Interview: David Hasselhoff
He once hankered after a credible acting career but now it seems David Hasselhoff is happy playing a larger-than-life, Hoff-the-wall caricature of himself
Famous folk can be disappointing in the flesh – that is, disappointingly short-bottomed. I mean, I know they’re never going to be 50ft tall, simulating the silver-screen thrill that turns Kia-Ora into a palatable drink, but it would be quite nice if every now and then they could fill a standard-sized door frame. No such problems with David Hasselhoff, though, as he strides out to meet me on the balcony of his suite on the hotel’s 15th floor, quite the regular gigantor.
I address him as ‘The Hoff’ because I know that’s what he prefers, and he answers “Yessir”, like he’s a humble soldier-grunt and I’m the President of the United States of America. “What a view. What a day,” he exclaims, and it’s true: the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the rest of old London town look great from 15 storeys in the afternoon sunshine, and surely even better from his own vantage point, three flights further up.
He tells me he used to live in this hotel, until one day he went on the London Eye and realised the tourists could see straight into his bedroom from the viewing cabins. “I tell you, sir, my blinds stayed closed after that.”
But it’s unlike The Hoff to be so shy and retiring. This is a man, after all, who wears a tight-fitting pistachio T-shirt at pushing 60 (the ensemble is completed by a blazer, stuck-in-an-80s-spin-cycle stonewashed jeans, battered cowboy boots and aviator shades). And this is a man who, still marvelling at the panorama, says, “Do you know what I’m going to do after this? Go down to Westminster Bridge and play a game we call ‘Hasselhoff’. I’ll stand on the bridge and wait for a tour-boat that’s open-topped. The guide will have his back to me, pointing out the sights, when suddenly the tourists will all look past him and spot me. They’ll be shouting and waving and he won’t know why until the boat goes under the bridge and I run across to the other side. Then he’ll go, ‘Ah, it’s The Hoff!’ Lemmytellya, it’s so funny.”
This is an actual game? Does Waddingtons sell a board version? More likely you buy from Hasselhoff direct. After all, this is the son of a salesman who bought the rights for Baywatch for a dollar after it was dropped by the network and ended up exec-producing the biggest show in the history of television (1.1 billion viewers). Does Baywatch still make him money? “Yessir.” A lot? “A lot.”
Hasselhoff played Mitch Buchannon in the lifeguards drama, and his second-smartest decision was not to be distracted by the name’s Scottish origins, not least Buchanan’s Loch Lomond origins, and of course Baywatch was set in sun-dappled California rather than on the bonnie banks. Thus, in 140 countries around the world, Yasmin Bleeth still runs like the wind, Pamela Anderson still swims without the need for bouyancy aids and Hasselhoff still holds the whole beach-rescue operation together while holding in his stomach quite masterfully. “The show even plays in Iraq. The American soldiers there called one of their helicopters The Hoff. Yup, black Hoff down ...”
Hasselhoff communicates using his own language. It’s based round the Hoffisms, which he cannot help inserting into his speech, rather like he has Tourette’s. So the workplace is the Hoffice, that TV programme about super-glamorous suburban women is Desperate Hoffwives and if a person had irritated the hell out of you – eg, by their non-stop referring to themselves in the third person and contriving jokes based on their nickname – you might feel like telling them to piss Hoff.
But this is not about to happen because Hasselhoff is 6ft 4ins and his PA (and nephew) Nick is only one inch shorter, and they dwarf your correspondent and the (very short) PR for his Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, who informs me he’s required to sit in on the interview.
Beforehand, I asked whether any topics were Hoff-limits and was told not to mention his battle with booze before he was eventually shamed into sobriety by one of his daughters posting footage online of the half-naked (Hoff-naked?) star on a bender trying to eat a cheeseburger from the floor. But, right away, he’s the one to bring up drink. “When I’m on the road without my girlfriend, it would be very easy to end up in the kind of bar where women will drape themselves over me. The next day, when the stories appear – and they always do – I’ll be trying to explain myself and at the same time denying the comments from ‘onlookers’ who say I was drinking when I really wasn’t.”
So he’ll seek out places where the world’s most conspicuous performer can wear pistachio free from stress, while sipping Red Bull or Diet Coke and, as he did recently, enjoying “a little flutter on your football – I loved those European Championships”.
He met his girlfriend, the 32-year-old former Debenhams shop assistant Hayley Roberts, often described as a Pammy Anderson lookalike, in the classic Hoff way when she asked for his autograph. Britain’s Got Talent, on which he was a judge, was filming in Cardiff and at the time he wasn’t looking for a relationship. Fed up with kiss ’n’ tells, he had “stopped trusting anybody”. But, driving on to the next town, he suddenly turned round and went back. “I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on here but I have emotional feelings for you.’ At first she wouldn’t go out with me; she thought I was too old. I told her that I’d been out with 21-year-olds and maybe she was too young for me.” Right now, he reports, Roberts is “back in my bed in Los Angeles. She just called. The dogs are going wild and she’s scared”. Sounds like another daring job for The Hoff.
He’s not finished with drink either, discussing it I mean. “My relationship with alcohol currently is personal and, as we all say, day-to-day. But I think everyone in this country should take a long, hard look at themselves because there’s more alcoholism here than I’ve ever seen – 90 per cent of crimes are alcohol-related, 90 per cent of drownings too.” Trust The Hoff to know this, what with all that red-Lycra rescuing in the name of prime-time entertainment and titillation.
Here’s another key stat: on Baywatch everyone got saved. By the sheer law of averages, I say, surely someone should have drowned, given that the lifeguards always ran in slo-mo. “By the sheer law of David Hasselhoff, they never did. We filmed a boy drowning once but it was just too heavy.”
Those sunglasses will stay on throughout my allotted 40 minutes so I cannot see if his eyes match those on the cover of his new album, This Time Around – girlie, swooping upwards – or if it’s just the sleeve that has been touched up. Three copies of the record, no less, have just been handed to me by the ever-attentive Nick, who tops up the star’s ‘Hoffee’. But in any event, it’s not the peepers that are Hasselhoff’s most striking feature, it’s his backside, or lack of, disappearing up his back and giving the impression he’s a pretty head on giant legs.
And what a strange, improbable and berserkly wonderful career the Baltimore-born Hasselhoff has enjoyed, even by showbiz standards. Teased about his name relentlessly in high school, he turns it into a slogan, a brand (apps, computer games, you name it), a version of himself (“The Hoff makes me more money than David Hasselhoff ever did”).
Dismissed by pop-cultural smart-alecks as a big, camp joke, he gets shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks to form an orderly queue. As a pop singer, he’s big in Germany but so is everyone and the rest of the world sneers; then the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down, his blousy power-ballad Looking for Freedom is adopted as a unification anthem and, while belting it out on New Year’s Eve 1989 as he straddles the crumbling remains, he is able to confer on himself the title of soft-rock Cold War game-changer.
He mentions Germany a lot. You can steer the chat to places thousands of miles away but you must be ready to return there at a moment’s notice: Checkpoint Charlie, the award he received in Leipzig, how “everyone loves me in Germany”, how he hung out with football legend Franz Beckenbauer when he was national coach (all the players, “those cats”, were fans of Knight Rider; don’t forget that Hasselhoff is responsible for two iconic TV shows), and even when we get around to Edinburgh he’s comparing “the worst apartment, ever” during a visit at Festival time last year with living conditions in the grim old east. But Hasselhoff saw lots of Fringe shows, got mobbed, met a Hoffalike, German, naturally (“he told me, ‘I’m the third-best Hoff impersonator in my willage’), and resolved to come back this summer with an entertainment of his own.
An Evening with David Hasselhoff will follow the established format of such shows, except this will be what you might call – he probably does so himself – Hoff-Broadway. He’ll invite questions from the audience, so is there one inquiry he’s dreading? “No, I fear nothing.” He huy-yucks. “Hey, maybe I’ll be asked about women.” Does he understand them? “Hell no, do you? I love them but I don’t understand them. The difference between men and women seems to be this: I can argue with my promoter downstairs, accuse him of ripping me off, and 20 minutes later we’ll be playing golf together. With a lady the same argument can go on for, like, years.
“Nothing brings me down but me,” he continues. “I’ve already lived the lives of ten people. My father’s 87 and still going strong. I think there’s a lovely angel watching over me.” So does he even give a second thought to the fact he turned 60 this month? “No sir. Worrying is the most inessential, stoopid pursuit. Don’t worry, just prepare.”
He will concede, however, that he feels naked without a “skedule”, and almost like he’s counting his fingers for reassurance or maybe the hairs on his chest, he runs through the current one: “Denmark yesterday, Germany the day before, back to Los Angeles to sing at the wedding of a famous basketball star, Margate for a gig to help with some theatre refurbishment, Edinburro, St Petersburg, South Africa, then Manchester for panto. It’s Peter Pan, I’m Captain Hook, or as I know him, Hoff the Hook.”
The Edinburgh show, he assures, will make us “smile and laugh and you’ll probably have a tear in your eye because I do some songs about life and about kids”. Hasselhoff is passionate about his daughters, 22-year-old Taylor Ann and 19-year-old Hayley. They starred with him in last year’s The Hasselhoffs – an Osbournes-style reality show that was quickly cancelled, they reckoned, because it was scandal-free and too nice.
Life in that household wasn’t always thus. Hasselhoff and second wife Pamela Bach’s divorce was bitter, involving accusations of drinking and violence, before he was eventually granted custody of the girls. In his autobiography, Don’t Hassle the Hoff, he claimed he drank to avoid cheating on Bach. “Girls would be outside my trailer door clamouring to get in and I would drink the minibar. My assistants got all the girls and I got all the minibars.”
He checked into rehab numerous times, once lasting only a day, and says now, “I used to think, ‘I’m Iron Man, The Hoff, I’m not gonna die.’ But the real heroes are the ones who realise they’re hurting themselves and people who love them, and eventually I did.”
Did he worry about his daughters following him into showbiz? “Of course. I told them it was the tough business which could break their hearts because people can say horrible things, but it also gives them a chance to affect the world in a positive way, bring a smile to the face of a kid who’s dying.”
Considering his singing career especially has thrown up instances of unintentional comedy – he once expressed surprise that the newly unified Berlin hadn’t seen fit to honour him in a museum, and then there was his pay-per-view Atlantic City gig, at a personal cost of £1.5 million, which didn’t stand a chance against live coverage of the OJ Simpson car chase – I wonder if The Hoff feels part of his current success is down to people laughing at him. “I don’t care if they are,” he says. “It’s what I think of myself that matters, and what my daughters think of me. My daughters love me and I love myself because I have a good heart.
“Yes, they probably are laughing, but in a good way I think. When I play discos in Belfast or freshers’ week in Oxford there are 1,800 kids dressed as me. It’s odd, it’s funny and it pays really well. But I think these folks – too young to have seen Knight Rider and Baywatch first time round – appreciate that they were good shows with good-looking people which were about saving lives, not just some garbage reality where the burning issue is how much some poor sap’ll get paid to jump in a hot-tub and act like an idiot.”
Bless The Hoff, he really believes in the existence of a big, cuddly constituency for his pneumatic lifeguards and his talking car (“David Cameron told me he loved Knight Rider”). And who are we to doubt him? His Edinburgh show will be one of the hottest tickets in town. A few years ago he hankered after the credibility of serious roles, but not any more. “I went back to TV. Shooting took forever. I don’t want that any more; I much prefer this.”
He says he now finds “serenity round every corner” and you guess a Hoff impersonator won’t be far behind. Before he signs Hoff for the day, he drinks in the fabulous vista one last time. “Hey Nick, is the Shard round here? I think I’d like to run down it.”
• This Time Around, £5.49, Hoff Records; An Evening with David Hasselhoff Live, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, 6pm, 21-27 August (www.edfringe.com)
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