Soundtrack Of My Life: Ross Kemp

'Eastenders' hardman turned documentary maker and podcaster

The song I wish I’d written

Nat King Cole – ‘Smile’

“Most people perceive me to be the man that’s chewing the proverbial wasp, but the one thing I do when it really goes bad… I often smile in the worst situations. Sometimes it’s a nervous thing, and sometimes it’s a conscious thing. I’ve often used this song at the worst moments – y’know, 18-hour patrols and your feet are hanging off; when you’re worried about being shot dead or blown up. It sounds pathetic but it does work.”

The song that reminds me of home


The Kinks – ‘Waterloo Sunset’

“I went out to Afghanistan virtually every year from 2007 through to about 2012 [to film a TV show]. From Battersea, in my house, I could be in a war zone within 12 hours. When I’d get home there was no decompression. So I used to go for a walk down The Embankment as soon as I got home, just to adjust myself. This song connects me to a band that I love and a view that I love of London.”

The song I can no longer listen to

Kraftwerk – ‘Autobahn’

“About three years ago, we were in Libya. We [Kemp and his documentary crew] were held at gunpoint for 24 hours, effectively kidnapped – and the guy I was with played ‘Autobahn’ more than 50 times. I was just saying: ‘If they do come in and shoot us, I’m going to make sure they shoot you first.’ We really were in a bad situation – and he wanted me to understand the lyrics! It’s someone saying ‘bahn bahn on the autobahn’. I don’t get it. I’m never going to get it and I never want to hear it as long as I live. The more it wound me up the more he laughed and the more I laughed.”

The song that changed my life


Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – ‘Empire State of Mind’

“I was in Haiti filming the repercussions of the earthquake – it was brutal. It was a hardcore time in my life. But I met my wife-to-be in New York on the way home. That morning, I went down to the diamond market and I bought a diamond. I went down on one knee and asked her to marry me as this song was being played. It changed my life. We had a pianist come in and play it at our wedding.”

The first song I remember hearing

Sweet – ‘The Ballroom Blitz’

“I remember singing this out in the street in Rainham, Essex. [Sweet] were just different – I remember one of the band had a First World War German helmet on. This was very much the time of the Philips cassette player. We had a selection of hits from the ‘70s and my brother and I would go on holiday to Wales [with our parents] – and we’d be allowed to have ‘our time’ on the Philips cassette player.”

The first album I owned

The Stranglers – ‘No More Heroes’

“This was the first album I ever bought. On the same day, I also bought ‘Jazz’ by Queen. It was in a record shop in Brentwood, Essex. I remember it clearly because my French pen friend had come over to visit and he and my brother had disappeared and left me on my own. I was a bit of a plastic punk, the third album I ever bought was ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’. I’ve still got it. I wasn’t really aware of what punk meant, we had no idea what we were doing.”

The first gig I went to

Adam & the Ants, Chancellor Hall, Chelmsford, 1979

“I was doing my O Levels and four or five of us from my class decided to go. It was my first foray into street culture, in terms of mods, rockers and punks. I remember he walked out on stage and said: ‘where are we?’ like ‘I’m so cool!’ I remember he had two drummers – that was cool. The rest of the night was but a blur for a 14-year-old with a can of cider.”

The song I want played at my funeral

Chic – ‘Le Freak (C’est Chic)’

“I thought maybe Chic because I loved dancing to it as a kid. But I don’t want a funeral. And I don’t really want a song played either. I want people to have a good time. Have a party afterwards and play what you like. I’m not going to be able to listen to it!”

The song I do at karaoke

Nat King Cole – ‘L-O-V-E’

“Like anyone who trained three years in musical comedy I think I can sing a bit. Before I started landing the straight roles – because of the way I looked – I was a dancer and singer. I sang this at my wedding with a full band. It was off-the-cuff – and I’d had a few wines by then.”

The song I listen to before going on stage

Queen – ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’

“It started off at drama school when I had a yellow Sony Walkman. I used to listen to this a lot when I was doing the big acting roles. It’s a good revver to get you in the mood before you step out.”

Ross Kemp’s podcast, ‘The Kempcast’, is available now on all major podcast platforms

Read more editions of Soundtrack Of My Life, including interviews with Clara Amfo, David Mitchell, Rebel Wilson and more