How Everton chairman Bill Kenwright rose from Corrie to chairman of hometown club via some of West End’s biggest hits
IN a long and distinguished career, Bill Kenwright was many things to many people.
To theatre fans he was the impresario behind West End hits Blood Brothers and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
To football fans, he was chairman of his beloved Everton FC for 19 years — and to soap fans Coronation Street’s Gordon Clegg who appeared from 1968 to 1969 then on and off until 1995.
But to all who knew him, news of his death on Monday, aged 78, from liver cancer will be a bitter blow.
Bill lived with his long-term partner, actress Jenny Seagrove, 66, and had a daughter, Lucy, from a previous relationship.
But while he had many friends and acquaintances from his busy life he remained intensely private man and hated being interviewed.
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He once said: “People don’t understand this about me because I will shout my productions to the roof-tops and love talking about Everton.”
He added: “I am very private, but can only talk in one way — though I don’t want to come across as a passionate buffoon.”
Born and raised in Liverpool, Bill got the acting bug after frequent childhood trips to the city’s cinemas, with is gran.
While he lived most of his adult life in London, he maintained a lifelong attachment to his home city and said “my past was what moulded me”.
He added: “I don’t think I had an easy childhood. I was very shy, nervous and timid and we weren’t rich. In Everton player Dave Hickson I found a sort of guide — he taught me how to dare.
“From my family, I had protection and comfort and, in Mum, a spirit that said I could do anything I wanted. I wanted to be Errol Flynn and I loved Alan Ladd in (1953 Western movie) Shane. I didn’t just want to be an actor, I wanted to be a film star.
Already treading the boards at the Liverpool Playhouse at age 12, he left home at 17 to join a London youth theatre and in 1968 made his Corrie debut as teenager Gordon, who lived above the paper shop with his aunt and uncle.
He shocked producers by leaving after just a year — after his time in the soapland spotlight led to his showbiz ambitions turning to work behind the scenes.
He said: “I remember Pat Phoenix telling me on day one, ‘You’re a good-looking lad from Liverpool — and you’ve got no idea what will happen to you when you appear on that screen’.
“I was shocked. My character was the first teenager written into a soap to attract teenage viewers. It was an extraordinary situation and I really didn’t like it. That’s one of the reasons I left.”
His love of the West End drew him to producing and directing and his company, Bill Kenwright Ltd, is the world’s most prolific theatre production company in the world, bringing hundreds of productions to theatres across the planet.
A close collaborator of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bill directed Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita and was nominated for a London Theatre Critics’ Award for West Side Story at the Shaftesbury Theatre and a Tony Award for a Broadway production of Blood Brothers.
He also produced numerous movies, including 2009 romcom Cheri, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and 2021 hit Heathers: The Musical.
This year he has produced comedy thriller The Kill Room, starring Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson, and Gemma Arterton crime drama The Critic.
Yet it was perhaps his first love, football that inspired his greatest passion. On the board of directors at Everton from 1989, he became Chairman in 2004 — and remained so until his death.
The club shone a light into his lonely childhood.
He said: “I was more timid than shy but I could go on my own to Goodison as a kid because I felt safe there. When Dave Hickson and that team ran out on to the pitch I was in heaven with my gods. It gave me a feeling of absolute safety.”
I was a timid child but I could go on my own to Goodison Park because I felt safe there. When Dave Hickson and that team ran out on to the pitch, I was in heaven with my gods.
He married Anouska Hempel, the actress turned society hotelier and interior designer, in 1978, only to divorce after less than a year.
There followed a long relationship with actress Virginia Stride, which produced daughter Lucy, now 45 and a successful TV producer with two children.
But his true love and partner for the last three decades, until his death, was actress Jenny Seagrove, now 66, who he met at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1993 when she was starring in Noel Coward play Present Laughter.
She said in 2017: “Bill’s a force of nature, larger than life. It’s a privilege to live with him. He’s got the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever met. He’s made me a better person.”
She added: “I’ve made him feel safe, given him the confidence to dive off that high board.”
A self-confessed workaholic, Bill was worth an estimated £33MILLION — but lived for passion, rather than money and its trappings.
He said: “I never see myself retiring, not at all.”
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