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Rick Wakeman: "I was going to die unless I stopped smoking and drinking…"

Turning down Bowie to join Yes, heart attacks at 25, preposterous concept albums… it's been a long, colourful career for the caped keysman.

Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper’s disembodied head is currently in a small village just outside Doncaster. Next to it stands a waxwork replica of his torso. The body parts belong to a US branch of Madame Tussauds and have been sent here, to a costumier’s in Yorkshire, to be measured for an outfit.

Stagewear Unlimited have been dressing showbiz stars for more than 40 years. Their client list has included Michael Jackson, Norman Wisdom, Cannon And Ball, geriatric DJ/stripper ‘Gyrating Jeff’ – and Saxon.

Another of its regular patrons, former Yes keyboard player and TV pundit Rick Wakeman, is here today, being fitted for a new outfit for a forthcoming performance of his 1975 extravaganza The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table.

Stagewear Unlimited’s walls and ceilings are plastered with yellowing photos commemorating more than four decades of light entertainment. Wakeman, with his brightly striped jacket and long blond-white hair, fits right in. He has the repartee of a Working Men’s Club compere or after-dinner speaker (he’s off to Sheffield for a corporate gig later), and is surely the only member of the 70s rock aristocracy whose interview chat jumps from David Bowie to Frankie Vaughan; from Jon Anderson to Joe Pasquale.

But Wakeman looks, frankly, knackered. He’s currently producing the final scores for his 2016 remake of King Arthur, and planning its grand performance at the Stone Free Festival at London’s O2 Arena in June. Also in the works are more TV shows, more ‘corporates’ and a new album with former Yes men Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin. You suspect the 66-year-old Wakeman will keep going until he can’t keep going any more.


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