Imad Handi, David Gest’s best friend, producer and former bodyguard, chats with Kevin Cooper about his friendship with David Gest, the man behind the reality TV shows, his fondness for The Tymes and the forthcoming A Tribute To David Gest Tour.
Imad Handi first met David Gest many years ago when he initially provided security for him. They soon became firm friends as they went on to co-produce Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special in 2001. He has also assisted in the production of The Legends Of Soul Tours which involve a number of Soul artists touring the country.
After a contestant in the Big Brother house mistakenly believed that an announcement about the death of David Bowie was a reference instead to the death of David Gest, the tour was renamed David Gest Is Not Dead But Alive With Soul. Unfortunately, he did pass away on 12th April 2016, and Handi is now the producer of the re-named A Tribute To David Gest Tour.
Whilst busy preparing for the forthcoming shows, Imad Handi took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Imad, good morning how are you today?
I’m fine thank you Kevin how are you?
I am very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s my pleasure and thank you for being interested in the show.
Before we move on, may I pass on my condolences at David’s passing.
Thank you Kevin.
I actually met David three years ago at Butlins when he bought the Legends Of Soul Tour over here to the UK.
Oh god, did you really (laughter). I remember that tour really well and let me tell you, we all had a whole load of fun up there at Butlins (laughter). We really did enjoy playing the Butlins circuit. I have to tell you that considering what we got paid for putting on the show, we did actually go over budget on it, but David and the rest of the guys covered it anyway. We all simply wanted the show to continue. We felt that we had to put the show on because that way Butlins might, just might ask us to come back the following year and they did (laughter). We were very well looked after and the whole experience was truly amazing.
I’m a big soulie at heart and for me to be able to see and hear that many of my heroes performing together in the same room and at the same time was totally amazing.
I can relate to that because I grew up listening to soul music. In fact I was listening to soul music back in the 80s, long before I knew David and for me to actually meet and eventually work with every single person who I used to love as a child was just a dream come true. I feel honoured that I can now call these people, these heroes of mine, personal friends. If you were to speak to any of the artists that we work with they will all tell you the exact same thing; we are all family. For me, it simply was a dream come true.
One last point about David before we move on. When I met him I found him to be a very complex person in that he was very humble but also larger than life. Would you agree with that?
Yes I would. David was very humble, for example you would never see him driving around in a Rolls Royce with a chauffeur. He was far happier jumping into a Datsun and as long as it got him from A to B he simply didn’t care. As long as he was allowed to sit in the front seat and have a cigarette he didn’t care what he was seen in (laughter). To David a car was just a car, he simply didn’t care. On the odd occasion that David did have to use a chauffeur, for a TV show or a gala event, he would never sit in the back, he would always be up front talking to the driver.
David was never one for showing off and you would never hear him say “I’ve got this” or “I’ve got that” he was never like that. David’s suits cost ten thousand pounds each but nobody ever knew that (laughter). He was, as you have said, a very humble human being and not many people will be aware that David was hugely proud of the fact that he had raised more than thirty million pounds for charity over a forty year period.
How did the two of you meet?
David and I actually met by accident many years ago (laughter). At the time he was looking for some personal security and I was running a security agency back then in the late 90s. So I met David and he became a client of mine, and our friendship simply took off from there. I have to tell you that David was one of the hardest people to work with because he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Before you could really work with him you first had to understand him. I would put numerous people to work with him and everyone one of them said that they couldn’t do it. David’s OCD was simply too much for them to cope with.
So after trying unsuccessfully for a couple of months I took on the role of David’s security. I didn’t want to lose him as a client so I thought that the best thing for me to do was to handle the situation myself. And from the first moment David and I really did get along. With my help his OCD appeared to improve and I have to say that going into the jungle helped him immensely. We laughed about the jungle because I told him that I didn’t think that he would last longer than one night in there (laughter). In fact he really did surprise me and he actually lasted the whole month.
Whilst he was in the jungle he asked me to stay in local accommodation because he thought that he would only be in there for a few days. I remember when he came out of the jungle, he walked straight up to me and said “Imad when I went into the jungle I gave you my pin number for my credit card, how much did you spend” (laughter). I looked him in the eyes and said “David, I have spent ten thousand pounds” (laughter). You should have seen his face. Then I said “don’t worry I have just got you a million pound contract with the ITV” and he just started laughing. At that time we were very close friends and we had that trust between us. He would always be giving me his credit card and saying “use it for whatever you need, just let me know how much you spend, and make sure that you keep your receipts”. However, I have to tell you that he did make me work very hard after that (laughter).
The thing with David was that if you were his bodyguard then you were also his producer as he never had a full team of people. It became David and me. I always stayed in the background and there was a mutual trust between us. We ended becoming like brothers.
I have to ask, were there any A List celebrities that didn’t know David?
What can I say, David came from Los Angeles royalty. If you go back into the history of David Gest you will see that David was in fact a self-made millionaire who came from a normal working family. At a very young age David had the ambition to be famous. David would often tell the story about when he was young he was a huge fan of Sonny and Cher. One day he took his sister and he knocked on Cher’s front door. David actually managed to persuade Cher to let him and his sister into her home and give them milk and cookies (laughter). What you have to remember is that this is David Gest as a child (laughter).
Sometime later David went along to a Sonny and Cher gig and he managed to get himself backstage because he convinced the security and management that he and Cher were cousins (laughter). He just had that ambition. Also David idolised Petula Clark. Hers was the very first poster that he had on his bedroom wall. Needless to say that later in his life he was in fact the best friend of Petula Clark. He had this amazing ability to turn his dreams into reality. He turned every dream that he ever had into reality. What you should remember is that David was the press officer for The Jacksons when he was only fifteen years old. And from there it never stopped.
He setup his own PR Company, became Al Green’s manager, and the next thing you know he had a full list of his own clients. Everybody wanted to work with David.
As interesting a character as David was, we really must speak about the forthcoming tour. You are bringing the show back again to the Albert Hall here in Nottingham on Wednesday 13th July. It is now being billed as ‘A Tribute to David Gest & Honouring Billy Paul hosted by Freda Payne’. Do you think that David would approve?
Yes we are, that’s correct. We had such an amazing time in Nottingham last year, we really do all love being in Nottingham. It is such an amazing venue; an amazing show and we really did enjoy it which is one of the reasons that we are coming back again this year. David was extremely proud of the tour together with the artists who appeared on it. Everyone who knew David believes that David is not dead, but that his soul is still alive and well in that music. About two months before he died he actually told me that if something was to happen to him that I was to make sure that the tour still went ahead.
David was adamant that the tour would go ahead regardless of whether anything was to happen to him. Now, after his death we have rebranded the tour by turning it into a tribute to David Gest and also by honouring the late Billy Paul who sadly literally passed away a week after David. The only thing that we have changed on the tour is that we have now added Junior Giscombe since the passing of Billy Paul. Hopefully that will bring a new light to the show. I have to say that every one of the artists who is taking part in this tour are there to pay tribute and their respects to David Gest.
We also want to let all of the fans know that we all really do appreciate the love and support that they have shown over the years. I just hope that people will come out and help us pay tribute to his legacy. We just appreciate the fact that we had him around for all these years. David was somebody who wanted to be accepted and wanted to be loved and that is what we want to bring out in the show.
Am I to take it that you enjoy your time here in Nottingham?
I can always remember having a great deal of fun up there in Nottingham; the venue was quirky, it wasn’t too big and we all thought that there were just the right amount of people in there, and the people just loved the show. Everyone connected with the show really did have a good time. We did find it difficult getting out of the venue due to the number of people who wanted autographs and to simply talk to their idols. I can remember me and David ordering Mexican food from a place just around the corner from the venue (laughter). I think that David had found the Mexican restaurant during one of his many visits to the city; he loved Nottingham.
I see that a certain Ms Freda Payne has stepped into the breach and will be the Master Of Ceremonies for the evening in David’s absence.
Yes that’s correct. Freda is such a lovely person. During the evening she will be telling stories about the real David Gest. We will be trying to take away the celebrity feel and fakeness of the music business and hopefully let the audience have a proper insight into the real David. I personally feel that a lot of the fans will appreciate the opportunity to get to know a little about the man they have come to love so dearly. Freda will be doing that job but I do have it on good authority that she will not be telling dirty jokes like David did on previous tours (laughter). We will be aiming to show you on this tour just who the real David Gest was.
I think that I know the answer to the next question from the tone of your voice but I will ask it anyway, are you looking forward to bringing the show back to the UK?
Oh yes, very much so. I have been producing all of the tours since back in 2003 and I also co-produced the hugely successful Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special back in 2001 which reunited Michael Jackson and The Jacksons. One of the things that people never knew was that David never had a huge workforce. It was always just me and David; that was just how we used to work. It was for that reason that the artists on this tour asked me to step into David’s shows and that is just what I did. I want to continue his legacy. This may sound strange but it feels amazing whenever I see people walking out of these shows crying. That means that they have reconnected with the artists together with the songs which must mean that we are doing something right.
I had heard that this tour was in fact going to be David’s last tour ever. Is there any truth in that?
That is absolutely a hundred percent correct. Many people won’t know this but yes, as you have pointed out, this was in fact going to be David’s farewell tour which in typical David style, he was going to announce whilst he was on tour. He had taken the decision to call it a day simply because it was all getting far too much for him; he was getting older, weaker and was having longer bouts of sickness. He just wanted to retire, sit back and rest. That is one of the reasons why I want these tours to continue as a tribute to him. I have given it a lot of thought and I will be organising six more tours over the next two years, all in tribute to David.
He really did leave an iconic legacy behind and we are now getting calls from all over the world and in particular Los Angeles who want us to take the show there. So we are currently looking at taking the show abroad. If people want us then we are happy to travel.
There are lots of my heroes on the tour, so putting you on the spot, do you have a favourite?
If I am being honest with you, yes I do. One of David’s favourite songs was a song called Ms. Grace by The Tymes; he loved it. I can remember when we first bought The Tymes over to the UK, David and I met them in the lobby of the hotel and he said to them “you are going to sing Ms. Grace to me right now” (laughter). They had no music, no backing and he made them sing it for him. For The Tymes to sing Ms. Grace to David was yet again another dream come true for him. Now that I have been listening to the guys singing on the tour one of my favourite songs is So Much In Love.
At that time I didn’t really know The Tymes so I started researching all of their music. It was then that I realised that it was them that sang both Ms. Grace and So Much In Love (laughter). I remembered the song because it was covered by All-4-One back in the day and growing up in the 90s I really loved All-4-One. So when I realised that it was The Tymes who had originally recorded the song I asked them if they would sing it for me acapella (laughter). So as you can no doubt see from my answer, I really do love The Tymes.
However having said that, you cannot help but love all of the music by the stars who are performing on the show. What you have to remember is that these people are getting old. In the last year we have lost David Gest, Billy Paul, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King and Jimmy Ruffin to name but a few. Each and every one of them was part of the David Gest family and they have all toured with us for many, many years. We are bringing these legends together but these legends simply do not last forever.
When all of you are travelling around the country on the tour bus it must, at times, feel like it did back in the days of the Motown tours?
It’s funny you saying that because I remember one particular moment last year when everyone who was on the coach looked at each other and actually said that the whole experience reminded them very much of the Motown tours back in the day where they would travel from city to city all packed together in the coach. At the time we were watching a documentary film about The Temptations and the movie bought back so many memories for everyone. If you look at it now some fifty years later we are all still sitting on that coach going from gig to gig.
Now between you, me and this phone call and I promise you that it won’t go any further, just who are the backstage divas?
(Laughter) backstage divas…there was only one and that was David (laughter). Believe me there are always a few backstage divas and some of them even managed to get under my skin so much that I would take David to one side and whisper “David, they really are pissing me off” (laughter). David would at that point go over and deal with the situation, and he would bring them down a peg or two.
On that note Imad let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure.
Not at all Kevin, thank you very much. Give me a shout when you get to the venue and I will take you backstage so that you can meet everyone. You take care and bye for now.