Samui Wining & Dining
A Man of Many Faces

Famed for his Elvis act, there’s a lot more to Ritchie Newton than meets the eye!­

28If you’ve visited Thailand in the last decade then the chances are that you’ve already seen him on stage or, at the very least, seen the life-size posters advertising his shows. He’s performed consistently on Samui, in Bangkok and Phuket, and has even owned his own Elvis Pub in Pattaya. And you can add to that the many appearances on Thai and international television, several international tours and numerous CD recordings. On the face of it, it would seem that here’s a man that’s made a life-long study and career out of looking, sounding and acting just like ‘The King’. But appearances can sometimes be deceptive.

“It was in 1975 that I first saw Elvis in the movie King Creole. I was 13 and it changed my life. Overnight I became a little Elvis clone with slicked-back hair. I learned all the songs and moves and wowed everyone at school concerts!” Thus spoke Bavarian-born Ritchie Newton, long-time Samui personality and resident, and internationally-renowned Elvis impersonator.

In fact, that early Elvis phase didn’t last so long. But, as Ritchie told me, he’d already become hooked on the buzz of being in the spotlights in front of a cheering crowd. And by the time he left school he’d discovered heavy rock. For three years he worked as a chef, but in the evenings he was the drummer in a rock band. Frustrated by his culinary career, he went to chase a better salary at the local BMW manufacturers, which also allowed him more flexibility with the band.

It came to the crunch in 1983 when Ritchie formed a new band, ‘Lucifer’. They became so popular that the day job had to go. And by now he was sporting shoulder-length hair, wearing leather and tattoos and collecting albums by Judas Priest, AC/DC, Rainbow and Deep Purple. Two years later, the rocking Ritchie made the big time by joining up with the then internationally-known, ‘Mass’, complete with an established recording contract and international tour schedule.

But after several years this high-octane lifestyle had begun to take its toll. Ritchie was strung out on booze, his marriage was shaky and, as he told me, “… I was coming apart but didn’t know it.” By 1997, he’d left the group, had no job, his wife had left him and he couldn’t see past the next drink. “I couldn’t have got any lower,” he mused. “But – and this is true – things changed almost overnight. I started to dream that I was an Elvis impersonator – a really good one. Maybe it was an escape-fantasy. Or maybe it was an unconscious message. But it made me wake up and get real. If I didn’t do something fast there was going to be no tomorrow for me.”

Ritchie straightened out, re-styled his hair, got hold of all the right lyrics and a karaoke machine and began to work on his Elvis act for real. But one thing frustrated him. Nowhere could he find an Elvis-style jump suit! He was on the point of travelling to America to look for one when a friend suggested Thailand instead, “… the tailors there can make anything!” So Ritchie upped and headed for Bangkok. More frustration. Nobody would take on the job. So, eventually, tired, depressed and running short of cash, Ritchie headed to Samui for a break before admitting defeat and returning home. And that was when he fell in love.

Not with someone, but with the island. “The whole atmosphere of the place, the people there, the lazy laid-back pace of life; all of it came as a shock. It was like I’d been in the rain all my life and suddenly discovered sunshine. I had to stay. I just had to pack up and move there to live. It took me six months to get it together, but I went back in the December of 1997 and have been there … here … ever since!”

And most of the rest of the story we know already – particularly the huge success of Ritchie’s Elvis act. It began on Samui and took the island by storm. Soon he was being invited to appear on national television and that led to further invitations from resorts and nightclubs all over Thailand. In the course of all this, Ritchie married again and a family appeared, a son, Rino (now aged ten) and a daughter, Tammy (now aged four). And, for almost a decade, Ritchie Newton was Elvis. But eventually the strain of all the travelling and the weeks away from home and family began to tell. And so, in 2008, ‘Newton Media’ was formed.

Newton Media is Ritchie’s new company. Initially, it was created to keep track of the promotional needs of Ritchie himself; press-releases, publicity material, photos, bookings, schedules and so on. But it rapidly lent itself to the needs of other entertainers and performers, too. Soon it became an established media-centre with an on-line presence, accessible from anywhere.

And in these same two years, as the company slowly emerged and developed, so ‘Elvis’ quietly evaporated. Today’s laid back and vegetarian Ritchie has long hair once again. But he doesn’t ‘do’ Elvis anymore – except once in a blue moon by special invitation, “… just for old time’s sake.” Although he did appear on stage again last June – in full thrash-rock leathers at the Samui Bike Week. He’s now very busy with his company and has extended it to include ‘Samui Web TV’. In partnership with studio cameraman, Enzo Grappa, Ritchie is making community documentaries and pod-casts: anything and everything from news to infomercials and on-line promos for local businesses.

“These are still early days,” he told me. “I’ve spent two years studying with Enzo and he’s the best. But now I make the films and edit them myself. More people are getting to know about my services and things are beginning to move. The Elvis thing couldn’t have lasted forever. It had to stop one day. And now I have time for my children. This is the most important thing in my life and I only recently discovered how much we need each other.”

From a mini-Elvis to a heavy rocker. From a crooning heart-throb to black leather and tattoos. From heavy metal to gilded jumpsuits. From ‘Smoke on the Water’ to ‘Love Me Tender’. From Elvis-clone to promoter, agent and film-maker. And in-between all these threads is woven Ritchie himself: chef, mechanic, rocker, entertainer, imitateur extraordinaire, song-writer, film-maker and father. There are many faces to Samui’s Ritchie Newton – and he wears them all with pride!

 


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