Jimmy Os­mond: ‘I think I’d be good in prison – I re­ally keep my­self en­ter­tained’

The singer, who had his first hit when he was nine, talks show­biz, ‘Grease’ and Michael Jack­son’s pets

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Rosita Bo­land

The artist pre­vi­ously known for Long Haired Lover from Liver­pool, soon to be per­form­ing in Dublin, is on stage in Cardiff. He’s in a sil­ver suit so daz­zlingly bright it ri­vals the strobe lights pan­ning the ex­citable au­di­ence. There is a full house, and the au­di­ence has gone crack­ers; roar­ing, shout­ing, whistling. The woman in front of me is hop­ping up and down. So too are the young girls in the same row.

We’re watch­ing the ever­green mu­si­cal Grease, but it’s not the main char­ac­ters Danny or Sandy the crowd are go­ing wild for. By far the loud­est roars of the night are go­ing to the mid­dle-aged man play­ing the famed cameo of Teen An­gel, wield­ing a guitar as im­pos­si­bly white as his teeth.

The man in the sil­ver suit is Jimmy Os­mond, who is mark­ing his 50th year in show­biz: a ca­reer that be­gan with his sib­lings, the Os­monds, when he was all of four. He was a pos­i­tively an­cient nine years old when he had his num­ber one hit, Long Haired Lover from Liver­pool.

I can only imag­ine the crowd re­ac­tion when Os­mond sings that song in Liver­pool. In Cardiff this week, my eardrums feel as if molten pok­ers are be­ing shoved into them, and Os­mond isn’t even singing that song. He’s singing the mar­vel­lously bitchy lyrics of Beauty School Dropout, to dropout stu­dent Frenchy.

Jimmy Os­mond, who prob­a­bly has more stage hours logged than the col­lec­tive tally of ev­ery­one else in the show, is The One That The Au­di­ence Want. “Beauty school dropout!” they roar back at him, while Os­mond per­forms with the con­fi­dence of a man who knows that when the au­di­ence goes home, what they’ll re­mem­ber most about this pro­duc­tion of Grease are th­ese six or seven clas­sic min­utes of glo­ri­ous kitsch. The run is un­til De­cem­ber, but Os­mond is ap­pear­ing in the role of Teen An­gel only in Cardiff and Dublin.

The fol­low­ing af­ter­noon, Jimmy Os­mond and I sit in the cor­ner of a room in the vast Wales Mil­len­nium Cen­tre. I am afraid of my life I will ad­dress him as “Donny”, his older brother who, as a young boy, also had a hit song with an un­likely ti­tle, Puppy Love. I won­der briefly if jour­nal­ists who in­ter­view Donny fret about call­ing him Jimmy. He has a very big mop of very shiny brown hair that I just about re­frain from pulling, like Santa’s beard, to see if it is real. He has a great big smile, and he says he likes my red hair. We’re friends al­ready.

“Have a candy,” Os­mond says, prof­fer­ing a wrapped sweet, which I squir­rel away in my bag at once, with the in­ten­tion of do­ing some­thing with it. Auc­tion­ing it. Giv­ing it to some­one for Christ­mas. Eat­ing it.

For a man who must be sick to the back of his gleam­ing teeth of be­ing asked the same ques­tions over and over for lit­er­ally decades, Os­mond is re­mark­ably good-na­tured. He doesn’t even mind when I nosily ask him for a look at his flashy gold watch, framed with a cir­cle of rather siz­able di­a­monds.

“It’s a Rolex,” he says, tak­ing it off, so I can see. His wife, Michelle, and he gave each other one for the mil­len­nium, so it’s a long-last­ing per­former, like him­self.

Where to be­gin? Did he have any idea what a lover was, when he was singing about be­ing one, aged nine?

I’ll be your long-haired lover from

Liver­pool, And I’ll do any­thing you say. I’ll be your clown or your pup­pet or your

April Fool, If you’ll be my sun­shine daisy from LA

He roars laugh­ing. “I had no idea even where Liver­pool was at that stage. I’m em­bar­rassed to say that it was prob­a­bly my teenage years be­fore I thought about what the words meant. Then I re­alised the song was ac­tu­ally about The Bea­tles. I had had no idea be­fore. The song was kind of like Bob the Builder of the day; one of those songs you love to hate, be­cause it was played so much, but to this day, peo­ple still know it and love it.” He still sings it live. “I left it out of the set once when we were play­ing the O2 and peo­ple started do­ing this [he stamps his feet]. It taught me that you don’t mess with peo­ple’s mem­o­ries; you are just grate­ful to be a part of them.”

As for the role of Teen An­gel, “What’s fun is that I have such a small part in the show, but it’s right at the sweet spot, and the re­ac­tion is al­ways fun. I love play­ing it. It’s just one num­ber, but I al­ways want to do my best. I wouldn’t be here un­less I loved it and it was some­thing I wanted to do. I could be do­ing a lot of other things if it was just about the money.

“What’s quite funny about this role is that I own [the Andy Wil­liams Moon River Theatre in Mis­souri] and Frankie Avalon is play­ing in my theatre this fall.” Avalon played the orig­i­nal Teen An­gel in the John Tra­volta/Olivia New­ton-John movie. “So I’m telling Frankie, hey, I’m play­ing you.”

The Os­monds and the Jack­sons were con­tem­po­raries, and knew each other. “The older bothers used to hate the fact that Joe, their dad, used to make them watch us on The Andy Wil­liams Show.” Michael Jack­son was a friend of his, “but I wasn’t his clos­est friend”, as he puts it.

The last time he saw Jack­son was in Jack­son’s mother’s house.

“He had Mus­cles with him, and I was like, put off, be­cause it was a bit weird.” “Mus­cles?” I ask. “His snake. He had a snake called Mus­cles.”

Later, I google this snake. Mus­cles was a boa con­stric­tor the size of a sleep­ing bag. I can to­tally see why Os­mond was put off dur­ing his last meet­ing with Jack­son.

“Michael Jack­son was quite odd, but I think a lot of it was cal­cu­lated to get me­dia at­ten­tion,” he says. Os­mond worked for Jack­son for a time. A pe­cu­liar time. “I was there when they bought the Ele­phant Bones [John Mer­rick’s bones, about whom the film The Ele­phant Man was made]. I was there when they closed on Paul McCartney’s cat­a­logue. Yeah. Weird times.”

How does he think the whole­some Os­monds in their match­ing white trouser suits and whole­some fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment would fare to­day on the re­al­ity tal­ent TV shows? I am try­ing to imag­ine Si­mon Cow­ell watch­ing the Os­monds in 2017, and what in­ter­est­ing things he might say.

“What we did wouldn’t go to­day. It prob­a­bly wouldn’t have lasted as long for us to­day if we were per­form­ing now as we were then. We re­ally grew up on TV and it gave us a last­ing ca­reer.”

Os­mond has only one num­ber in the show. What does he do back­stage? “I think I’d be good in prison, be­cause I re­ally keep my­self en­ter­tained,” he says. “I’m still run­ning my theatre back home, so I’m on the phone a l ot. I’m also a car­toon­ist. I draw . . . car­i­ca­tures of peo­ple I work with; I’ve been do­ing it my whole life.”

What was his last car­toon of? “My two sheep,” Os­mond says. “My two rare sheep.” Yes, he said sheep. A cou­ple of weeks ago, Os­mond bought two New For­est Valais Blac­knose sheep, at the urg­ing of his daugh­ter, Bella. They’re more like a kind of poo­dle dog; with fluffy black faces and legs, but sheep they are. Os­mond hopes to bring them back to Utah, where he lives; that is, of course, if Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will let them in.

I learned that you don’t mess with peo­ple’s mem­o­ries; you are just grate­ful to be a part of them

Grease runs at the Bord Gáis En­ergy Theatre from Au­gust 1st-12th, star­ring Jimmy Os­mond as Teen An­gel, Tom Parker as Danny, and Danielle Hope as Sandy. bor­dgaisen­er­gythe­atre.ie

Jimmy Os­mond: ‘We re­ally grew up on TV and it gave us a last­ing ca­reer.’ PHOTOGRAPH: DAVID BECKER/GETTY IMAGES

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