At the purple-black decorated desk in the New Daisy Theatre on famous Beale Street in downtown Memphis I sit working – and, waiting for all the fans to finally get their autographs and take their photos of themselves together with Elvis-Impersonator Ben Portsmouth, who just minutes ago was sitting right there on a white wooden folding chair performing his acoustic concert. It’s Elvis Week 2015 and the city is crowded with men, women and even children who look astonishingly similar to Elvis Presley. Ben Portsmouth though is looking rather casual right now with his plain white T-shirt and fawn-colored trousers as he welcomes his fans with an excessively charismatic smile. At long last – after all the fans have had their chance to shake hands with him – Ben appears with a stack of New Zealand chocolate, a much appreciated gift from his fans. Ben directs his eyes to me as if to acknowledge what we both know – we’re starving – and so Ben proposes we go out to lunch.
Using my rental car we drop off his luggage at his hotel and then proceed to the restaurant of a luxury hotel in downtown Memphis. On our way there I offer Ben the choice of either the AC or an open window and immediately he grins and opens the window on the curbside – very European, very charming. I find it even more charming how he is singing along from time to time on our way to the restaurant. As we talk I learn that Ben appreciates dining in expensive steakhouses even though he comes across as very down-to-earth and humble. He explains that along with Brazil, Spain (which is close to his home country) is one of Ben’s favorite travel destinations as he shows a lot of interest in Spanish history. During flights he is the price-conscious kind of guy who would choose economy over first class even though he is 6’0″ (1,82m) tall, which coincidentally is the same height as Elvis. If he were a millionaire, he admits, he’d probably travel first class, but until that day “cattle class” would suffice.
Ben Portsmouth makes his living by being Elvis Presley. In 2012 he won the Ultimate Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, which has taken place annually during Elvis Week ever since 2007 and elects the one person who represents Elvis best. The winner of this contest is subsequently booked for Elvis Shows all over the world, and Ben Portsmouth was the first non-American to receive that privilege. At the age of 20 he left England (his home) and travelled to Turkey. Altogether he has travelled to approximately 20 countries – most of them due to his participation in Elvis shows, contests, and related activities. The exact number of countries to which he has travelled he does not know because, just as his colleagues, he explains that everything happens so fast that it is difficult to keep track of trip details. Whenever flying, he tries to spend as little time as possible inside the plane and therefore always tries to board as the last passenger. Travelling in general for him is an annoying necessity to get from one place to the other. Transfers are not up his alley either – no matter if it’s flights or road trips.
When he is on the road being Elvis he says he always needs to pack for two people; as such he takes great care to minimize his own private “stuff”; notwithstanding, always with him are his purse, smart phone, and a random aftershave. Apart from that, his friend and manager, who confirms that Ben does not easily tolerate the hassles of transportation nor does he enjoy meetings at the destination – is also omnipresent and keeps an eye on Ben’s nutrition. “To make sure I’ll always fit into those expensive jumpsuits of mine,” Ben adds with a wink. As soon as Ben reaches the hotel at his destination he goes searching for places to charge his smart phone because his battery never seems to last long enough. Once that is taken care of he can settle in to enjoy his room and amenities; ideally he would have enough time for that since normally he tries to arrive one day before his gig – mostly in case the bag with his costumes might get lost.
Ben underlines that he prefers the simpler things in life and he considers neither flying nor extreme sports to be among them. Instead he would rather enjoy a good meal, pleasant company, or his traditional afternoon tea, which as a “stubborn Englishman” he simply must have. Apart from that Ben is an aficionado of music and likes watching documentaries. He has developed a fascination for World War II flicks and in his precious spare time he watches any footage on DVD, TV, or online. When Ben is on the road in foreign countries he always tries to get in touch with the language and the culture as much as possible. During his 2014 tour through Germany, for example, he learned a lot of German vocabulary with very good pronunciation, as was evidenced in our conversations together.
Notwithstanding his passion for Elvis, Ben loves to be at home, the place where he was born and raised; as such the longing for his son is produces melancholic feelings that accompany Ben on every journey. Consequently, when he travels free Wi-Fi is very important for him so that he can keep in touch with his son visually via video telephone. As long as he has the opportunity, Ben wishes to continue to travel the world being Elvis Presley in the foreseeable future – maybe even with his son from time to time. Apart from that, the ideal landing place for him would be a cozy haven from where he could see the ocean; there he could enjoy every afternoon with his traditional Earl Grey Tea with milk and honey and a piece of chocolate…