The term ‘legend’ is bandied about too casually these days, but when it comes to describing David Hasselhoff, no other word will do.
Actor, singer, businessman and record-breaking bungee jumper (really), The Hoff, now 63, commands a celebrity status all of his own. Since his breakthrough role as Michael Knight in Knightrider, the fuzzy-chested hero has helped end the Cold War (singing from the Berlin Wall in 1989), released a number of astoundingly cheesy singles (Jump In My Car was the subject of the campaign ‘Get Hasselhoff to No.1’, which was backed by Radio 1 in 2006), launched his own social network site (Hoffspace) and played a parody of himself in sitcom Hoff The Record.
This month, he’s in Cambridge as star of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – a shamelessly feel-good musical set in 90s Ibiza (the promo video features Hasselhoff describing the show with a cockatoo on his arm – why not?). When I call him at his London hotel room, the voice that answers is big and enthusiastic.
“HELLO!! Is that Jenny Shelton?? It’s David Hasselhoff here…”
Pleasantries exchanged, The Hoff tells me about his last visit to Cambridge. He spoke at the Union Society in 2014, platform for the likes of Winston Churchill and The Dalai Lama. “It was a lot of fun!” he rhapsodises. “It was a really interesting room and I felt the vibes of all those people who’d spoken there before me… You think you’re going to get these amazing questions, then you get questions like ‘Is K.I.T.T. gay?’”, he laughs.
What did you say? “I said, ‘No, are you?!’”
Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is a new show by the makers of Dreamboats and Petticoats, and The Hoff has plenty to say about it.
“The set is spectacular – it’s a big party in Ibiza (he pronounces it ‘Ibitza’) and my character is a guy who runs the clubs. His daughter comes back into his life after three years and wants to go out having fun… so we address parents’ relationships with their kids, but the main message of the show is: ‘come and party Hoff-style!’.”
The set list is a heady mix of thumping pop hits, which Hasselhoff reels off energetically: “We’ve got Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Relight My Fire, Spice Up Your Life, Believe from Cher, Can’t Touch This, Pump Up The Jam, and Everything I Do (I Do It For You) from Bryan Adams.” He takes a quick breath. “Then we’re going to have an alternate song list which the audience can vote on. I’ll go into the crowd and involve the audience. There are a few ‘what would you do?’ moments in the show, and the audience will set the tone. I want to walk away knowing that they’ve got their money’s worth.”
And it seems they will. He continues: “I’ve done concerts all over the place and when I start singing the Baywatch theme people go nuts and take off their shirts – it’s crazy. And with the 80s and the 90s having this resurgence, it seemed to work.”
When I start singing the Baywatch theme people go nuts and take off their shirts – it’s crazy
Almost 1.1 billion viewers watched The Hoff at the height of his fame, according to Guinness World Records (he was overtaken in 2011 by Hugh Laurie). Our hankering for nostalgia is part of it, but there’s something more to The Hoff’s cult status. He’s clearly – cleverly – comfortable playing up to his own kitschness, whether kung fu-fighting neon dinosaurs in the Kickstarter-funded video True Survivor (seriously, Google it) or taking a cameo role in the SpongeBob SquarePants movie. He’s made corniness a business.
But if parallel universes exist, then there’s one in which The Hoff never was. Teased about his name in school, when starting out in showbusiness Hasselhoff considered adopting a stage name instead.
“They wanted me to change it but I’d taken so much heat for that name in high school that I told my dad: ‘Dad, I’m going to keep it and make it famous’. We went all over the world together when Knight Rider was on and I remember walking down the street in South Africa during Apartheid and somebody said, ‘Are you David Hasselhoff?’. Dad looked at me and said, ‘Did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, that we’d be walking through South Africa and someone would say the word Hasselhoff?’. It still freaks me out how crazy it is.”
How crazy, I ask?
“I’ve got the ‘good’ stalkers that follow me around,” he explains: “They’re The Hoff Army who live and breathe David Hasselhoff, then I’ve got the other file, which is a bit scary. They write things like ‘he’s mine, stay away from him!’. We did have a ‘stalker file’, so that in case something ever happened to me we could just refer to that right away! But most of it’s pretty damn positive.”
We did have a ‘stalker file’, so that in case something ever happened to me we could just refer to that
It’s true. In a big, gregarious, American way, The Hoff is positivity personified: a force for good. Even when he was filmed eating a cheeseburger drunk, we couldn’t help but forgive him. Can he explain why there’s so much love for The Hoff?
“I think it’s because I keep going and I tell the truth. I don’t try to hide stuff – if I mess up, I mess up, so what? I can make a joke out of it and move forward. I told my daughters the Hasselhoffs have good hearts. If people disrespect us, just get out of the way because we know who we are. If you’re OK with yourself, that’s the most important thing. Life is good.”
Incidentally, it was his daughter Hayley who filmed the cheeseburger video. But Hasselhoff sees it as a lesson in humility.
“My daughters are my best friends. They’re truthful with me: they tell me when it’s time to get my s*** together: it’s good to have someone in life who tells you the truth.”
I could spend all afternoon asking him about Knight Rider (he proposed to his first wife on set) and Baywatch (is it coming back?!), but our time is up. The Hoff is in demand.
“Alright, kid, I gotta run!”, he exclaims, and exits, I imagine, in a cloud of dust to a synth-pop 80s soundtrack.
Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, Corn Exchange, 10 November at 7.30pm. Tickets from £35.