Star maker Eliot Kennedy must be seriously close to getting a star of his own – one of those legends plaques outside Sheffield town hall, writes Graham Walker.
It wouldn’t just shine in honour of his amazing services to music and charity.
This most generous, kind and humble soul, whose phenomenal talent is matched only by his modesty, deserves recognition as a great ambassador for the city he loves and refuses to leave.
It’s not just about what he’s done. It’s what he continues to do.
Next week, while taking a break from producing Donny Osmond’s 60th album and writing songs for a new West End and Broadway musical with best friend Gary Barlow, he’s off back to his old Dinnington Comprehensive School with a bunch of top secret showbiz pals to play a charity concert.
It’s to raise money to replace the old PA system in the main hall that he used to sing through around 30 years ago.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our exclusive video report, including highlights of a charity concert he performed at his old school last year.
BUY TICKETS: Seats are £15, or £5 for children and OAPs, booking fee may apply, for Eliot’s return charity concert at Dinnington Comprehensive School on Saturday, April 12, 2014, from 7.15pm.
The school’s famous son, who turned 45 last week, will perform some of the global hits he’s written and produced, such as Take That’s Everything Changes, Picture Of You which he wrote for Boyzone, Say You’ll Be There for the Spice Girls, and When You’re Gone, for Bryan Adams and Melanie C.
He did the same last year, for a memorial garden for a teacher who died, when he brought along X Factor’s Craig Colton and Janet Devlin, Britain’s Got Talent boyband The Mend and Liz Simpson of the Military Wives Choir.
His Take That superstar pal Gary even popped up on a video screen with a personal video message at that event, which raised over £3,000.
The Grammy and Ivor Novello Award winner flew back home from the USA this week where he’s been working with Gary, writing songs for a stage production of new musical Finding Neverland, about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie.
It’s tipped for the West End and Broadway. Last month he performed some of the new songs at an Oscars party in LA.
Together they also made the Queen’s official Diamond Jubilee song, Sing, and last month’s Sports Relief single.
Eliot, a former X Factor producer for artist development, also produced the first Spice Girls album in Sheffield and he is responsible for some of the biggest chart hits of the past two decades, by the likes of Bryan Adams, Take That, Aretha Franklin and Celine Dion. But, unlike many of Sheffield’s greats, he has resisted every temptation to leave the city.
And all the glitzy jobs paled into the background when he got the chance to return to his school roots at the request of head Paul Blackwell at Dinnington Comp, between Sheffield and Rotherham.
Now Eliot, a dad of two, is planning to make it an annual event.
In an exclusive chat with The Star he said: “I was so nervous about doing the first one. This one I’m excited about doing. We even thought about doing two nights, but other things have transpired, so I can only do one.
“But I’ll bring a bunch of special guests again. This time I’ll take a Q&A from the audience and tell some stories. It’s going to be a lovely intimate evening.
“I love doing these gigs where we try to make it feel like a living room, with a bunch of friends around, singing some songs.
“I’m not an artiste, I’m not a performer. So when we do it, it has to been much more casual – but they always end up being these massive productions. We can’t help it.
“We’re raising money for a new PA, because the one they use is the one that I used to play through when I was there. So it’s time it got an overhaul. The aim is to keep music coming out of Dinnington Comprehensive.
“I completely get a buzz from going back. I can only describe it as petrified fear, walking up the drive. All of a sudden you are 14-years-old again and late for school, or whatever. But I go in there, see that big piano that I used to spend every break and lunch sitting at, writing songs and it makes me feel emotional and excited to go back and do it again.
“I used to dream about playing at that school and now I get to do it. It’s fabulous.”
Outlining other projects, which he’s broken off from to rehearse and perform the school gig for 400 people, he revealed: “We’re making a Donny Osmond album – the third one I’ve done with him. But it’s his 60th album, which is remarkable and a celebration of 50-years in the music industry and 40-years since Puppy Love. So it’s 40, 50 and 60, relevant numbers there. We’re doing it internationally. He’s in Vegas and we’re here in Sheffield.
“We’re also making a film about this experience and his life.
“And we’re putting finishing touches to the musical Finding Neverland, which Gary and I have been working on for a year now, which is great and really exciting, an incredible challenge. I’m doing workshops in New York. It’s about the life story of JM Barrie and what led him to write Peter Pan. It’s tragic and magical, with all the things you would want from the story.
“We’ve brought pop sensibility to it, writing pop songs and not thinking about it as being musical theatre but doing what we know best, not trying to intellectualise it too much. And it’s been fantastic. A real breath of fresh air as a songwriter.
“The word is a various artists album could come out of it, but that’s in development. That could be an amazing project. One of the weird things we did was to play some of the songs at an Oscars party.”
He will be auctioning off a piece of his musical history towards fundraising at Dinnington next week.
He revealed: “My career has been a fantastic journey and there are moments that come along where you get to celebrate the success. One of them, one of the first projects I did, at 200,000 sales of Say You’ll Be There, the song I wrote for the Spice Girls, I received a special presentation.
“I’ll auction this for the charity and whoever bids the most I’ll sign and personalise it to them. “And they get a piece of history really. You can’t buy them, or get them anywhere else. It was given to me by The Spice Girls’ label and the girls themselves.
“As it says on the record, Say You’ll Be There and you’re in with a chance.”
Heaven 17, ABC’s Martin Fry, Tony Christie, John Parr, John Reilly and Baby Bird were on the bill when he co-organised The Star-backed Women Of Steel Concert recently at Sheffield City Hall. That raised over £60,000 towards a planned statue honouring the women who worked in Sheffield’s steel mills during two world wars.
Rock icon and co-writer Bryan Adams, comedy king Peter Kay and pop stars, including SClub7 and Mica Paris, have also joined him for other sold-out charity gigs at the City Hall and the O2 Academy Sheffield, organised via his One Song Foundation to raise cash for causes such as Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity, Cavendish Cancer Care and homeless support projects in South Yorkshire.
Eliot, who was presented with an honorary doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University last year, even lived on the streets and slept out with the homeless to put himself in their shoes, which couldn’t be further from his jet set life.
Yet another shining example of a legend in waiting to be rewarded with a star on the city’s walk of fame.
BUY TICKETS: Seats are £15, or £5 for children and OAPs, booking fee may apply, for Eliot Kennedy’s charity concert at Dinnington Comprehensive School on Saturday, April 12, 2014, from 7.15pm.