Aspects: Academics of Being an Elvis Fan; Prof Christine King Talks to Ros Dodd about Elvis, the Holocaust and the Little Things in Life

By Dodd, Ros | The Birmingham Post (England), May 11, 1999 | Go to article overview

Aspects: Academics of Being an Elvis Fan; Prof Christine King Talks to Ros Dodd about Elvis, the Holocaust and the Little Things in Life


Dodd, Ros, The Birmingham Post (England)


Professor Christine King is not what you expect. Her dress is glamorous, her personality bubbly and her office more closely resembles an Ikea showpiece lounge than a work station.

She's also an "unashamed" fan of Elvis Presley.

Yet Prof King is vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University - one of only five female vice-chancellors of higher education institutions in Britain.

And though she doesn't look like your typical academic, there's no mistaking her fervent belief in the importance of education.

"The problem with Elvis was that he wasn't educated and so didn't know what to do with his money and his life," she comments, while discussing one of her favourite topics.

Another favourite topic is her on-going research into the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust - more specifically how Jehovah's Witnesses living in Nazi Germany defied Hitler.

Although the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the music of Elvis Presley appear to have little in common, there is a link: the Jehovah's Witnesses stood up to Hitler because of their spiritual beliefs and "Elvis's fans have constructed a religion around him".

It is her deep interest in religion that has spawned the research Prof King has done since she first arrived in the Midlands in the 60s to study theology and history at Birmingham University.

"I was brought up high Church of England," she recalls. Then a broad smile lights up her face. "I also went to the youth club - which is where I learned to rock 'n' roll."

More seriously she adds: "I'm really interested in how we try to come to terms with who we are and how we write our stories. But I never wanted to become the first Church of England clergywoman."

Born in Portsmouth, Prof King was the daughter of a ship's captain.

"When I was a child the kitchen cupboards in our house had 'port' and 'starboard' on them," she says. "I still know port and starboard better than I do left and right!

"And I do miss the sea. That's the only problem with living in the Midlands - there's no sea."

After her first degree, Prof King studied medieval English pilgrimage to get her Masters.

"I did quite a lot about saints' bodies and relics," she recalls.

It's another link with Elvis. Pilgrimage plays a major part in keeping the legendary singer's memory alive. Prof King is among the thousands of fans who have visited Gracelands during the week of the anniversary of his death.

"I've been three times," she says. "And it's magic. People say that if you study Jane Austen too much as a scholar you stop enjoying the books, but I haven't found that with my interest in Elvis.

"The ceremony they have at Gracelands is very moving. There's a small introductory service and then you progress up the hill, holding candles. The procession is led by people in wheelchairs who are holding pictures. There are also a lot of people in Elvis lookalike gear.

"Nobody, but nobody, takes the mickey; it's very serious. But I'm not saying that the people who go are fanatics."

Prof King is fascinated at how Elvis has become part of popular culture.

"He means something to people," she says. "In one of the books written about him, the author asks children who Elvis was. They say things like, 'he was a king who lived in a big house', and that's how fairy stories begin.

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