Martin and Roman Kemp look back: ‘I didn’t want a parent v kid relationship. I wanted us to be equal’

Martin and Roman Kemp look back: ‘I didn’t want a parent v kid relationship. I wanted us to be equal’

Born in 1961, Martin Kemp is an actor and musician, best known as the bassist for Spandau Ballet. His son, Roman, 31, is a TV and radio personality, presenting the One Show and hosting a show on Capital FM from 2014 to 2024. He made the documentary Our Silent Emergency, following the death of his friend and producer Joe Lyons, who killed himself in 2020. Roman lives in London, while Martin lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and Roman’s mother, Shirlie Kemp, of Wham! and Pepsi & Shirlie. Their new podcast – FFS! My Dad Is Martin Kemp – is available to listen to on all podcast platforms


I have fond memories of this moment. It was the only time I ever went to Disneyland Paris and the whole thing was magical. Aside from the fact my sister was tall enough to go on Space Mountain and I wasn’t. And the fact that I was terrified of Captain Hook. He was so scary, it scarred me for life.

My dad used to carry me like that a lot. I still remember the feeling of his stubble on my legs. He looks so well in the photo but he would still be in recovery [Martin was diagnosed with two brain tumours in 1995]. Aside from the vague memories of my dad with no hair, my parents did an amazing job of shielding us from the truth. The truth is that could have been a very different picture. There could be someone else holding me on their shoulders, someone that’s not my dad.

The irony is, by the time I was 14 I had watched my dad die in six different ways. He would let me watch all of the horrendous horror films he was in, including one where he got his head chopped off, one where he got hanged, one where he had an overdose, one where he was blown up in a car and another where his head got squished by a monster. Dad would explain how they’d do the effects, so as a result I became pretty desensitised to anything gruesome on TV. After that, everything looked like a pantomime.

I first became conscious that Dad was famous when I was about five. We’d go out to a restaurant and I’d clock everyone looking at us. It would really bug me. After a while I realised there’s two ways that people can go about having a celebrity parent: hiding from it, or embracing it and understanding that that’s going to be peppered on you for the rest of your life.

Don’t get me wrong – I had a better childhood than I ever could have asked for. But I had to be just as hot on the quick-witted replies as the kids at school, because I knew the second I did anything they’d think: “There’s that famous person’s son – he must be a dick!” It meant I could tolerate embarrassment massively. I had nothing to lose. Everyone was already judging me anyway.

If there was one word to sum up my dad’s parenting, it would be fair. I had mates whose parents would have a separate kids’ table at dinner. That was so foreign to me. Dad encouraged me to join in with the conversation, he didn’t want any kind of hierarchy. Plus I’ve long believed the moment a father and a son’s relationship really shifts to an even playing field is the moment the son can beat the dad on Fifa. After that, you’re in the race together. When did that happen for us? I was seven.

We’re very lucky that we have a firm foundation of football. It was the same with my grandad – after an Arsenal game I’d sit on the house phone and speak to him about it for ages. It was a bonding thing. No matter what’s going on in your life, you’ve got something to talk about. To this day, 90% of what me and dad talk to each other about is football. The other 10%? Work. That’s it.

Dad has never said that to me: “You’re not doing that” or “you’re making the wrong choice”. I find that amazing – because even if I was making the wrong choice, it was mine to make. Joe was someone my parents knew very well, and they knew I needed to tell his story to try to help his family and other people struggling. When I told Dad I was going to make a documentary about him he said: “We trust you.” That’s always been his way, since I was a kid. I appreciate it, and him, massively.


I have hazy memories of this part of my life. I know we were there with Midge Ure and his family. One thing is for certain: I was in a void. The brain tumour was like being in a car crash – a big operation, radiotherapy. A whole episode. Life was on standstill until I’d recovered, and at this point I didn’t know where I was going next.

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It didn’t stop us from having a nice family day out, though. We always had a lot of fun. Me and Shirlie weren’t nine-to-five parents who were tired at the end of the day; we got a lot of time with the kids and I always wanted things to feel like a game.

Roman was always loud. He was born with one arm coming out first – we always said he was good at grabbing life. When he was at school he wasn’t the type who was desperate to be the centre of attention but he was always the first to volunteer for school plays and always very articulate. George [Michael, Roman’s godfather] could argue until the cows came home about anything and Roman was exactly the same, even at the age of 10. We’d have everyone round for a meal, but once Ro and George got started the rest of us would have to get up and walk away from the dinner table. Leave them to it. I once took Roman along to the set of EastEnders when he was little. I thought we’d keep a low profile but within minutes he was up arguing with about 20 blokes about the offside rule. That’s just who he is. Radio has been the perfect vocation for him.

Roman always says: why haven’t you got any friends? I think I’ve been doing my job for too long. You close down. Make your world small. In the end all you want is a little bit of land, just you and your family. I still wasn’t worried when Ro wanted to get into the industry. I knew he’d be great at it. I’ve been so proud of all of the campaigning he’s done too – but at times also worried. I know from acting you soak a character up and take it home with you. I didn’t want that to happen to Ro when he was making his documentary about suicide, but I was never going to stop him.

That’s been central to my parenting from the start. I didn’t ever want it to be that parent v kid relationship. I wanted us to be equal. The most important thing about parenting is listening. People tell their kids to go to their rooms, or sit on the stairs, but you shouldn’t do that, you should be listening to why they’ve acted out in the first place. I’d always ask Ro: “What’s your argument?” In Ro’s case he would always explain himself and sometimes his argument was better than mine. That was the key to us bonding when he was a kid – and now he’s an adult too.