Freddie Starr (born Frederick Leslie Fowell on 9 January 1943) is an English comedian who became famous in the early 1970s. He is also an impressionist and singer, with a chart album After the Laughter and UK Top 10 single, "It's You", in March 1974 to his credit.
Under his real name, he appeared as a teenager in the film Violent Playground in 1958. In the early 1960s, Starr was the lead singer of the Merseybeat pop group The Midnighters. The group was promoted by the manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein, and was recorded on the Decca label by Joe Meek, the record producer of the single "Telstar". During this period Starr performed in nightclubs in Hamburg and was an acquaintance of the Beatles.
Still relatively unknown to television audiences, Starr was "discovered" through the talent show, Opportunity Knocks. He appeared on the 1970 Royal Variety Performance. From 1972, he was one of the main performers in the television series Who Do You Do, and also a regular in Joker's Wild. He went on to star in his own series.
Freddie Starr was the subject of one of the most famous British tabloid newspaper headlines. On 13 March 1986 The Sun carried as its main headline: FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER. According to the text of the story, Starr had been staying at the home of Vince McCaffrey and his 23-year-old girlfriend Lea La Salle in Birchwood, Cheshire when the incident took place. Starr was claimed to have returned home from a performance at a Manchester nightclub in the early hours of the morning and demanded that Lea La Salle make him a sandwich. When she refused, he went into the kitchen and put her pet hamster Supersonic between two slices of bread and proceeded to eat it.
Freddie Starr gives his side of the story in his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped. He says that the only time that he ever stayed at Vince McCaffrey's house was in 1979 and that the incident was a complete fabrication. Starr writes in the book: "I have never eaten or even nibbled a live hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, mouse, shrew, vole or any other small mammal". The man behind the hamster story was the British publicist Max Clifford. When asked in a television interview with Esther Rantzen some years later whether Starr really had eaten a hamster, his reply was "Of course not". Clifford was unapologetic, insisting that the story had given a huge boost to Starr's career. In May 2006 the BBC nominated "FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER" as one of the top British newspaper headlines of all time. Starr's frustration at being linked perpetually to the hamster story was expressed in a newspaper interview:
“I'm fed up of people shouting out 'Did you eat that hamster, Freddie?' Now I say, give me £1 and I'll tell you. Then if they give me £1, I say 'No' and walk away.”
Starr says that the story came about after he made an offhand joke about eating a hamster in a sandwich.
In 1994 Freddie Starr was again the subject of tabloid newspaper attention in Britain. Thousands of pounds worth of jewellery went missing from Starr's home where a man named Robin Coxhead worked as a gardener and Coxhead was suspected of stealing it. When questioned by the police, Coxhead claimed to have given oral sex to Starr over a period of five years, and that the jewellery had been given to him as a reward. The case went to court and Coxhead was discredited when he was unable to state whether Starr's penis was circumcised or not. Coxhead was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison in 1995.
Starr is a keen supporter of Everton and at the height of his television celebrity he appeared on ITVs coverage of the build up to the 1984 F A cup final, in which Everton defeated Elton John's Watford 2-0, when he appeared on the lawn outside the hotel where the Everton team were staying on the morning of the game and gave an impromptu comedy performance to the players who watched from the windows of their rooms.
Apart from the occasional guest appearance, Starr has not been seen regularly on British television since the late 1990s. ITV's The Freddie Starr Show, broadcast between 1996 and 1998, was his last major work for the medium. His appearances on LWT's An Audience with Freddie Starr in 1996 and Another Audience with Freddie Starr in 1997 were critically acclaimed, although Starr admits in his autobiography that his television appearances often failed to capture the chaotic atmosphere of his live performances.
In 1994 he was the owner of Miinnehoma, the winning horse in the 1994 Grand National race. Starr was not present on the day due to television commitments elsewhere, but gave an unusual post race interview live on television to presenter Des Lynam via a mobile phone, with the television viewers only able to hear Lynam's responses to what Starr was saying.
In 1999, he presented the game show Beat the Crusher. In 2004 he appeared on television as one of the celebrities in the second series of the ITV1 reality show, Celebrity Fit Club, where he was made team captain, but was demoted three weeks later for not taking the role seriously.
Starr gave an interview to the Herald Express, the local newspaper for Torbay in Devon which was published on 20 July 2007. In it he says that his father was violent and broke both his legs, a claim which does not appear in his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped. He says that he was taken away from home for two years at the age of six after his father beat him up. In Unwrapped, Starr gives speech problems as the reason why he spent two years away from home as a child.
In January 2008, Starr and his wife Donna took part in Celebrity Wife Swap, exchanging with Samantha Fox and her partner Myra.
In March 2009, Starr appeared in Living with the Dead, a reality television show about people being haunted by ghosts. Freddie claimed his 1930s house was being haunted by an evil entity which he called George. During the show it appeared that he was possessed by this entity. It is later revealed that the entity's name is Roger. During the episode, Freddie says that since he was a boy he was always spiritual and firmly believed in ghosts.
Starr was due to tour in 2010, but the tour was cancelled when he suffered a major heart attack in April 2010, resulting in quadruple heart bypass surgery. The tour dates were rescheduled for 2011 after he recovered.
Starr participated in the 2011 series of I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, but withdrew due to health reasons.
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