Lance Ellington is a singer on the hit show - Strictly Come Dancing, who specialises in the swing numbers and the big ballads, has a special connection with the show. Lance is the only son of the late band leader Ray Ellington, who worked with Strictly's Bruce Forsyth. 'Bruce's thing is big band and the jazz era,' says Lance. 'My father was one of the early exponents of that style of music. 'He was a British version of Nat King Cole, and Bruce told me how excited he was when Dad brought that genre of music over here for people to dance to. 'Bruce worked with Dad at the London Palladium. It's lovely for me to be working with him now.'
In fact, Ellington Snr had a string of celebrity associates and young Lance's life was punctuated by episodes of surreal and extravagant humour. He recalls grown men convulsing with giggles and reciting nonsense verse. All of which is hardly surprising, as his father was resident musician on that legendary radio comedy The Goon Show. Ray Ellington grew to be firm friends with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, the trio who rose to fame in the Fifties and Sixties as the Goons.
During Ray's nine-year tenure on the show, his catchphrase, 'that's nice', became as familiar to audiences as the voices of the other characters. Indeed Ellington, as the programme's only black member, was often enlisted - in an era that predated political correctness - to play angry tribal chiefs. Lance says: 'When the three of them came to our house, I remember thinking their behaviour was very strange. They'd laugh hysterically. 'I remember Peter Sellers being dressed in a long, leather trench coat and Spike wore weird clothes.
'I used to go with Dad to the studios to listen to the show. I found Spike really off-the-wall. 'He was always reciting silly poems, but he had such endearing warmth. I was too young to know I was in the presence of genius.' So there are uncanny parallels in the careers of father and son.
Like his father, who died of cancer in 1985, Lance has achieved celebrity status on a hugely successful BBC show. But Lance's brand of cool jazz belongs more to the genre of Michael Buble than to the big band sound of his father's generation. Indeed Ray Ellington's life has resonated throughout his son's. In the 2004 film The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, Lance played his father.
Ray Ellington is pictured with his son Lance, who won the New Faces talent show in 1977
'I stood on the set and I felt tearful. There were similarities between Peter Seller's life and Dad's. 'Dad was away on tour a lot, but when he was there, he always had time for me.'
Lance's boyhood pivoted between joy and desolation when his parents' marriage began to disintegrate. Ray was 40 when he married Anita West, an actress 19 years his junior. They had two children; Lance and Nina. To begin with, life at the family home in Finchley, North London, was happy. Then one day, Anita left. 'Mum was left on her own a lot with us and I think she found it hard to cope,' Ray concludes. There could have been other reasons for Anita's departure.
The singer Susan Maughan, most famous for her 1962 hit Bobby's Girl, arrived in London to join Ray's quartet as a vocalist. She was installed in the Ellington family home at around the time Anita left. Lance has only hazy memories of the sequence of events. 'I learned that Dad had a reputation as a ladies' man.' Ray then appointed a formidable spinster aunt, Charlotte, to care for the children while he was away. 'Charlotte treated us very harshly. I remember being locked in a bedroom with my sister because we'd got up to mischief. 'Mum used to visit, but Charlotte would only allow one of us to go out with her,' he says. 'Life was incredibly exciting when Dad was at home. I felt great happiness when he was with us, but utter desolation when he left.'
Ellington Snr, a giant of a man, was born to a black American father and a Russian mother and raised in London. As his star ascended, he grew to love the finer things in life. 'We dined at the Dorchester and Dad drove a Rolls. He'd met all the greats - Sinatra, Nat King Cole. 'I remember sitting on his lap and singing with him. He said: "One day, son, I hope you'll follow in my footsteps."'
But Lance's life was disrupted again when he and his sister were sent to live with his mother in Central London. When he was 11, he won a music scholarship - he played the trombone - to Kingham Hill School in the Cotswolds. He left school as soon as possible and had his first showbiz break in 1977 when he won the TV talent show New Faces.
A tour with Johnny Mathis followed and Lance performed in the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium. Ray died before he heard his son singing the cool jazz melodies he would have loved. Neither did he live to see his son married with kids.
Lance and his wife, Mirelle, a dancer, have two daughters, Lauren, ten, and Lois, four. They live near Barnet, Hertfordshire.
I ask if he thinks his dad would approve of his latest album.
'I'm sure he would,' he says. 'He'd probably say: "That's nice."'
Story taken from The Mail Online
by By Frances Hardy
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