All hail the king
PUBLISHED: 10:28 04 December 2013 | UPDATED: 14:15 09 December 2013
Julia McIntosh photography 2013
I first met Ed Rowe, aka the Kernow King, in a nightclub in Newquay when, rather incongruously, we were both 'on duty' at a beauty contest which the company we were both then working for was sponsoring.
The evening was pretty unmemorable save for two things. Firstly, on speaking to Ed properly for the first time he had me in fits of laughter. Secondly, late in the evening he tore off his shirt to reveal a Kernow tattoo at the base of his spine as he proudly broadcast his love of his home county to anyone who would listen.
And there we have it. A little precursor I had of the Ed Rowe many, many more people now know in his KK role – the passionate Cornishman who makes your sides split with his anecdotes, impressions and musings on matters Kernow. Fast forward four years and life has moved on for both of us. I haven’t seen Ed since he bailed out of the company about two years before I did. We’ve arranged to meet at Flushing. He sweeps around the corner on his pushbike, greets me like a long lost pal, orders a coffee and sits back to tell the tale of the Kernow King. And what a tale. The man who is currently wowing audiences across Cornwall and beyond with his stand-up show Splann! has certainly seen his profile take off stratospherically of late.
Most artists will point to a lucky break which got them started and in Ed’s case it was perhaps a break born of the digital age which got him really going. Already a performer at heart, having studied English and Drama at Swansea University and then acting at the London Academy of Performing Arts before spending time treading the boards as a professional actor, Ed might have been forgiven for thinking his stage days were over. Then, in 2010, he entered a competition run by the California Tourist Office for overseas visitors to submit a video in the same vein as the famous film featuring a string of American stars promoting the benefits of a Californian holiday.
“I was just messing around really,” reveals Ed. “I had an old multi-coloured ‘Joseph’ jacket in my van from when I wore it to a fancy dress party. I popped that on, we filmed me talking about Cornwall in the style of Kernow King, sent the film in and thought nothing more of it.”
But there WAS more to think about – the $40,000 dream California holiday Ed won as a result: “We had an amazing time. It was the most amazing nine days of my life – first class flights there and back, stretch limos everywhere, inside access to the most amazing places.”
The ‘we’ in question was Ed and wife Jo. The couple have two children, Nellie, nine, and Percy, who is seven this Christmas. When he’s not touring, Ed retreats to the family home in Falmouth for some precious down time. “I try and get home from a gig whenever I can,” he says. “Most of my shows have obviously been in Cornwall up to now, so that’s been easy. But, of course, things are starting to gather momentum up country now, so it really is taking off.”
Indeed it is. Ed’s career as Kernow King can surely be attributed to two things – his own hard work and talent, obviously, but also being alive to the opportunity social media and video can bring. He’s known for his unerringly funny videos on Cornish life and Cornwall with its quirks and foibles. If you’re ‘in the know’ or not, there is still something to snigger at in his deadpan delivery, the occasional arch of an eyebrow accompanying a particularly choice observation. “It sort of snowballed from the American video really,” explains Ed. “I started doing the odd gig here or there; word got out and suddenly the halls were getting busier and the demand snowballed.”
His Wonders Of the Cornish Universe show went down in legend locally for its fantastically funny and accurate observations on life as a Cornishman in Cornwall. Now Splann! (‘just a word which sums up all it is to be Cornish’) is taking him to even greater heights. Given the higher and higher profile of this Roche-born stand-up, there are bound to be comparisons with one of his comic forebears – Jethro. And Ed is a huge fan of the legendary performer…and has even received advice from the great man.
“I sort of know him anyway through some connections of my Dad and so he’s been watching watch I do from early times. He has been helpful with the odd bit of advice here or there. To me he will always be someone I’ll look up to. I actually remember going in his club on the way back from a Cornwall rugby trip to Twickenham when I was about 14 and he came out and cracked a joke which at 14 I shouldn’t have got, but I did.”
Finally for Ed the question he is probably sick of already – what happened to the multi-coloured jacket, so ubiquitous in his early career – now discarded?
“Oh I dunno, just felt right to get rid of it really. I never intended to keep wearing it, I just put it on for an early show and it kind of stuck. But it was all a bit accidental really and it seemed like I didn’t really need to keep wearing it now the show stands for itself.”
If the reaction of audiences across the county and beyond is anything to go by then the show does indeed stand by itself. No gimmickry, no tricks, no subterfuge…just a story-telling funny man who is fast turning into Cornish royalty.