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Elvis Afloat

Liveaboard boater Paul Larcombe discusses his career as one of the world’s leading Elvis Presley tribute acts

Like most entertainers, I started putting on shows for my family when I was just a little kid. My aunties would beg me to do my Alvin Stardust impression when I was just four or five years old. My dad was a performer, working the pubs and clubs of the North and, when he died, I inherited his kit. I’d already started playing the ukulele and did a pretty good George Formby impression. By the time I’d left school and joined the Navy, putting on shows for the crew became a regular thing.

Paul Larcombe as Elvis with narrowboat <i>Argonaut</i>
Paul Larcombe as Elvis with narrowboat Argonaut.

Performing for the Queen

And that’s how I ended up performing in front of the Royal Family on several occasions. I was an engineer on the Royal Yacht Britannia in the early 1990s. My boss, the marine engineering officer, knew I could put on a show, so one day he asked me if I’d perform for the Queen.

Of course, I was nervous but I went ahead with it, doing my best George Formby impression. They were all there, except Charles and Diana: the Queen and Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Fergie, Princess Anne, Prince Edward and all of the associated kids. As soon as I walked into the room Fergie began taking the mickey out of me, saying, “Oo ee bah gum, lad,” which broke the ice nicely. Andrew and Philip were arguing about which Formby song I should play. And once I got started, the Queen was seemingly loving it! She was smiling and clapping along with the songs, having a whale of a time.

They must have enjoyed it because I was asked to perform for the royals twice more during my time on Britannia. One time I did an Elvis impersonation but I changed the words of the song, dropping in a few saucy naval sayings. I’m not sure if the Queen quite understood but Prince Philip was howling with laughter. Each time I performed for the royals we ended up chatting for a while after the show and all of them were exceptionally friendly and welcoming. It was a really nice experience, albeit rather surreal.

Living afloat

I pretty much stumbled into the world of narrowboating when I left the Navy in 1997. I got a job at Wrenbury Marina on the Llangollen Canal, turning around the hire-fleet and giving back-deck instructions. Interestingly, some of my mates misheard me when I told them where I worked and for ages they thought I worked at Wembley Arena. But that’s where my interest in boats began and I made up my mind that one day I would have one of my own. I’ve had six different boats over the last 16 years, each one being a project that was completed, enjoyed for a while and then sold to fund the next. My engineering background means I love to tinker. I’ve had my latest one for six years and I’ve lived aboard for almost four years.

Paul aboard his narrowboat home.
Paul aboard his narrowboat home.

Competing at Graceland

By the time I left the Navy I was doing shows in pubs and clubs, and these usually incorporated a bit of Elvis impersonation. One day I was looking online when I saw there was an Elvis impersonator competition in Blackpool. On a whim, I signed up to compete, and I was completely amazed when I won.

This turned out to be a really big deal. The competition was the European leg of a worldwide competition and the first to be endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises. Some of the competitors had flown over from the USA having already competed and lost there, hoping to secure a place in the finals at Graceland, Elvis’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. Having won, I was flown out to Memphis, all expenses paid, to take part in the final. I didn’t win, but the publicity I got for being the only non-American impersonator was staggering. I got back to my hotel room and there were dozens of messages from TV companies all over the world. I did interviews that were aired on the BBC, Good Morning America and several others. I had mates in the UK who said it blew their minds when they turned on their tellies to see me grinning back at them from Memphis.

I can’t see myself quitting being an Elvis impersonator anytime soon but I guess there’ll come a time when my age makes it impossible to pull it off convincingly. My plan is to continue performing on stage in one way or another, but without the jumpsuit and the wig. Whatever happens, I’ll always be an entertainer.

You can see more of Paul’s Elvis performances at purepresley.com. You’ll also find videos of Paul performing aboard his boat by searching for ‘Paul Larcombe’ on YouTube.

This article appears in "Last Word" in Waterways World April 2022