Tommy Steele is ‘lucky’ in older age despite his childhood illness

The Glenn Miller Story, starring singer Tommy Steele

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Born Thomas Willam Hicks in Mason Street Bermondsey, London, he catapulted to fame as the frontman for the band The Steelmen. Singing The Blues reached number one in 1957, then compounding on his success, Steele appeared on stage in the West End. In 1983, Steele directed and starred in the West End stage production of Singin’ in the Rain at the famed London Palladium.

At the same time, the multi-talented performer penned a book titled The Final Run.

While Steel has accomplished a lot in life, he recognises that he’s “been lucky”.

In a candid interview with the Glasgow Times, Steele said: “I’ve been lucky, mate.”

Older age is typically associated with disease, but Steele only suffered from severely poor health before the age of 11.

“All my ill health happened before I was 11 and I was ill for four years,” he revealed.

Steele said: “The war had been over three or four years, and I was trapped in hospital bed.

“It was only when these red spots exploding on my ankles the [doctors] realised I had the King’s disease.”

King George III was thought to have variegate porphyria, the academics at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh stated.

“When I learned of the madness [that King George III suffered from] I panicked – and so did my mum,” Steele continued.

Recent research, however, suggested King George III had recurrent episodes of mania due to bipolar disorder, and not porphyria.

As for Steele, he was diagnosed with porphyria, which is a “rare metabolic disorder”.

The British Liver Trust continued: “Porphyria.. occurs when your body is unable to produce enough of a substance called haem.”

Haem is a component of haemoglobin, “a vital protein which helps transport oxygen around your body”.

The genetic mutation can lead to pain and neurological distress, such as restlessness, insomnia, hallucinations, and seizures.

While there is no cure for the condition, medication can help to alleviate symptoms.

Steele quipped that madness never “really” developed for him, but “you have to be mad to go into showbiz”.

Discussing his illness to the Daily Mail in 2018, Steele shared he also suffered from pneumonia and meningitis on top of porphyria.

“In all, I spent about four years in hospital and I’ve never been ill since,” he said.

Tonight a documentary about Steel’s colourful life will appear on channel 5.

Tommy Steele: The Great Entertainer features on channel 5 at 8.30pm on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

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