"When I was a kid, I had the wiriest hair and my mum didn’t know what to do with it. So one day she brushed it back and it ended up in a giant quiff on the front of my head. When I went to school, everyone started calling me Elvis and the name just stuck from there.”

Darren ‘Graceland’ Jones has been obsessed with the King of Rock’n’Roll since he was a toddler, having seen the ‘Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite’ concert on television. After years of being goaded into doing impressions at weddings and getting up to sing the occasional song in karaoke bars, he finally took the plunge to become a dedicated Elvis impersonator twelve years ago. 

The 49-year old from Cwmbran has been performing as Elvis ever since and is a triple winner of the Best Welsh Elvis award.

He’s also the only Welshman to scoop the Best Festival Elvis prize at the Porthcawl Elvis Festival, which makes its triumphant return tomorrow for the first time since 2019.

“What could be more Welsh than a festival dedicated to Elvis?” says Darren. “They say Elvis impersonators are like castles in Wales - there are more of them per square mile than anywhere else in the world.

“We are the Land of Song, after all. And I think the Welsh tenor voice really suits Elvis’ style.”

READ MORE: Porthcawl Elvis Festival prepares for the return of The King

“And for me, there’s nothing like putting on that white jumpsuit. I absolutely love it. And out of all of his looks, that’s definitely my favourite Elvis era too.”

Back in 2013, Darren helped Torfaen County Borough Council win a PR award for his work singing 'In The Depot', a take on Elvis Presley's 'In The Ghetto' which described the council's gritting efforts during cold weather. It’s racked up more than 550,00 views on YouTube to date.

But as the Cwmbran crooner gears up to perform at Porthcawl once more, he told The National that the most rewarding aspect of his job is the performances he puts on at care homes, to people with dementia. He also works with people who have learning difficulties and those who are struggling with their mental health. 

“I remember the first time I ever worked in a care home a few years ago. There was a lady who had severe dementia. She was quiet, her eyes were shut and she was unresponsive,” says Darren.

The 'burning love' of Darren 'Graceland' Jones. Photo: Anthony Chaletzos

“This being pre-Covid I was able to hold her hand and sing directly to her. I felt her grip my hand tightly all of a sudden. And by the end of the performance she had pulled herself up in the chair and her eyes were wide open, alert.

“I get emotional even thinking about it. 

“But that experience made me realise that this was my calling. That by helping others and bringing the joy of Elvis’ music into their lives, it was really helping me too. 

“I suffer with my mental health but knowing that I have helped other people means I have a greater purpose in life. 

“And I think it’s the greatest tribute I can give to the memory of Elvis too."

The Porthcawl Elvis Festival starts tomorrow and runs until Sunday evening. 

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