I hear him before I see him. I am standing in a terrifyingly long antechamber in the Union, with a brown wooden table extending from one end to the other. “Jump in my car, I wanna take you home” travels down the corridor in gruff tones, before he has even reached the door.
‘He’s coming’, I think. ‘Oh god, I am about to meet The Hoff’. And suddenly he’s in the room, all 6ft 4 of him, and he’s raring to go. “Alright guys, let’s get it on, let’s do this” he projects as he shakes hands and hears names, and asks me twice what Cherwell is.
“The independent student newspaper at Oxford,” I reply. My voice comes out lower and smoother; I am subconsciously trying to sound as together as him. “I’m fine with my coat on so let’s go,” he says, dismissing the small flurry behind him. He asks me where I want him to sit, and then whistles away as he lowers himself into, of course, the seat at the head of the table. He looks immaculate. Dressed in a dogtooth patterned jacket, with an open black shirt and pristine hair, he is exactly the vision of immortality I had envisioned. The gravitas was shed a little, later, when he was to reveal the inside of his jacket. His own face peered out, with curved writing which read ‘Don’t Hassle the Hoff.’ A commitment to the cause.
For indeed, although I met the Hoff, although I was able to sit extraordinarily close to the very large man, and watch as his strangely bright eyes flashed left and right and piercingly at me, he was almost always the Hoff. He was always the slick façade. He spoke easily, with inflection, and comfort, but all with a practised, rehearsed air.
Currently Hasselhoff is starring in a touring musical which you might have seen advertised on George Street: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. Hasselhoff depicts it as “an adult panto,” and certainly it sounds every inch ridiculous, amusing, and predictably Hoff-like. There is an implicit acknowledgement of the power he has. He narrates, “we had to let the audience take over because we had no choice”, before declaiming that “it’s great, we are excited about it – we love the audience participation.” He seems hesitant to speak ill of the audience’s involvement in any way, clarifying and repeating his love for it. Unsurprising, really, when the value of the Hoff is so much an accolade to his fans, and their relationship with his self-parodic presentation.
I query whether being onstage is more detrimental to the performance when the audience is undoubtedly full of rather loudly excited fans. “It’s overwhelming,” he agrees, “and distracting, but we always turn it into gold”. Since the run of Last Night a DJ Saved my Life began in October, he says that “there’s only been a couple of stupid comments.” He describes his resilient internal monologue each time someone makes a ‘stupid’ comment. “In my head I go ‘Shall I nail this guy?’, because I’ve got stupid comebacks in my head that are good, or shall I just go on?” Usually, he “just go[es] on.”
Predictably, the audience has mainly consisted of women. But he notes that “a surprising number of men from the Knight Rider days come in.” There was one guy that came to see the show that he recalls with particular fondness. “You find these guys all singing along, even the big hitters. I got a guy who flew in in his own helicopter”; he suddenly laughs, a loud singular ‘HA’. “He’s a data processor, he’s just very rich and very cool and he brought his buddies all over and they had a bunch of drinks and they were just singing along”. There seemed to be a little bit of the Hoff in this data processor, and Hasselhoff laughs again with almost fondness in recalling a rich buddy drinking singing along to him.
The whole interview is punctuated with instantaneous automated laughs following any joke or anecdote. He smiles and returns to his barking tone – “and this is really what it is, it’s a singalong musical”. The musical sounds grossly corny, and Hasselhoff acknowledges this before suddenly quoting the musical, singing “look into my eyes”. I do exactly that, but his eyes flitter, uncreased, observing the room.
He suddenly remembers a mistake. The seemingly infallible Hoff, I learn, makes mistakes. In this corny singalong musical, it turns out that there are sporadic and unexplained references to Baywatch. A couple of nights ago he explains, “I forgot the – I forgot the lyrics…to the Baywatch theme song”. His tone changes and incredulous disbelief spills through. Suddenly he is singing again, “So people stand in the darkness”, describing how onstage at this point he stopped and exclaimed, “Whuh”. His faithful audience carried the line on for him, singing, “Afraid to step into the light”. He chortles again. Whenever Hasselhoff mentions lyrics he sings them, in his tuneful shout-singing twang which I cannot describe in fewer words. It’s pleasant and a little scary. I do not think the Hoff is actually capable of singing softly. I’m not so sure he would want to either.
He carries on, “Frankly we thought we were going to get killed in the ratings because I’ve done […] Broadway, I’ve done Chicago on the West End”. He begins to sound more serious. “And I’ve done The Producers with Mel Brooks and I’m very honoured to say I’ve done that, that’s pretty heavy company, Mel Brooks, to be working for him.” He describes Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway as “intensely difficult and very anxious, scary, great”. There is a great, sincere respect in his voice for Brooks. But then he flips back to the tomfoolery of the present – “Stage is a safe place; you know what is in front of you, you know who’s to the back of you. Even though I fell through the stage the other night.”
“How!?”, I cannot help but punctuate this casual comment. “I almost did it again!” he says whilst laughing. It turns out it was less falling through the stage than off the stage. His fallibility increases. In a scene where he had sunglasses on for what he aptly describes as “this Baywatch thing,” and as he turns around and sings “some people stand in the darkness,” (he’s singing to me again), he decides that the audience are too “laid back.” Hasselhoff comments, “I wanted to wake them up, and there was a gap between the stage and the speakers about this big” (he mimes wildly and widely with his large, tanned arms) “and we put a line there but I had my glasses on and I totally forgot about it and BAM – I went all the way through.”
Of course he gets up and continues just the same, but he notes that it’s another hit to “the same knee I’ve been nursing for a while”. He brushes off the sombre acknowledgement of his age with an “anyway,” wrapping up his comments on the show with a placid comment about it all being “fun”.
I want some real David, I decide. Let’s get to the gritty stuff. The Press Officer mimes for me to wrap up. “I want to ask you some questions that you’re not going to be normally asked,” I announce. “I want to talk about things that are David Hasselhoff rather than the Hoff, so I’m going to ask some regular boring questions.” “Just the one question!” the Press Officer interrupts. Right.
I smile at Hasselhoff, who raises an eyebrow. I raise one of mine back, and ask what he had for breakfast this morning. “What did I have? I had –“. He stops, puzzled. “Wow, this morning I actually didn’t have breakfast.” Have I cracked the real David? He no longer soars, rehearsed, through the air. “Um, I didn’t have breakfast, I had coffee.” He darts into an explanation of why he could’ve possibly missed breakfast. “I was up until 4:30am watching American football and I slept through breakfast so I went on until lunch,” he laughs, as if astonished by his own craziness. “So, I, um, started with lunch at – wait, what did we do at 11 o’clock? Something at 11.”
He furrows his brow, unable to detail what he did at 11 o’clock. However, lunch, he reassures me, he did eat eventually – “pasta carbonara and a salmon,” if anyone was wondering. “It was American football play-offs” he justifies again. “That’s fair enough”, I falsely reassure him, as if I had at some point done the same. And with that he’s swept away, murmuring, “What did I do at 11 o’clock? Something happened at 11 – what happened?” He stands for a moment – and then grins, “Oh I know, I had a really great massage” and then he chuckles one last time, and I join in. I sit, and he stands, and we chuckle. And then he says, “Thanks, cheers!” and he’s off. And I leave, certain of having met the Hoff, but uncertain of much else.