One of Them: From Albert Square to Parliament Square, Michael Cashman. 5*****
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1 edition
Published: 6 Feb. 2020
Review: Rod Dungate, 2 March 2020
This is an extraordinarily powerful auto-biography from Actor, campaigner, politician, and now Lord, Michael Cashman.
Cashman was born into a working-class family in London’s East End in 1950. He was spotted in a school production singing and dancing – as Shirley Bassey; at this time producers of Oliver! were looking for young authentic talent for an international tour . He was too young for the international tour but was placed into the West End cast. From this moment his life changed.
From feeling like an outsider he could now feel like an insider. Though reading this book, we sense that these two opposites have never really been resolved – not until just about now, at least.
His life has many enthralling twists and turns – often tough ones – as he built a successful acting career. Still celebrated is his historical first gay kiss in television; this was as Colin’s in EastEnders (24th January 1989).
He is a life-long campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights. He also spent 15 years as an Labour MEP for the West Midlands before entering the House of Lords.
What marks this book out from the usual autobiography is its sheer emotional power. Cashman writes from the heart and his story is by turns, joyous and heart-rendering. Cashman also wrote two plays; his writing in the book is a gripping mix of dramatic and poetic. Each moment is framed by warm detail that enables us to share the moments with him.
In a strange way, while the book is about Cashman, it is just as much about all those around him.
As I read this book I regularly gasped at the absolute honesty of it; would any of us be able to be so honest, I wondered. While relating the many extraordinary events through which he lived, Cashman spends much time talking about Paul, his deceased husband; his discussion of their relationship has much to say to us all. Cashman’s ability to draw us into the scene of Paul’s final moments is tactful, sensitive and unbelievably moving.
Cashman’s book puts on the record a time of great change in the UK, both theatrical change and change in social attitudes. His enormous gift to us is that he enables us to live through these changes with him.