HEAL­ING HANDS

His beloved Pa­tri­cia was di­ag­nosed ten years ago, but En­gel­bert Humperdinck – who re­cently dis­cov­ered he has a rare power to heal – is con­vinced that with his help she’s get­ting bet­ter

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En­gel­bert Humperdinck re­veals how he’s help­ing his beloved wife fight back against Alzheimer’s

Aca­reer span­ning more than 50 years, record sales of more than 150 mil­lion and friend­ships with le­gends such as Elvis Pres­ley and Dean Mar­tin might be ac­com­plish­ment enough for most peo­ple. But En­gel­bert Humperdinck, pur­veyor of clas­sics such as Re­lease Me and The Last Waltz, has yet an­other, rather sur­pris­ing string to his bow.

He chanced upon it sev­eral years ago while on tour in Ger­many. Suf­fer­ing from a vi­ral in­fec­tion that he hadn’t been able to shake for over four months, En­gel­bert vis­ited an iri­dol­o­gist – an al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pist claim­ing to di­ag­nose health prob­lems by study­ing the eye’s iris – who cured him within two weeks. ‘He then said to me, “You have heal­ing pow­ers”, so of course I just laughed at him,’ says En­gel­bert. ‘But he in­sisted I had an aura. So I pray over peo­ple and some­times it works.

‘ There was a lady in Le­ices­ter who had cancer and came to see me for t reat­ments. She’d been given about six weeks to live, but she lived an­other nine years, so maybe I’m partly re­spon­si­ble. An­other guy I knew had Bell’s palsy [a type of fa­cial paral­y­sis] and his mouth was up here,’ he says, pulling his lip up­wards. ‘I prayed for him and within three min­utes his lip came down. Peo­ple think I’m crazy, but I don’t care. If I can help some­body in any way, that’s fine by me.’

En­gel­bert, or ‘Enge, as in Stone­henge’, is him­self look­ing in fine fet­tle. Now 82, he could pass for a good cou­ple of decades younger, cour­tesy of that trade­mark lushly coiffed hair (‘I’ve been dye­ing it since my 20s, but it’s still all mine,’ he says, giv­ing it a sharp tug) and a newly-honed physique. He has a new Christ­mas al­bum com­ing out, ‘and I also re­cently filmed a spe­cial in Hawaii, so I de­cided to lose some weight. I’ve been drink­ing shakes, work­ing out in my gym and spend­ing half an hour in my sauna. I’ve lost two stone. I also lie on my deck to get a tan, but I don’t use reg­u­lar sun­tan lo­tion – I use a mix­ture of olive oil and vine­gar. It makes your skin smooth and dark­ens you in a real hurry. Here, look,’ he says, help­fully rip­ping open his shirt and d i spl ayi ng a n im­pres­sively taut, tanned ex­panse of chest. ‘I’m in good health.’

While En­gel­bert ap­pears to be in scant need of his own heal­ing pow­ers, he ad­mits that the one per­son in the world he would most like to help is sadly be­yond his reach. ‘With any healer, they say that the only per­son they can’t help is thei r spouse be­cause they’re too close. I still pray over my wife, though. I do ev­ery­thing I can.’

Just over ten years ago, his wife Pa­tri­cia, now 79, was di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s and has 24- hour care at the fam­ily home in Bel Air, Cal ifor­nia, where we meet. The cou­ple have been to­gether for 62 years and have four chil­dren. En­gel­bert’s eyes moisten as he talks about his wife.

‘She’s do­ing OK con­sid­er­ing that she’s had it for the past ten years,’ he says. ‘In fact, she still knows me and knows every­body. Our son Scott came over from Aus­tralia a cou­ple of days ago a nd she called him by his name. Tha t ’ s to­tally un­heard of be­cause af­ter ten years [of Alzheimer’s], no­body can say peo­ple’s names like that. And when Scott went back to Aus­tralia, she cried, so she knows who he is.

‘But we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to help her. I have acupunc­tur­ists see her, as well as my reg­u­lar doc­tor, who’s won­der­ful. I also have peo­ple from the holis­tic world and I’ve taken her to see heal­ers. I want her to see every­body be­cause I think it’s im­por­tant to in­ves­ti­gate ev­ery av­enue. Some­body will touch that nerve that will help cure her. That’s what I’m look­ing for and I’ll search un­til I find it.’

Al­though there is no cure as yet for the dis­ease, En­gel­bert re­mains touch­ingly and firmly con­vinced that his wife’s health will im­prove. ‘She’ll be back. I know she will,’ he in­sists. ‘And she’s al­ready shown signs of im­prove­ment. Be­fore, if you walked into her room, she’d just stare, but now she’ll turn around and look at you and smile. It’s won­der­ful to see the changes tak­ing place. When the kids come over, she re­mem­bers them. And she re­mem­bers me. ‘When­ever I go in to see her, she puck­ers up for a kiss. Oh God, she gives me a lovely kiss ev­ery time,’ he grins, ‘so I don’t kiss her just once, I kiss her sev­eral times to make sure my lips are reg­is­tered in her mind. It’s quite won­der­ful. But of course I miss her. We’ve been mar­ried for 54 years and I miss her in my boudoir. I miss hold­ing her at night very much and feel­ing her pres­ence.’

He first no­ticed a prob­lem when Pa­tri­cia started to for­get phone num­bers, ‘and when we got the di­ag­no­sis, it was such a shock’, he says. ‘But right from the start, I wanted to take care of it. I heard from a good friend about a doc­tor in Ger­many who did stem cell op­er­a­tions, so I took her over there im­me­di­ately and paid a large amount to have this op­er­a­tion done. They said if she had this op­er­a­tion she’d be OK, but it didn’t work. This was about eight years ago and I think it was a lit­tle early in the stages of stem cell ther­apy at that point. But who knows? Maybe it con­tributed to her longevity, which I’m thank­ful for. But she gets good med­i­cal at­ten­tion and as long as I have a breath in my body, I’ll pro­vide that.

‘She doesn’t speak too much,’ he con­tin­ues, ‘but I think it’s im­por­tant to talk to her like there is noth­ing wrong be­cause I know she can still un­der­stand. I’ll go in to see her and say, “Good morn­ing, my dar­ling”, and some­times she’ll say, “Good morn­ing” back, and some­times not. But when I say, “How’s my baby?”, she’ll some­times say, “You’re my baby”, which is won­der­ful. I pick her up and try to hold her. She doesn’t walk very well right now, but she will walk again, I prom­ise you. I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing I can, and I have faith.’

While En­gel­bert’s op­ti­mism is mov­ing, in qui­eter mo­ments he ad­mits that his wife’s con­di­tion can be hard to bear. ‘It is dif­fi­cult,’ he says. ‘When I’m per­form­ing, some­times a lyric will touch on my per­sonal life and it can be dif­fi­cult to sing. For in­stance, when I sing How I Love You, I’ll choke up. But I think

‘I miss hold­ing her at night, her pres­ence’

my au­di­ence un­der­stands and for­gives me. My last al­bum, The Man I Want To Be, is re­ally a love let­ter to my wife. I don’t re­ally talk to any­one about her ill­ness and I try to cope as best I can on my own. It is what it is and you just have to take care of your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. A lot of peo­ple would have put their wife or hus­band in a home, but that never crossed my mind. But I do miss my wife, our com­mu­ni­ca­tion,’ he says. ‘It’s lonely at times with­out her.’

It was love at first sight when the cou­ple met in 1956 at the Palais de Danse in Le­ices­ter, where En­gel­bert grew up (he was born in Madras, In­dia, and moved to Bri­tain aged 11). Just 20 years of age and then plain old Arnold Dorsey, he was try­ing to make a name for him­self as a singer. The cou­ple mar­ried in 1964 and, a year later, he teamed up with man­ager Gor­don Mills, who also man­aged Tom Jones. Mills con­vinced young Arnold Dorsey to change his name to the much more mem­o­rable En­gel­bert Humperdinck and suc­cess shortly fol­lowed.

He had a No 1 hit in 1967 with Re­lease Me – notable for spend­ing 56 weeks in the charts and for be­ing the song that pre­vented The Bea­tles from at­tain­ing their 12th con­sec­u­tive chart­top­per with dou­ble A-side Penny Lane/ Straw­berry Fields For­ever – and the cou­ple went from liv­ing in a tiny flat in Lon­don’s Ham­mer­smith to hav­ing a Bea­tle as their neigh­bour in a lux­u­ri­ous en­clave in Sur­rey. ‘We had a dog named Cheb,’ he says, ‘and he used to go down to John Len­non’s house and steal the bread from his doorstep. John would shout out, “Tell that Humperdinck to get his bloody dog tied up!”’

Elvis was a friend (he even copied En­gel­bert’s side­burns), as was Dean Mar­tin, who used to rent En­gel­bert’s Las Ve­gas home when he was away. ‘I’d come back to the house and find cig­a­rette burns on the fur­ni­ture,’ he says, ‘ but I never said any­thing be­cause I adored the man.’

While En­gel­bert con­tin­ued to en­joy huge world­wide suc­cess, by the late 1970s he had sev­ered ties with Gor­don Mills. He now refers to the move as, ‘the worst busi­ness de­ci­sion I ever made, be­cause I didn’t re­alise I had to give up all my pos­ses­sions in the com­pany and ba­si­cally start from scratch again – his lawyers bamboozled me quite a lot’. It also led to a decades­long feud be­tween En­gel­bert and Tom Jones, who, says En­gel­bert, never re­ally for­gave him for not stay­ing with Mills. ‘But I’m still here, still work­ing. My walls are cov­ered in gold and plat­inum al­bums and maybe it’s be­cause of the amount of al­bums I’ve sold that he’s got a bee in his bon­net about me. Be­cause,’ he says with a grin, ‘I’ve sold dou­ble what he’s sold!’

When Tom Jones’s wife of 59 years, Linda, died of cancer two years ago, did En­gel­bert get in touch? ‘Oh yes, I sent my con­do­lences,’ he says, ‘but I never got a re­cip­ro­ca­tion. But that’s OK. I played my part. And I would shake his hand in a heart­beat. It was so sad when Linda died as she was a lovely girl. She was a very dear friend of my wife too. Tom likes my wife and my fam­ily – he just doesn’t get along with me and I don’t know why be­cause I tried to make up with him many times. I hate hold­ing grudges.’

The froideur be­tween the two men ex­ists de­spite, or per­haps be­cause of, them hav­ing more in com­mon than they care to ac­knowl­edge: those mag­nif­i­cent voices, the longevity of their ca­reers and, of course, their fond­ness for women. Nei­ther has made a se­cret of the fact that they haven’t al­ways been faith­ful in their mar­riages (En­gel­bert once claimed he’d had ‘more pa­ter­nity suits than ca­sual suits’) and as he says now, ‘You think the grass is go­ing to be greener, but you find it’s not. I think it’s be­cause you only live one life and want to try things out, so you do. Yes, I hurt my wife, but my true love has al­ways been where it be­gan.’

He ad­mits that he was never con­fi­dent about his looks. ‘I was very un­sure of my­self when I was young and an ugly lit­tle beg­gar with pro­trud- ing teeth, so I used to lie on them at night to try to straighten them’, and con­cedes he was, ‘flat­tered by all the at­ten­tion I got from women. There have been temp­ta­tions along the way, and if you’re in this busi­ness you’re ex­pected to get that sort of thing hap­pen­ing. But I’m liv­ing a very happy and con­tented life now.’ Does he still get women throw­ing their un­der­wear at him on stage? ‘Some­times. And it was won­der­ful when it used to hap­pen,’ he ad­mits. ‘I used to have truck­loads of them, and af­ter the show I’d give them to mem­o­ra­bilia mu­se­ums.’

His fan base is still con­sid­er­able, al­though it per­haps doesn’t in­clude the vot­ing panel of the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test, who placed him sec­ond last in the 2012 com­pe­ti­tion – some­thing that still slightly ran­kles. ‘Half the per­form­ers were not pro­fes­sional,’ he says, ‘and one act was cook­ing on stage’. The Rus­sian en­try fea­tured six sing­ing grannies who opened their per­for­mance by stick­ing some bread in an oven; they came sec­ond. ‘But I was proud to rep­re­sent my coun­try.’

He still tours, but ad­mits he finds it dif­fi­cult, ‘be­cause I don’t like to leave my wife. As soon as I get to the air­port, I’ll call home and ask, “H ow’s my baby?”, and when I get to the other end I’ll call again. I miss tak­ing her to the shows – she used to come un­til a cou­ple of years ago. But she’ll be back. We still have a home in Le­ices­ter and I’m hop­ing my wife will be more ca­pa­ble of trav­el­ling next year so that we can spend next Christ­mas in Eng­land.’

It’s a fes­tive time that’s al­ways been im­por­tant to En­gel­bert and his lat­est al­bum, Warm­est Christ­mas Wishes, will be his first Yule­tide of­fer­ing in four decades. Fea­tur­ing clas­sics such as Silent Night and White Christ­mas, as well as hits such as Chris Rea’s Driv­ing Home For Christ­mas and his pal Gilbert O’Sul­li­van’s Christ­mas Song, it is proof that En­gel­bert’s hon­eyed vo­cals, like the man him­self, are still go­ing very strong.

In­ter­view over, he shows me into the din­ing room and of­fers me ‘some moon­shine a friend made for me’ – it al­most takes my head off, but has no dis­cernible ef­fect on The Hump, who’s clearly made of sturdy stuff. ‘Oh, I am,’ he says. ‘Peo­ple al­ways ask me when I’m go­ing to re­tire, and I say, “What for?” As long as I have a ca­reer and a fol­low­ing, why should I stop? The best feel­ing I get is when I walk on stage. And,’ he adds, ‘I’ll keep go­ing un­til God calls me.’

‘To straighten my teeth I would lie on them at night’

En­gel­bert and Pa­tri­cia in 1968, with chil­dren Louise and Ja­son

Duet­ting with Tom Jones in 1969

The cou­ple in 2012 and (inset be­low) with son Scott, his wife Jo and their chil­dren

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