"Elvis always had fun and I want people to take some of that away with them"

Ben Portsmouth takes centre stage as Elvis Presley, complete with husky voice and girating hips.
Ben Portsmouth takes centre stage as Elvis Presley, complete with husky voice and girating hips. / TCE
  • The King died over 40 years ago but his legacy lives on with Ben Portsmouth, 2012 Worldwide Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist, whose show comes to Malaga on Tuesday

Ben Portsmouth is as cool, calm and confident over the phone as he is on stage. With his notably British accent, you would never suspect that he saw off hundreds of competitors across several rounds to become the winner of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, Tennessee in 2012.

The singer, 38, spoke to SUR in English ahead of his upcoming performance in Malaga next Tuesday, 8 May.

Ben's band is called Taking Care of Elvis, which reflects his efforts to preserve the artist's legacy. “The trouble with Elvis impersonating is that there's always a stigma about it, he says. “It's like anything, whether you're telling fortunes or you're a magician, there are good ones and bad ones. I try my best to do it in a respectful way and have fun as well.

“Elvis always had fun and I want people to take some of that away with them.”

The artist grew up on the outskirts of Reading, Berkshire, the youngest of three brothers. “I got the most attention,” he admits.

It was his father who first introduced him to Elvis. “He always played his songs in the car when I was growing up.”

This one of the reasons why he took an interest in music from an early age. “I was always in bands as a kid and I wrote my own songs. I used to play Elvis' music at home for pleasure and learn the chords,” he says. “Later on, in my early 20s, I was doing a lot of session guitar work and studied music at college. Eventually, I got fed up of that. I much preferred playing and listening to Elvis so on the side I got a new band together and it just escalated from there.”

Ben started playing pubs and clubs and is currently undertaking a world tour until January next year, playing venues in Spain, the UK, the United States and Mexico.

Despite his interest in music, his eventual career choice took his family by surprise. “My dad thinks that I'm completely bonkers,” he admits. “I picked up his guitar and tried to learn the chords while listening to Elvis tapes so I suppose he had his suspicions.”

Taking Care of Elvis first came together after Ben put an advertisement out locally in an attempt to form a band. “It's always been made up of professional musicians, but individuals come and go. We're all great friends and they all have a wealth of experience, having worked with many big names in pop and rock.”

Together they have played venues around the world in countries including the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and the USA. “It really doesn't matter where you play, it could be in a cow shed or it could be in Las Vegas, it's all about the audience,” he says.

“Some of the best gigs I've had have been in Brazil. When I played Glasgow Royal Concert Hall they were on their feet dancing from the first song, it was great,” he adds.

The act, he finds, is successful because it has a broad appeal, with fans across three generations. “An Elvis fanbase is made up of grandmothers and grandfathers who were there originally, their children, and their children's children,” he says.

However, Ben does not take it all for granted. He works hard to recreated Elvis “in his prime”, using his 1968 comeback tour as inspiration. “I stay in shape and look after myself,” he says. “He was an archetypal heartthrob.”

While maintaining the image is important, it is equally vital not to get caught up in the persona. “When I'm on stage sometimes I'm Elvis and sometimes I come out of it and I'm myself.

“I think that it's important to put some of your own humour into it,” he says. “There's nothing worse than when you tell one of Elvis' jokes; it comes across as very tacky and cheesy.”

Ben Portsmouth brings his act to Malaga's Teatro Cervantes on Tuesday.