, mein first school. I was a young lad in long shorts, a tie and blazer. They called me Winkle.
I still remember that first day, when I ran out of my mother’s arms straight into the clenched fist of Tubby Jenkins. Well, after that beating I promised never to let anyone beat me again. Two days later Tubby Jenkins handed me the hiding of my seven year life for refusing to give him my gym shorts.
I again vowed never to let anyone thrash me to within an inch of my life. Well as they say promises are there to be broken. So I started to rely on stealth. Sneaking around corridors, hiding under desks, locking myself in cupboards. All these skills were to prove vital in later life presenting ‘Kemp on Gangs.
Part2: 1972, Aged 12, Secondary school:
It was only in secondary school that I started to flourish. It was there that I began to act in some minor roles—Tom Thumb, Gullivers travels, Snow White, Streeb Grubling.
I always got cast as the small guy, but God I loved it. There under the spotlight, the spotlight shining down on me I knew I belonged. The skills I learned there stayed with me the rest of my life, and were particularly useful in my later spell on the boards during the 1992 to 1993 pantomime season in Tass.
My other ephany, epiphanany, epiphany (c’mon Gareth) came when I went on a school trip to Berlin, Germany. The field trip involved a tour around the most famous of the city’s Reichsmuseums but it was one location in particular that grabbed me.
I couldn’t quite explain it, diary, but walking in to Hitler’s bunker that day I felt a thrill of excitement so strong that it coursed through my veins and left my node standing to attention. Sieg Heil! was a phrase I saw etched into the walls there. I always wondered what it meant, but never having found out, I used it as a source of mystical inspiration and carried it with me for several years after.
Ze school trip awakened in me a sense of myself and showed me my possibilities. Indeed walking around der Fuhrer’s bunker I realised my second passion in life (after acting) would be the army! Yes, seeing those uniforms hanging up on the Kriegs Museum walls I knew that my destiny would be strongly linked with that of a soldier. I took that experience with me and used it in my later programme, Kemp on Guns.
Part3: 1978, Aged 16, Walthamstow college
Sixteen years young and fresh out of school. God it felt good to be alive. Pimple they called me. Das college was a bustling affair with many distractions. But to be honest the worst thing I ever tried was a Snickers Bar. No, my real passion happened one evening as I watched Ze Terminator for the first time. Seeing that hunk of Austrian might on the screen, I knew just what I wanted to be—BIG!
[I was to meet my Austrian hero, Arnold, many years later at a party. There beneath the massive photograph of Pope Ratzinger he stood, his friendly features relaxed in a welcoming smile.
I will never forget what he said to me that day.
The party was good and I also met some other inspirational folk that night. Christopher Plummer, Gerhard Schroder, Mel Gibson—they were all out. It turned into a bit of a drunk and raucous affair and so I ended up bunking over at Noel Edmonds’ house, with whom I was to badly fall out years later—but that’s another story.]
Girls came to me quite late. But that year I did have a minor fling with Sally Jenkins. She was the sister of Tubby Jenkins, the school bully – 15 stones of pure meat, an arse like a car fender, boobs like pink waterbombs. Bosh!
She treated me like a turd. One day we were up in her room kissing and all I could think of was the Second World War exhibition in Farnham which I was missing. In the throes of passion I mumbled out “die Ruhr was not a pincer move”. Unfortunately she heard me. Next thing I knew I was being locked inside the cupboard, an experience which repeated itself later in life. Women!
Part 4: 1980- 1984: The Gym Years
Ah just settling down with a bottle of my favourite wine, Liebfraumilch. Gosh this is a good drink. Ok so down to work:
It was the best of times it was the worst of times. No, actually it was just the worst of times. I was plunged into Newcastle poly aged 18 or 19, I forget which. How I pleaded with my mother not to go, but would she listen? It’s almost like she wanted to punish me!
Anyway I went to Polyversity and soon adopted the name by which I am known today- Kempf. (It was also there that I started writing mein Meisterwerk, the struggle of my life, Mein Kempf). Up there everyone was experiencing their first taste of freedom. Free drink. Free thinking. Free love. Yeah a lot of people asked me about my sex life. You must have been a serial shagger Ross they’d say. You must have had women throwing themselves at you. And how could I say no? So I didn’t. I said yes. But the truth is that I was much more interested in the gym.
Things were a struggle in those days. I had very poor body image. I was 18, six feet two inches tall and weighed eleven stones. Can you imagine being that thin? No of course you can’t. It was then that I vowed to go to the gym and never be that skinny again.
Life in the gym felt good. Natural. I soon became a face there. But it wasn’t always easy. At first I used to get bullied to within an inch of my life. They played various tricks on me– holding down the plates on the bench press, tying my shoelaces together, stealing my gym kit— that kind of thing was common.
I remember one time a guy called Mitch Jones stole my civvies and I had to walk home in my tight gym shorts and muscle vest. I didn’t feel good, I’ll tell you. I vowed never to let it happen again. Unfortunately two days later….
Soon I was becoming close to the hulk of mass that I am known for these days. Tight black t-shirts, t-jeans, cropped hair, God I felt good. And believe me the girls started throwing themselves at me then! But I only had eyes for one in particular…..
Part 5: 1984: Lurrrrve
Somewhere in those halyson Uni days I also met the first love of my life (or second if you count the gym, ho ho!). I found her stalking the gambling halls of Great Yarmouth pier one evening. Ginger hair, a55 like a whip, thin pursed lips, merciless eyes– she was everything I’d ever looked for in a girl. The first time I saw her she was bent over a fruit machine, trying to prise out 50p that had got stuck in the slot. Like a magpie she was attracted to silver, but oh the sex of it.
“Oi you fatty, no hair, give us a hand will ya,” she screamed at me.
I naturally responded– damsel in distress and all, oi-oiiahhh. I lifted up the slot machine with my bare hands and tilted it up at a 55 degree angle to allow her easy access. She popped out the 50p and put it between her teeth.
“Aye that’s real.”
Unfortunately the sex in her voice caused me to drop the machine violently on the ground. Out flooded a river of 50ps. It was like valhalla! She scooped up as many as she could (Beckah was particularly good at the scooping and stuffed about 600 pounds worth into her various slots) and ran off with these. Just like Bonnie out of Bonnie and Clyde. Unfortunately, I didn’t see her again for a few weeks as I was apprehended by the local security guard, who of course telephoned the police, which led to me receiveing a suspended sentence and 50 pound fine. Still, now I knew how to turn 50p into 50 pounds– oi oi ahhhh.
Part 6: 1985 to 1990 Extra Time
I’d properly bulked up by 1985. Egg sandwiches, roly polys, beans…you name it I’d eat it. Yet somehow amongst all this muscle, my face retained its round, plasticine quality. Still I was down. The reason- I still hadn’t won a fight! What was wrong with me, I’d think. However this soon changed.
In 1985 I managed to get my first role as an extra on The Bill. One day I was on set all hot and bothered. There was this actor, a puny little guy called Wilf something-or-other, he’d been annoying me all day. Really annoying me. Picking away, getting on me nerves you know.
By the end of the day I was ready to punch something. So I did. There it was—this six foot tall piece of camera scaffolding, just standing there leering at me. God I was angry. I just picked it up and threw it over my shoulder.
The noise reverberated through the little green room as the scaffolding landed straight onto my foot. Broke it. Third metatarsal. That caper nearly jeopardised my whole career, but actually it won me a fan. There was this young man there. He saw the inner rage in me. That was Joe Schlumberger, third scriptwriter on Eastenders and the man through who’s wily machinations I eventually became Grant Mitchell. Get in!
Part 7: 1990- 2000: Rebekah
I was late in my 20s, 16 stone and living in a tiny maisonette in soho- media town! I felt good but space was at a premium.
I’d barely be able to wedge myself in my room after a hard days work playing Grant in Eastenders. My girth was huge. Waddling along Oxford Street one evening I spied a familiar figure in the shopfront of Regent St’s most famous shop, Topshop. Yes it was Rebekah. She was locked in a clinch with a sales girl on the floor of the great retail institution. At some point she gained the upper hand and began raining blows on the face of this young seventeen year old shop assistant who while having a weight advantage, lacked any kind of ferocity.
I shouted a friendly greeting from across the street: “Hey Rebekah, its me, Grant, I mean Ross!”
In the midst of battle she lifted her head like the Valkyrie. A vague glimmer of recognition crossed her eyes. To tell you the truth we both looked different now. She more gaunt, skeletal, me more tubby, rotund. Her hair, ginger, long, like a King Louis Vuitton wig, mine destroyed.
Where she had lost, I had gained. Where I had lost she had gained. The yin and the yang of our existences was complete. After finishing off the sales girl with a couple of solid blows to the tits, Rebekah got up and dusted herself off. She appeared nonplussed at seeing me. Nonetheless she ran over to me and whispered in my ear “I need you to hold onto this,” before running off into the distance, wailing like a banshee.
I looked down– it was a scarf she had half inched from the shop. Soon the wailing sirens drew near and I was surrounded by the police. As I was being led away all I could think was — By God I love that woman.
Part 8: Rebekah continued
I was in love. Krispy Kreme had brought out a new double dunkin chocolate donut sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. It was made out of pigfat. And I could not get enough of it. I was guzzling down five of those in one sitting (a world record I learnt later) finishing it off with an all-butter smoothie. I’d eat the straw and cup too it was that good. My size had gone up to RL (ridiculously large). No one dared come near me.
I met Rebekah in my gym. The first day I was there I couldn’t believe it. There was the woman of my dreams, stick thin, ginger hair, face like a seventeenth century Dutch painting, voice like whispering death! I felt like I did when I watched one of those Nuremberg Rallies on TV– total fucking awe!
Seeing her shoulder-pressing 25kgs sets, I knew that I had to have her. Well I asked her there and then. And she said “Uh no.” But then I offered her the keys to my 2000 pound home gym and we began going out. It was love! We were inseparable. I never left home without her and she never left me anywhere. We invented names for each other– she called me ‘baby’ as in ‘you big fat fucking baby’ or ‘you dim witted bald buffoon baby’ while I called her ‘Skeletor’ or ‘diminishing returns.’ I adored her. But fate was to ruin our love.