A little less conversation: Remembering Elvis with Priscilla Presley

It was less “Remembering Elvis”, more “Praising Bill Kenwright”.

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Remembering Elvis With Priscilla Presley
BBC Radio 2

A word about the West End theatre impresario Bill Kenwright’s interview with Priscilla Presley (15 January, 10pm). I say interview – but Priscilla scarcely spoke, so keen was Kenwright to establish that he was not just The King’s number-one fan, but famous throughout the country for being so. “Eighty per cent of the British population will know how thrilled I am to be here because I’m a well-known Elvis fanatic,” he assured his guest. “So thank you from me, and thank you from Britain!”

Priscilla demurred politely, as any sane person might. The last time I looked, Presley’s child bride (now 69) did look a little . . . singular, astrophysically speaking. Curiously detached in a trance-like way, brown eyes swivelling in an otherwise entirely motionless face, she resembles a wrongly convicted village wench caught inside an iron maiden – albeit one standing at the bottom of a sweeping staircase and about to pour a glass of Tanqueray over Bobby Ewing.

And yet whenever Presley was permitted to speak she sounded perfectly modest and normal, even when Kenwright advised her that, in the interests of evoking a stunned sense of epiphany, she really ought to rewrite the end of a recent Vegas tribute show to include the scarcely used line: “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building!”

Priscilla listened respectfully, made a few noises that connoted a general sense of restrained but negotiable negativity, and then assured Bill that she would take the sug­gestion to her associates and try, even in the teeth of opposition, to push it through to the top.

This, Kenwright – a former judge on Any Dream Will Do – took as his due.

“I want to ask you something, Priscilla,” he started; but then immediately returned to the subject of himself.

“The legend is that He sang you three songs on your first date and actually one of those songs I started my radio series a few weeks back with and I said to listeners, ‘Why was this record never a hit?’ because I was just thinking that I . . .”

Wonder and vanity conjoined. One imagined Presley wearing her quiet, unreadable smile as he talked, hugging memories of her Memphis bumpkin to herself.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 23 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Christianity in the Middle East

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