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They went from being new romantics in Spandau Ballet to playing London gangsters in the film The Krays. Now the brothers are about to appear on TV together again

An enduring tale of sibling harmony, Gary and Martin Kemp have spent decades working companionably alongside one another without ever, publicly at least, succumbing to fraternal combustion. The arts, and particularly pop music, is littered with brothers (more so, curiously, than sisters) who have tried to do the same and failed, among them Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks and Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, each undone by ego and the need to dominate. But the Kemps are different, an anomaly. Now both in their 50s, they remain essentially one and the same, and consequently stronger together than the sum of their parts.

But how? Gary Kemp, who, at 53, is two years Martin's senior, thinks that it is down to their upbringing. "There were only four of us in our family: my mum, my dad, me, him. They were devoted to us, and we were devoted to them. It was them that gave us our sense of responsibility to one another, our moral compass. We've never lost it."

Initially, they were both child actors, often being cast alongside one another. Then, in the late 70s, they formed Spandau Ballet, new romantic goliaths with an unusual sense of fashion and a gift for mainstream balladry. The band ultimately split acrimoniously, but the Kemp brothers' partnership remained intact and, in 1990, they revived their first love, acting, playing Reg and Ronnie Kray in The Krays. They have dabbled in music and acting ever since, sometimes apart, more frequently in tandem.

This month, they return to the small screen, fronting the documentary Gangs of Britain, in which they explore British gang culture past and present. As ever, they make a good team, but do they never get sick of working with each other? Do they not crave a little autonomy?

Gary smiles. "Not really, no, because we get on, we complement each other. Also, we're different people, with different personalities. What Martin does, I would never attempt, and vice versa, I think."

Is this true? To the viewing public at least, this is less clear. Surely casting directors could request either of them?

Gary remains insistent. "No really, we are completely different. I'm more hyper, he is more laidback. I'm a control freak, I've always lusted for cultural things. Martin is more physical, more charismatic."

"Charisma always was the important thing to me," Martin says. "I joined Spandau Ballet not because I wanted to be the best musician in the world, but because I wanted to be Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando."

"Sexual attraction," Gary suggests.

Martin chuckles. "Yes," he says. "I wanted that."

When I meet the Kemps in their PR offices, both look immaculate: suited and booted, hair swept back, their jawlines, up close, improbably strong. Gary is, indeed, the more hyper, the more effusive, while Martin has clearly learned plenty from watching Brando. Sitting in a large armchair that seems too small for him, and interlocking his fingers, he doesn't say much, but instead broods with a quiet intensity.

They were born and brought up in Islington, north London. Their father was a printer, their mother a seamstress, and they were latchkey children who joined a drama club for want of anything better to do after school. But in the 60s, the local Anna Scher children's theatre drama club was to British television what the Brit School is to today's pop charts: a conveyor belt of readymade talent. They were soon appearing in children's TV programmes and small films. At 16, Gary, a Bowie obsessive, started a band, and when they required a new bassist, he asked Martin not because Martin had any musical prowess – he hadn't – but because "he was the coolest guy we knew, always popular with the girls. If anyone was going to get us magazine front covers, it was him."

Alongside Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet dominated the early 80s with their flash swagger, but success was tempered by boiling backroom rivalries. "Me and Martin would fight occasionally, sure," Gary says, "but no one could ever take sides because it would blow over in no time. If I argued with Tony [Hadley, the lead singer], on the other hand, it would be a disaster. It could have gone on for weeks – for ever."

"It did," says Martin, laughing.

Band harmony ruptured, seemingly irrevocably, in the late 80s, but when the band finally split in 1990, the Kemps landed on their feet. That same year, the film The Krays established their acting careers, though neither achieved as much big-screen success in its wake as they had hoped. In the mid-90s, Gary decamped to Los Angeles to give Hollywood a go. Martin soon followed. "We were going up for the same auditions a lot of the time, obviously," Martin says, "but we understood that; there was no getting around it."

Nevertheless, they did try, by having separate agents. "But," says Gary, "sometimes Martin would get a script I hadn't been sent, and it was difficult not to phone my agent and say, 'Hey, he's got it, why haven't I?'"

Both returned to the UK, and in 1998 Martin landed a major role in EastEnders. I ask how Gary felt about this and he tells me I'm forgetting something. Three years earlier, Martin had been diagnosed with a brain tumour – two, in fact. "It was a terrible time. I felt awful for him, and so guilty. I was the older brother, and here he was with this terrible disease, not me. So when he got better and landed EastEnders, all I felt was pride and relief."

"That was the main reason I took the part," Martin says. "I'd had three years of illness. I needed to change that, to leave that part of my life behind."

In January 2009, illness tested them again when they lost both parents within four days of one another. "An absolute disaster," Gary says. Their mother had been sick, and was in hospital for a heart operation. The family visited her one day, but by the time they got home, their father was behaving strangely. Complaining of a whooshing in his ear, he said he needed the toilet. "He was in there a long time. I called out to him, and he said: 'I'm all right, boy.' But his voice sounded strange."

He had had a massive heart attack. Moments later, Gary was in the bathroom giving his father the kiss of life. He died a few days later. Telling their mother was the hardest thing he has ever had to do. "She simply didn't want to live. She gave up."

But in this decision, he says, there was a kind of solace, peace, even. "Our parents had never spent a day apart. They were so devoted, so old-fashioned, really. With him gone, she was lost. She looked around her and said: 'All is fine.' What she meant was, my wife was about to have a baby, Spandau were getting back together again after 19 years, and she was confident that both me and Martin were happy. So she was right, everything was fine, and she could go. Two days later, she was gone. We had a joint funeral."

Today, Gary lives in central London with his second wife. He has four sons. Martin and his wife live in Herefordshire with one daughter and one son. Their families socialise a lot, and the brothers will continue to work together. They would like to do more documentaries, and are in discussion to co-direct a film. The union has been fruitful so far, why stop now?

"Mum and Dad were fantastic parents, and they instilled a lot of pride in us, a lot of love," says Gary. Martin nods solemnly. "We've taken a lot from them, I think," he says. "Me and Gary, the way we are – it's all down to them."

Gangs of Britain begins on the Crime & Investigation Network, Sky Channel 553 at 9pm on 21 April

Nick Duerden

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source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/apr/19/martin-gary-kemp-spandau-ballet


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