The Shy Star Talks To Hello!
Writer: Ian Woodward
Date: 25 November 1989
Why has it taken you seven years to relaunch your career?
It's all to do with other peoples' attitudes towards me. I could have released records with various companies but I would have had no control. It would have been like the old days. So, it's taken seven years to get into a position where I am able to record the way I want to do it, and to get a record released the way I want it released. Seven years may seem an incredibly long time, but if that is how long it takes to get it right, then so be it.
In the meantime, all those millions in back royalties must have helped?
"Well I never entered into the litigation because of the money that had been taken from me. It was really to do with copyrights of songs...but it developed into a money factor, and it ended up being an awful lot of money. But believe me, all I wanted was a percentage interest in my songs - after all, I wrote them yet that was denied me."
So what's been your daily routine during the past seven years?
"I work here, upstairs in the music room. I have a strict nine to four existence, rather like an author who goes into a room and writes 1,000 words a day. I go in and work on ideas and songs. So at the end of the year I find hopefully that I've got enough ideas to make a record. I feel flabbergasted when I hear young songwriters say they wrote 10 songs last week. How can they do that? If it was that simple it would be wonderful, but it isn't. It's a profession that requires time and effort."
The new album is perhaps the most important in your life: people will listen to it to see if you still deliver the goods. Does that scare you?
"No I've been doing this sort of thing since 1967, so a seven year gap is not a big deal for me. All I'm trying to do is to improve my songwriting. But people's expectations of me? It's a dangerous area to get involved in. Every performer wants to be liked by the public, yet I won't lose any sleep if they don't like me."
Many people are going to call this a comeback aren't they?
"Yes, but that'd be applicable only if I'd retired. I never did."
But the public don't know that.
"Well, they'll think I disappeared, like a lot of people disappear, and that suddenly I'm back again. They can think it's a comeback if they want to. It doesn't bother me."
All this resurgence of interest in you must be a great novelty for your daughters who've never seen you perform?
"You're right. If someone stops me and says are you Gilbert O'Sullivan? I say: 'I used to be'. That's my stock answer. We had a recent instance where someone came up to Helen-Marie and said: 'Is your daddy Gilbert O'Sullivan?' and she said: 'He used to be!'."
What does your past pop career mean to the children?
"They don't know much about it, simply because I've never told them. Their nephews and cousins will say: 'Did you know your daddy was once a singer?' and they'll come asking me if it's true. We have a video for the new album, which they've seen. But it's a funny video, with Eric Sykes and the kids love it, but that's all they've seen or heard of my work."
Your mother seems to have been a strict disciplinarian when you were young - are you with your children?
"Yes, very much so. My mother smacked me from one end of the room to the other and it didn't do me any harm. It taught me respect for her. She did it till I was about 15. I resented it, but as time goes by I realise she did it for my own good. I apply to Tara and Helen-Marie the same disciplinary methods my mother used, even though Aase thinks I'm too strict."
What has it been like for Aase, having you around the house for seven years?
"Well, it's affected her in as much as she's missed all the going out: receptions and promotions. She quite enjoyed those. I don't miss them at all. But we always had a very low profile socially. She married somebody like that, so she knew what she was getting into. It can't be easy being married to somebody who spends so much time at home and doesn't want to go out. When I was single and lived in a London bed-sit I never invited people to come round because I didn't want to upset the balance in the room. I've always preferred my own company. But, by the second token, I often wish I'd get a call from someone to say, 'Let's go and have a drink,' like friends do. I don't have any friends like that, only business associates."
Do you wish you were more outgoing?
"Yes, of course, because it would go hand-in-glove with what Aase would like. She's an outgoing person. It's more natural for her to be with people than to be stuck at home."
you perhaps a chauvinist at heart Gilbert?
"Oh yes, always have been - I don't think you lose that. I married a woman and asked her to stay at home and look after the children. I'm old-fashioned in that I want to be the breadwinner."
How did Aase take to that?
"I don't think she minded. On stage I do a song called A Woman's Place Is In The Home and I get the audience to join in and it's a lot of fun. I don't know why women like Germaine Greer should be offended by that. It sounds to me like a fair comment."
What do you remember about meeting Aase for the first time?
"She worked for the flight I was on, going to America. She introduced herself. I really liked her and I thought no more about it. I went off and had the fun I was having for a long time. Our love for each other was a gradual thing."
Would you say that the 17 years you've known Aase have been the best years of your life?
"It's a difficult question. I would say that I wouldn't change a thing. Getting married was perfect for me, and having children was then most wonderful experience. So I'm very grateful for the relationship I have with Aase and the children, because it gives me the stability to lead an independent musical life. Without that sort of backbone I couldn't devote as much time to my job as I want, and she supports me fully, she doesn't get involved at all in what I do because she's not allowed to. The wonderful thing about Aase is that she's such a good barometer for things I do in my private life that are a bit silly. I'm a very shy person, so when I go out and hide she'll come to the rescue."
You don't sound as though you're the easiest of people to live with - true?
"True! I'm extremely difficult to live with, I realise that. the kind of existence I lead in the musical area means I totally shut everybody out. But come four o'clock and I 'close shop' and then it's a normal family life, taking the kids for a walk, going on the bicycle, we have our couple of hours in the evening and, for Aase's sake, we get out on a Sunday. Me, I'd stay home seven days a week, but you can't be like that all the time. Friday is my cook day: I cook the lunch and the dinner."
What do you consider are the simple pleasures in life these days?
"Tea at five o'clock is religiously adhered to. I'd like to swim more, for health reasons, but I do 51 press-ups every day. We have a snooker table in the ballroom, but I don't play snooker, Kevin plays it all the time."
Why have you never learned to drive, despite having a fleet of cars outside?
"For two reasons. One, because it doesn't interest me. Two, because when I was 20 and was coming into the business, everybody around me kept saying: 'You've got to learn to drive now - everybody drives.' So out of sheer cussedness, I decided not to."
Where do you go from here?
"Well in the New Year I'll be touring the world to promote the new album: Italy, France and the Benelux countries in January, Australia in February and North America in March. It's my first tour in seven years. Exciting times are ahead. I can only go forward."
So you're happy about your future?
"Yes, I'm quietly confident. The last seven years have been a sort of wilderness. The dream for me'd be to be the most successful performer and the most private. I just want to be the simple old me. That's why you won't find my portrait on the album...the music's the thing."