Fermanagh Herald reader Elizabeth Bradley got the chance to meet her very own poster boy in the shape of David Soul at the recent Beckett Festival in Enniskillen.
David Soul, best known as the blond-haired, blue-eyed half of Starsky and Hutch, the hugely popular 1970s TV cop show, is a successful actor, singer and performer. He steps into the hotel bar, sees me sitting in a big plush armchair and sighs disappointedly, saying “Oh, you’re sitting there. I can’t sit there.”
We settle instead on high backed chairs at a tall round table. He props his walking stick up against the table and apologises, explaining that he needs to sit in a higher chair because of a hip problem and recent surgeries. He asks what I would like to drink and orders coffee for himself. He is charming and relaxed. I confess to being a little nervous; he shakes his head and smiles sweetly, reassuringly.
So what is David Soul’s initial impression of Enniskillen? “I’m sure the same as most people’s: it’s beautiful and so interesting. I never knew that both Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde went to the same school. And others too.” Suddenly he is singing ‘Abide With Me,’ explaining that the man who wrote the words attended Portora Royal School, too. He’s quite right: Henry Lyte did.
Is he a big Beckett fan? “I’m not a fan of anybody frankly. But I am fascinated with him and his work and I think that getting into Beckett is more a journey of discovery rather than anything else. I’m learning. There are those who think it’s too heady and difficult to get into, but you really have to let it grow on you.”
The star might easily have become a professional baseball player, but rather than join the Chicago White Sox he chose to study political science in Mexico. His friends were part of the anti-U.S. radical student movement who, after their meetings, would sing folk songs. They gave him a guitar and taught him their music. He’s singing again, this time in Spanish.
“That trip to Mexico wasn’t just about turning down the chance to play baseball; it opened a door that led to this profession,” he explains.
He has been married five times, so I’m thinking that makes him a hopeless romantic? He laughs warmly, “Yes, inveterately, a dreamer and believer. It’s been the source of frustration for several women and of course for me, too,” he jokes. And at home, is he a good cook? “No, not at all. I could cook, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. I’m good at cleaning up though. We have a policy: if my wife makes the dinner then, I clean up.”
In a time when most of us only had three channels to choose from, Starsky and Hutch was ‘must see’ TV. Despite other work in film and on the stage, Hutch remains the part David Soul is most associated with. Is he ever fed up that people want to keep talking about it? He smiles and shrugs his shoulders. “What am I gonna do? I mean, there are other things I’ve done obviously, but if it gives people pleasure and they don’t invade my privacy too much, that’s okay.” He is a private person who doesn’t tweet or have a Facebook page, something I’m sure Beckett would have in common with him.
A phone rings and his face lights up. “That’s my wife. Hello, baby,” and he turns away to speak, concluding with “Call me. Love you.” I think how normal and ordinary he is, concerned and tender, speaking to his wife as any husband might.
He is thoughtful when asked about strange experiences with fans. “There’s so many. A very interesting one happened when I was on the set of Starsky and Hutch. The police called about a young girl on a roof ready to commit suicide. So I talked to her. It was weird, but she came down.”
His smile is a little sad. It’s not the usual type of ‘celebrity’ anecdote people might expect.
David Soul turns 69 this week. He has no party plans and isn’t one for surprises. “I prefer to give surprises,” he says, smiling again. He lives in London, loves watching Arsenal on the big screen, and enjoys the company and conversation of friends.
The looks have faded and he’s no longer the iconic image of cool. He has grown older, as he is entitled to do. Nevertheless, I can’t help smiling. Okay, I used to have his poster on my bedroom wall, but I’ve just been chatting to David Soul about his life, about literature, politics, sport, romance, and music. That’s pretty cool, too, isn’t it?