Maybe Tom Jones is jealous because I sell more records
The King of Romance talks to KATHRYN SPENCER about his greatest hits, Strictly, his wife’s Alzheimer’s… and a certain Welsh crooner
SITTING in his penthouse suite at the Hilton in London’s Park Lane, Engelbert Humperdinck looks far better than any 82-year-old deserves with his tanned, unlined face, not visited, he insists, by plastic surgery.
After a recent two-stone weight loss, he’s looking trim too, with a mustard-coloured shirt tucked into smart brown trousers, and this tasteful ensemble is enlivened by a discreetly flashy gold ring and watch.
Only his hearing, it seems, betrays his years as the avuncular and quietly spoken Humperdinck occasionally has trouble understanding questions. “I’m just turning up my hearing aid,” he volunteers at one point. “Say that again, dear.”
The singing voice, however, is as fine and rich as ever, as demonstrated by his new album Warmest Christmas Wishes, which the world-famous crooner is currently in the UK to promote for the festive season.
It is more than 50 years since the man born Arnold (later Gerry) Dorsey became a star when his single Release Me topped the charts for six weeks in spring 1967, consigning The Beatles’ double A-sided single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever to the number two slot.
This seemingly overnight success came after years of trying and Humperdinck recalls: “You know what? I never thought Release Me could knock the almighty Beatles off being number one. They were going to have their 13th number one and Release Me stopped that happening.
“Not only here but across the pond. It went number one around the globe, it gave me a public career immediately and I was able to distribute my albums around the world after that.”
The song that consolidated his stardom was The Last Waltz, number one for five weeks in September 1967. “The Last Waltz was played around the world in every dance hall,” he reflects. “People were going home together after dancing to my song.
“I guess that’s why I was given the title King of Romance.”
This is ironic because The Last Waltz is about a love rat unromantically dumping an old lover for a new one. Humperdinck smiles: “I don’t think people ever read through those lyrics the way they were supposed to. They just liked the melody and the sound.
“When you analyse the lyrics, it’s the other way round – ‘I don’t love you any more’.”
The song returned to the limelight last month when ex-cricketer Graeme Swann danced a romantic waltz to it on Strictly Come Dancing. Humperdinck sent his personal congratulations and will appear and sing a song on Strictly spin-off show It Takes Two next week.
He says he would never compete on the show but admits he did once briefly consider it. “No, I don’t think I can handle that. I don’t think I could do it. I’m not a great dancer.”
His friend, good rival
WALTZING: Engelbert performs on TV in 1968 and contemporary was, of course, Tom Jones. The two shared a manager called Gordon Mills and at one time even owned property together.
However, they fell out decades ago after Humperdinck quit Mills for a new manager and reportedly feuded over who was the most successful singer.
Humperdinck, ever the gentleman, regrets their estrangement and would gladly bury the hatchet but Tom refuses. Indeed Jones said a couple of years ago of Humperdinck: “Once a **** , always a **** .”
Humperdinck says sadly: “It would be my pleasure to shake his hand and say, ‘Welcome back into our friendship’ but I don’t think it is going to happen.” So why did they fall out? “I don’t know. Something went wrong and I think he got a bee in his bonnet about something. I don’t like to dislike or hate people. I think life is too short. I can open my heart to anybody.”
Do you think he might have been jealous of your voice? “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter whether I’m a bigger record seller than he is,” he boasts discreetly.
“It didn’t matter to me, but it may have mattered to him, I don’t know.” A duet isn’t in the offing, for sure.
The pair had more in common than good looks and velvet voices. Despite being happily married, both embarked on many liaisons with other women. Humperdinck looks contrite over how he used to behave. “I really don’t like to talk about it these days. I think if I thought the grass was greener, it really wasn’t.”
HUMPERDINCK says that’s long in the past. He regrets his womanising and the hurt it caused. He is devoted to Patricia, his wife of 54 years, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m a one-woman man and I want my wife back so badly mentally and physically. I’m striving with all my heart and soul to make it possible for her to get her faculties back.” He genuinely believes her condition has improved in the past year and that she will one day recover. A Roman Catholic, he believes the prayers of fans have helped as well as various medical procedures. But she remains ill.
“We normally spend Christmas in Leicester but, unfortunately my wife can’t travel so we will celebrate it in America.
“Hopefully by next year she will be capable of walking on a plane, doing what you and I can do… to sit in a seat and eat and drink and go to the bathroom. I think she’s going to get better. She’s just beginning to talk to me again. I believe in the power of prayer.
“I have a lot of fans who love her and they’re praying for her. That’s one of the reasons I made it public.” How does he look so youthful? The swept back hair is still thick and (artificially) dark, his teeth dazzling white, the 1970s sideboards intact. “My parents left me with good genes,” he says. “I don’t feel or act my age, I try to keep myself as young as