Martin John Kemp is an English actor, musician and director, known as the bassist in the new wave band Spandau Ballet and for his role as Steve Owen in EastEnders. He is the younger brother of Gary Kemp, who is also a member of Spandau Ballet and an actor. In 2012, Kemp finished third in the tenth series of Celebrity Big Brother, and in 2017 he appeared as a judge on the BBC series Let it Shine.
Kemp was born to parents Frank and Eileen Kemp at their house in Islington, north London, and attended Rotherfield Junior School. From the age of 7 he attended the Anna Scher Theatre drama club with his brother Gary, and appeared in many TV shows, including Jackanory, The Tomorrow People and Dixon of Dock Green. In his last year with Anna Scher, he won a role in The Glittering Prizes, appearing alongside Tom Conti and Nigel Havers.
Kemp grew up in north London and attended Central Foundation Boys’ School, Islington. Along with pictures of other famous ex-pupils, a large photo of him adorns a wall of fame at the school. After leaving school at 16, he began an apprenticeship in a print factory but soon became disenchanted.
Kemp’s life changed when Steve Dagger, the manager of his brother Gary’s band the Gentry, suggested Gary should replace the band’s bass-player. Kemp learned to play bass in three months and performed for the first time with the Gentry at a college party. Eventually the band was renamed Spandau Ballet and Kemp left his printing job to concentrate on the band full-time.
Spandau Ballet went on to have a great deal of success in the New Romantic Era, with four of their albums reaching the UK album chart top ten. True also gave the band their first UK number-one album and, with the album’s Tittle Track, single. Kemp also performed with the band on the popular 1984 famine-relief-project song “Do they know it’s Christmas?”, written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. Because of a dispute over royalties, the band split up in the early 1990s.
Spandau Ballet announced they had reformed at a press conference on HMS Belfast on 25 March 2009. The band also announced a world tour, beginning with dates in the UK and Ireland in October 2009.
Kemp and his brother Gary returned to acting in 1990, both appearing in the British film The Krays, in which they played the notorious gangster twins Ronald and Reginald Kray. After The Krays, Martin Kemp moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s and made appearances in television series such as The Outer Limits and Highlander: The Series.
In 1995 Kemp moved back to the United Kingdom and took a break from acting for a short while, recovering from removal of two benign brain tumours. He resumed his acting career in 1998 when he made a guest appearance in the ITV police drama series The Bill. He went on to become popular for his role as villain Steve Owen in the BBC’s top soap opera, EastEnders. Kemp won three TV Quick Awards for Best Soap Actor (2000, 2001, 2002), a National Television Award for Most Popular Actor (2000) and five British Soap Awards (Villain of the Year in 2000, Best Actor in 2001 and 2002, and Sexiest Male in 2001 and 2002) for his work on EastEnders.
Kemp signed a contract with ITV in 2002 and starred in several television dramas. He also starred in the short-lived crime drama series Family in 2003. From 2004 to 2007, he was the face of furniture chain ScS. He starred in a low-budget British film titled Back in Business which had a limited release in a few cinemas in February 2007 and one month later was released on DVD. He founded his own production company and in March 2008 directed a low-budget 20-minute short film entitled Karma Magnet, which starred his brother Gary and featured Martin’s wife and son, Shirlie and Roman. This was released only online.
In November 2011 Kemp appeared as a contestant on the second series of ITV’s 71 Degrees North but quit after three days. Kemp’s first feature film as director, Stalker, was released in 2011.
Kemp hosted the first series of “Martin Kemp’s Murder Files”, aired from November 2016, on the UK TV channel Quest. The show provided detailed accounts of crimes and a step-by-step forensic analysis as to how the evil killers were eventually identified. Murderers featured on the show included the Yorkshire Ripper and the Green River Killer.
In December 2017 he appeared as Captain Hook in Peter Pan – The World’s Biggest Pantomime as Smee.
On June 2020, Kemp, with his son Roman premiered as hosts of the new Sunday breakfast programme for ITV, Martin & Roman’s Sunday Best!.
On 24 March 2021, Kemp and son Roman will feature in an episode of ITV’s DNA Journey.
Kemp has been married to Shirlie Holliman since 1988.
Holliman is a former backing singer of the group Wham! and one half of the 1980s pop duo, Pepsi and Shirlie. The couple have a daughter, Harley Moon (born 1989) and a son, Roman (born 1993). The couple appeared together in the music video for Wham’s 1984 hit “Last Christmas”.
He is a patron of British/Irish charity the Encephalitis Society. At the time he became a patron, he confirmed that he had controlled epilepsy since the 1990s, as a result of two brain tumours. Following surgery to remove the tumours, Kemp had a protective metal plate implanted over his brain under the scalp. The plate is unnoticeable but not undetectable; during an appearance on the Frank Skinner Show in 2002, Kemp jokingly remarked he could never slip quietly through metal-detectors at airports, as the plate would set the alarm off.
On 20 January 2006, Kemp opened a new CT scanning suite at Russell Hall Hospital, Dudley, West Midlands.
Kemp is a lifelong Arsenal fan, having been born and raised in the Highbury area.