Spandau Ballet’s Martin and Gary Kemp talk brotherly torment and sibling banter

Martin Kemp and Gary Kemp have spoken about their lives together
(Image: BBC/Francis Gilson)

In the decades since, they found worldwide fame with Spandau, first in the 80s, and then after reuniting in 2009.

Other musical brothers such as the Gallaghers became brothers-at-war after fame kicked in but, remarkably, Martin and Gary, despite their banter, have remained true friends and the bond the brothers share, is something few could understand.

“We’ve been really lucky because me and Gary have stayed friends,” concedes Martin. “We’ve worked together, we’ve hung out together and we’re still doing that now.

“A lot of brothers don’t get to do that. Some of the stuff we’ve experienced are joint memories we will both take to our graves. It’s the loveliest thing to be able to share that with my brother.”

It was older sibling Gary who ventured into the world of acting first, when he joined up with the famous Anna Scher theatre club in London’s Islington as a youngster.

Gary, who has just released his second solo album InSolo, actually joined the club without telling his parents.

“I think the first time they knew I was going was when I said I’ve got a part on television,” he laughs.

And after six months, the boys’ mum Eileen decided her youngest should go too.

“I was the shyest little boy in the world. It was like an illness I had,” recalls Martin, who credits the club with helping him overcome it.

The brothers’ success took off quickly, with both appearing on kids’ shows such as Jackanory.

Gary Kemp and Martin Kemp brothers when they were still schoolboys
(Image: Unknown)

When it came to music, Martin admits Gary led the way. While Martin had posters of Arsenal and Bruce Lee on his side of the room, Gary had David Bowie and Marc Bolan on his.

“I used to wake up every morning staring at them,” Martin laughs.

When it came to the band getting together, Martin started out as a roadie for his older brother and his mates before Spandau Ballet was born in 1979 and he became their bassist.

The group went on to have huge success through the New Romantic era of the 1980s, selling 25 million albums and having 23 massive hits around the world, including enduring tunes such as Gold and True.

Martin says: “I always thought we were very lucky. We were a good band and we were a good looking bunch of boys, which didn’t work against us.”

Spandau Ballet in 1987. L-R John Keeble, Gary Kemp, Tony Hadley, Martin Kemp, Steve Norman
(Image: Redferns)

And when Spandau wrapped up in 1990, the brothers turned their attention back to acting – famously starring together in movie The Krays.

They even travelled to Broadmoor Hospital to meet gangland killer Ronnie as part of their research – an experience that’s seared in their memories.

“We were sitting down at this table in Broadmoor talking to Ronnie Kray about murder, who he would like to murder next and what he thought about murder,” recalls Martin.

“And as I’m talking to Ronnie I’m looking over my shoulder, on one of the other tables is the Yorkshire Ripper,” Martin adds during their chat on Gary’s weekly Rockonteurs podcast. “That morning Gary and I had done Swapshop! It was bizarre.”

The 1990 movie made a huge impact. Dad-of-four Gary recalls how Quentin Tarantino told him The Krays inspired the Reservoir Dogs look.

Martin’s hugely successful part on EastEnders, playing handsome gangster Steve Owen, came later in the 90s.

Gary Love, Martin Kemp and Gary Kemp star in the film 'The Krays', 1990
(Image: Getty Images)

But before the star’s time on the soap, his life was thrown into disarray when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1995.

Opening up on Gary’s music interview podcast with pal Guy Pratt, Martin recalls: “It was like a car crash.”

Working in Canada on a remake of 1960s sci-fi show The Outer Limits, Martin was being made up for his part as a 200-year-old professor, with a bald cap being pulled over his hair when the room when quiet.

He’d noticed a lump, which had grown quickly over a couple of weeks. Doctors found a tumour the size of a grapefruit.

“When I look back, it was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me,” says Martin, who’s hosting a talk about Gary’s new album on August 2 at London’s Rough Trade East store.

When doctors examined him they also found a second tumour. “That one would have killed me,” he says.

Martin Kemp and Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet perform in 2015
(Image: Redferns via Getty Images)

A 10-hour operation back in the UK removed the first of Martin’s tumours, and it was two-and-a-half years before doctors could tackle the second with bouts of radiotherapy.

“I was in a mess,” Martin says. “Not only was I really depressed and finding it really hard to get through but it affected Gary and my mum and dad in the same sort of way.”

Gary still found time to joke while his brother lay in hospital, warning him not to eat too much in case he lost his heartthrob physique. “That’s all I f***ing needed,” laughs Martin.

The Kemps have always been there for each other, except for the time with the pram. Even the Gallaghers might have drawn a line at that.

*The Rockonteurs podcast is available weekly. Gary’s new album INSOLO is out now.

Tickets for Gary and Martin in Conversation available at roughtrade.com/gb/events.

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