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Martin and Shirlie Kemp - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 24 / 12 / 2019

Martin and Shirlie Kemp - Interview


Martin and Shirlie Kemp tell Nick Dent-Robinson about their long marriage and their pop careers, both separate and now together

It was Shirlie Kemp's old school mate George Michael who first suggested she, Shirlie Holliman as was, get together with a young man called Martin Kemp. Both Shirlie and Martin were stars back then - Martin with Spandau Ballet, while Shirlie was one half of Wham's backing singers, later to be better known as Pepsi and Shirlie. Martin tells me the story: "I'd seen Wham on Top of the Pops and I couldn't take my eyes off Shirlie. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. Then a fortnight later we were at a VIP screening and there she was. I gave her my phone number but she never called." Shirlie laughs at this and continues the tale: "Well, it wasn't because I didn't want to call him. But he was this major pop star and so good-looking that I was scared he'd act like a proper pop star and be arrogant. So it was George Michael who stepped in, constantly pressing me to call Martin. In the end George called the number and gave me the phone. Martin's mum answered and I was so nervous and embarrassed as he probably had girls calling him all the time. But then he came on and said, 'I'm so glad you called'. He sounded genuinely happy I'd phoned. So that was it. After that Martin would send me picture postcards whenever he was on tour - there were no mobile phones, no texting back then - and we were always in touch and together. At our first meeting in Camden Palace I brought George Michael along as my chaperone - can you imagine that? But 35 years on and we are still with one another, still happy." "Yes, we spent that first evening trying to lose George," Martin laughs, "but he got the message in the end!" George remained one of Shirlie's best friends right up until his death on Christmas Day 2016 at his home in Oxfordshire. He was godfather to the couple's children - photographer and songwriter Harley Moon, 30, and Roman, 26, who is a Capital Radio DJ. After Harley Moon was born, Shirlie deliberately stepped back from her career (by then she and Pepsi had enjoyed chart success of their own, after Wham broke up) to focus on her family. "I was very relieved to be free of that outwardly glossy but actually rather shallow rock star world", Shirlie now says. "I loved the music but not the fame and I was glad to leave the music to Martin. Although the children knew their dad was well known, it wasn't until they were teenagers that they realised I'd been in that world, too. I became quite shy of it. At the school gates I'd always dress down, not wanting to be recognised or judged on my past." But now Shirlie has decided she will return to the limelight. She and Martin have made an album, 'In The Swing of It'. This happened after Martin asked her to help out on a track he was recording. "Shirlie went into the studio and just blew everyone away", Martin says. "She was amazing and it just came so naturally to her. The material we were doing was old classics and it worked so well. So we did the new album." Shirlie was a bit nervous of returning to the music business, though. "I just didn't want to look stupid", she says. "But I sang to my daughter who is always 100 per cent honest with me and she said, 'Mum, you have to do this, you and Dad just sound so good together' which, actually, we did. So that convinced us." Shirlie and Martin believe one of the secrets of their successful marriage - 35 years together is a rare achievement in the music world - is that they always remained grounded. "Our parents were also together for their long lives", Shirlie reflects. "And we always kept ourselves and our kids pretty down to earth. Even when we spent time with George Michael - who we used to know as Yog, his childhood nickname - we kept things ordinary. The thing about Yog is that there were two quite separate sides to him. There was the George the public all knew and then Yog, the family friend who I'd known since our school days together. "For many years our children had absolutely no idea how well-known Yog was. They just saw him as Mum and Dad's mate. Once when we took Harley to see him perform - at Earl's Court, I think it was - she said, 'Mum, I can't believe all these people have come to see Yog, it's amazing'. She was in awe that this old friend of ours who often popped in to see us all was up on stage and thousands of people were going crazy for him! George would have liked that! We shall go to see 'Last Christmas', the new Emma Thompson film that's based on the music George performed - though I'm not sure what it will be like. It will be great to hear those old hits of his again. But, meanwhile, Martin and I have an album to promote!"

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Martin and Shirlie Kemp - Interview

Martin and Shirlie Kemp - Interview

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