How ex-soldier Rob Kingsley is top Elvis tribute

Elvis impressionist Rob Kingsley. Picture: TSPL
Elvis impressionist Rob Kingsley. Picture: TSPL
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THE location was a luxurious hotel in Bahrain, it was New Year and the audience had paid handsomely to be entertained by the King himself.

Ex-Royal Scots soldier Rob Kingsley was a million miles away from his days spent in the desert during the first Gulf War. Instead of dusty army fatigues, he was in his diamante-studded Vegas jumpsuit, black hair swept back, sideburns in place, hips set to ‘shake, rattle and roll’ mode, vocal chords limbered up and ready to recreate the velvety rich sound of one of the world’s best-loved artists.

Behind the scenes, a glittering chariot awaited to carry him on stage. And in his dressing room, Prestonpans lad Rob looked around and wondered how on earth he had ever ended up as Elvis, in Bahrain, on New Year’s Eve.

“It was amazing, surreal,” he laughs. “I keep asking myself ‘how did I get from the Panners to here?

“Every morning I get up, have a wee laugh and think ‘Christ, how did that happen?’.

“It’s totally crazy.”

Indeed, it’s been an unconventional journey from Prestonpans to Graceland, that took in the Gulf War, the horrors of Kosovo and a stint in Northern Ireland.

He was just six and playing at a friend’s house when someone put on Heartbreak Hotel and sparked his lifelong love for Elvis’s music.

Later Rob joined the Royal Scots, largely, he laughs, because they were based in Germany and Germany was, of course, where Elvis had been stationed. Why else would someone sign up?

He served in trouble
spots – in Northern Ireland where a mate lost his life and then the turmoil of the first Gulf War. He quit to drive an LRT bus and then rejoined to be posted into the horror of Kosovo. But it would take a random moment – when he decided to join in some ­karaoke – for him to find his own, incredible voice.

It was only after begging his laughing army resettlement officer for singing lessons, that Rob’s dream of performing as Elvis finally came true.

Since then he’s been around the world twice, his Elvis tribute act has scooped international awards and he’s performed in front of countless celebrities. He’s even shared the bill alongside the kinds of stars he used to queue to see.

In one remarkable show, he performed before 48,000 people at Wembley, as a warm-up for Tinie Tempah.

Soon the former soldier will achieve what he never dreamed possible – he’ll take his award- winning tribute act to the Edinburgh theatre where, aged five, he visited with his parents and was enchanted by the buzz of the crowd, the anticipation of the show to come and the immense auditorium.

“Performing at the Edinburgh Playhouse – well that’s definitely another one ticked off the bucket list,” grins Rob, 46, who will step on to the famous stage with his A Vision of Elvis show in October. “The Playhouse was on the list of places I wanted to play. Wembley was one, Madison Square Garden was the other. I’ve done those now, the Playhouse is the one that’s left.

“It’s going to be really emotional, ” adds the father-of-two. “There will be lots of family there, it’s my home crowd and it doesn’t feel that long since I was outside the Playhouse waiting to see Iron Maiden, Marillion and Erasure.

“I can remember going there to see my first ever concert, five years old, the Alexander Brothers. It was a wee treat before the family went off to Butlins in Filey for our summer holidays.

“I even remember where I sat, left-hand side of the circle.”

Dressed in his diamante jumpsuit with make-up courtesy of his wife, Marie, Rob is unrecognisable from his Royal Scots days. Yet many who see him out of character would struggle to guess who his alter ego might be.

“A lot of guys have the sideburns, the hair, the accent,” shrugs Rob, who altered his name from Ainslie to Kingsley for his shows to reflect Elvis’s regal status in the world of rock and roll. “When I’m out of costume, no-one has a clue what I do. I have my Prestonpans accent and am just an ordinary bloke.

“People backstage ask ‘When’s this Elvis guy coming in’ and I’m standing right in front of them.”

The transformation has seen Rob win praise for his tribute show from Elvis’s own Seventies tour manager, Ed Bonja, who says he “seems to capture the very soul of Elvis”.

And in an exciting career he never dreamed possible, he’s sung for a mega-rich sheikh in the Middle East, appeared in front of 17,000 people in Hyde Park and made friends with the legend’s costume designer, Gene Doucette, who has produced his amazing array of outfits.

It couldn’t be further from his six-month tour of duty in Crossmaglen, or the day he sat, tears in his eyes, writing a ‘farewell’ message to his family to be handed on should anything happen to him while he was serving in the Gulf while Elvis’s classic American ­Trilogy – with the lyrics “Daddy’s going to die” – played in the background. Now based in Warrington, handy for the many different towns and ­cities across the country where he is booked to perform, Rob is counting the weeks until he’s home.

“My parents, Rob and Rose, are proud as punch that I’m playing the Playhouse,” adds Rob, who went to Preston Lodge High School. “And loads of the guys I was in the army with are coming along, so it’ll be a great big party atmosphere. A lot of them still can’t believe I’m doing this.”

Rob hopes there will be one very special guest. Just weeks into his role as an LRT bus driver, his quick thinking helped prevent a tragedy – and now he wants to track down the man whose life he saved.

“It was September 1993, I let a blind passenger off at a stop and was pulling away when I saw a parked car start to roll down a hill, straight for him.

“I swerved the bus to stop it ploughing into him. It made the papers at the time.

“I don’t know who he was, other than he used to work for Remploy which has now shut down.

“But it would be amazing to find him and have him along to the show.”

• Rob Kingley’s A Vision of Elvis is at the Playhouse on October 4. Visit Rob Kingsley’s website at www.avisionofelvis.co.uk