“I swear I saw Elvis down the pub tonight,” said a lot of people in the 1980s. According to conspiracy theorists, the King faked his own death in 1977, so he could enjoy a quiet retirement in a secret location. Everywhere from Ibiza to the Moon has been suggested, while Kirsty MacColl found him down the chip shop.
While it’s astronomically unlikely that Elvis is alive and well and living in London*, his image does appear around the capital like a good luck charm. Impersonators, tribute acts and novelty buskers are never hard to find, while that famous name and face pop up in the most unlikely locations. So, time for a little less conversation, a lot more examples…
1. Elvis Has Adorned The Building
One of the many, many peculiarities to be found in and around Burgess Park is the “Steptoes and Sons” architectural rescue shop on Southampton Way. It’s a bric-a-brack shack of old furniture, vintage signs and other discarded wonders. Surmounting it all is this life-size Elvis. He’s been up there for about half a decade, playing air guitar since he lost his instrument a couple of years back.
2. London’s Only Plaque To Elvis
OK, that heading’s possibly, ever so slightly a bit misleading, but I reckon this pavement stone on Fleet Street is the only memorial in London to mention Elvis. You’ll find it opposite Bouverie Street, where the Sun newspaper was first published. The plaque shows one of that paper’s more startling headlines.
3. West London Trilogy
I can’t help falling in love with the hanging sign at West Kensington’s Famous Three Kings pub. It features three well known kings, each rocking the mic. On the left we have Charles I, pictured before he lost his head, which would have adversely affected his singing voice. On the right is, of course, Henry VIII, who was indeed musically gifted and may have penned ‘Greensleeves’. But front and centre is our main man Elvis, throwing his best 1950’s hipshaking pose. The Three Kings pub in Clerkenwell once sported a similar sign, with King Kong replacing Charlie, and Elvis in a rhinestone jumpsuit. It was among London’s best pub signs, until the place was all shook up a few years ago. The sign has now left the building, sadly.
4. A Little More Pub Action
The beheaded English king has yet another connection with Elvis. If you seek out the wonderful King Charles I pub in King’s Cross, you’ll find this delicious stained glass Elvis in one of the windows. At least I think it’s Elvis. He seems to have been barred.
5. Blowdrying In (White)Chapel
This one, you can’t visit any more. The Elvis Barber at 70 Commercial Street could be found on the, ahem, City fringe until recently. It belonged to the same tradition of celebrity non-endorsed businesses as the Zidane Barbers in Hammersmith or (unbelievably) Al Pacino’s grocery store in Hornsey. Elvis Barber seems to have only lasted for a few months in 2019 before changing to the more prosaic City Barbers. Whether the business just went bust, or the Presley Estate clamped down on unauthorised use of his name, a fool such as I couldn’t say. Oh, and full Elvis points if you can fathom the slightly desperate pun in this section’s title.
6. It’s Down At The End Of Lonely Street
Actually, Elvis Road is down at the end of Lennon Road, for this commemorative street in Willesden Green is one of a cluster named after music icons. Marley Way completes an unlikely supergroup.
7. As Street Art Icon
Weirdly, though, the trio of Lennon, Presley and Marley are reunited in this Richmond mural, sketched up by Paul ‘Don’ Smith. The three are joined by Marc Bolan, who died in a car accident just down the road in Barnes. That tragedy came just a month after Elvis’s own demise on 16 August 1977.
8. London Calling
Finally, Elvis has one further connection to the capital that deserves mention. The Clash’s third album London Calling (1979) has a cover that pays clear homage to the King’s debut album of 1956. Both feature the same green and pink lettering, but while Elvis plays his guitar, Paul Simonon is about to smash his bass. The two albums can be seen as book ends to the golden era of rock music, or as the yin and yang of popular taste. Yet they are also similar in many ways. Elvis Presley’s music (and dance moves) were seen as provocative and even evil to the conservative attitudes of the time. Within years, his music was regarded as safe and old fashioned. Likewise, the Clash started out as an edgy punk band, yet their London Calling album cover found its way onto a Royal Mail stamp in 2010. Today’s rebels are tomorrow’s models of establishment.
*Footnote: Elvis Presley never officially visited London, though rumours persist that he took a secret car journey around the capital in 1958, with Tommy Steele as his tour guide. Steele has confirmed the story, but suspicious minds might need more evidence.