Elvis: The surprising truth about that ‘secret visit’ to London in 1968 with Tommy Steele

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There is a sign at Prestwick Airport in Scotland proudly proclaiming that it is the only place in the UK ever visited by Elvis. The star touched down there in 1960 for just 90 minutes on his way home from military service in Germany – and never left the airport. But there has always been a rumour that The King made a flying visit to London, hidden inside a car as he secretly dashed around the city with one of the UK’s biggest stars at the time. 

The long-established story was that Elvis greeted waiting fans at Prestwick Airport and said: “This is quite a country. I must see more of it.”

Unfortunately, after he returned home from military service, the star only rarely left the US, and then only to perform in neighbouring Canada. It has always been believed that his manager Colonel Partker discouraged overseas travel

What nobody knew for many decades was that The King had actually already visited England.

Theatre producer Bill Kenright worked with the UK’s biggest stars over the years, including Tommy Steele, who transitioned from pop stardom to musical theatre.

He revealed something told him in confidence which then prompted Steele himself to set the record straight.

Kenright said: “I remember him telling me about when Elvis came to England very quietly.

“Evidently Tommy got home one night and the phone rings. A voice says, ‘They tell me you’re good.’

“Tommy says, ‘Who’s this?’ ‘Elvis’ says the voice. ‘Get outta here’, says Tommy. ‘Are you as good as me?’ says Elvis … and they started this mock rivalry.”

In the late 1950’s, Steele was Britain’s first ever teen idol and rock and roll star. He had stopped off in the US while he was a merchant seaman and heard the likes of Buddy Holly on the radio.

A talented singer and guitar player, he brought early country music and rock and roll to the UK and reached number one with Singing the Blues in 1957.

Like Elvis he was also quickly moved into films and released four features between 1957 and 1959, including The Tommy Steele Story and The Duke Wore Jeans.

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Kenright said the two young stars bonded over their similar experiences and this lead to the legendary secret adventure.

He said in a 2008 radio iterview: “It all came from that. It’s quite something isn’t it – the thought of them wandering around London together? But the impression I got was that they never got out of the car.”

This ignited a media frenzy. Steele was 71-years-old, starring in Doctor Doolittle on stage at the time and only made one short statement on the subject. 

Steele wrote: “It was an event shared by two young men sharing the same love of their music and the same thrill of achieving something unimaginable.

“I swore never to divulge what took place and I regret that it has found some way of ‘getting into the light’. I can only hope he can forgive me.”

As for that sig at Prestwick Airport – a spokeman said that unless there was irrefutable photographic evidence otherwise, the airport maintained that it was still the only place in the UK Elvis visited.

At 84, Tommy Steele has retired from public performances but recently released an audio thriller series during lockdown and was knighted in the Queen’s 2020 BIrthday Honours.

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