Celebrity MasterChef finalist Jimmy Osmond interviewed ahead of Ipswich Regent and Felixstowe Spa gigs
PUBLISHED: 12:19 09 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:19 09 October 2016
Little Jimmy Osmond is celebrating his 50th year in showbusiness, but it almost came to an end when he suffered a stroke. He told entertainment writer Wayne Savage about valuing every second
We put so much pressure on ourselves, says Jimmy, who’s already dropped his kids off at school when I call him in Utah. Life’s for living and we should cherish every moment, because none of us are going to last forever, he adds.
The singer, celebrating 50 years in showbiz, learnt that the hard way when suffering a minor stroke in 2004 while recording TV show Jimmy Osmond’s American Jukebox.
“I thought it was a massive migraine attack. I couldn’t even see to drive home. I had to open the door to see the lines in the road,” the father-of-four says. His condition had worsened come morning and he was unable to stand. His wife drove him to hospital, where doctors discovered the stroke was the result of a hole in the septal wall of his heart. Her insistence not only saved Jimmy’s life but those of two brothers and some nephews.
“They found it’s hereditary... When you’re born, this flap is supposed to close when you start breathing normally, and it doesn’t in a lot of people. A lot of them go through life and then the next thing they know they’re dead. After I went through that, everybody got checked, but two of my brothers actually had it worse than I did. It’s become a moderately routine surgery but at the time it was pretty invasive.”
Jimmy, who made his TV debut on The Andy Williams Show when he was just three, didn’t care about his career at that moment. The member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could focus only on wanting his wife and kids to be okay and how grateful he was for his upbringing, knowing there was more than just this life.
“It wasn’t how much money I made or how many Twitter people follow me. Kids these days, mine too, just look at their phones non-stop, rather than looking around and enjoying the moment. I’m guilty of it too. You quickly forget, when you’re not in trouble, your dependence on God. In a weird way it was a really nice reality check. ‘Do you have any regrets?’ and I don’t. I’ve been able to know a lot of people and hopefully bring them some happiness. I’ve a great relationship with my wife of 25 years and four beautiful kids that are turning out good, thanks to her.”
Sometimes you need those kind of shockers to remind you to be grateful for what you’ve got.
“This mean monster world we’re all living in, it’s not about me. At the end of the day it’s about how we treat each other; it really does matter... We should all, especially our political people, take a breath and do what’s right for people around us, rather than thinking about ourselves so much.
“In the media, especially in America right now, people are being bullied... Our political people, all they’re doing is just slagging each other off and making it sound okay for everybody else to do the same. It seems everybody has turned up the mean monitor and I think we’ve got to get back to the basics of loving each other. Anyway, I didn’t mean to get that deep, but...”
Family is important. The youngest of nine siblings, he’s helping his 18-year-old son prepare to spend a couple of years on his service mission in Japan.
“It’s an emotional time. I’m proud of him but it takes all I have in me to pack his bags with him. Yesterday I had him on my shoulders and now he goes as a man off to the world to help people. It’s bittersweet because you think if he didn’t have that attitude and wanted to stay home and play video games you’d go ‘wait a minute now’. My daughter did this as well.. It’s hard to let them go; grow up. You like to keep them all under your wing; you can’t.”
He misses them when on tour, though they often join him when they’re done with school.
“Then we play. We sure play hard. We had a nice summer together; now it’s time for daddy to go back to work, I guess,” says Jimmy, the first in his family to get a gold record when he was just five, for My Little Darling, recorded in Japanese.
I’m guessing they now expect him to cook after his success on BBC’s Celebrity MasterChef?
“Everybody thinks I’m a cook; they don’t want me to sing anymore! To have been put under that microscope with that kind of mentoring, over such a short period of time, it was traumatic and fun. I loved every second of it.”
Jimmy admits to getting emotional when you’re decent at something you didn’t expect. There just to promote his tour, he only had a couple of recipes up his sleeve. “I never expected to even get into the semi-finals, let alone runner-up. I’ve made more friends on that show than anything else. My wife is actually a fantastic cook but she’s like ‘ah, you do this and I’ll do this’, so we share it now. Every Sunday we always have family dinner but I usually make the main course and she does all the fancy stuff.
“I can make something out of nothing and my kids love that. I created a dish called tacone. I love ice cream and I love Mexican food, so I put them together. Now my kids constantly ask me for tacone.”
At least on MasterChef he knew what he was eating, unlike I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
“Oh no, you always knew what you were eating; you just didn’t want to eat it – that was the problem on that one. I ate pigeon, possum; witchetty grub, garbage. I actually ate more gross stuff after I came out of the jungle than when I was in it because you do those commentary shows as part of the deal and they make you try stuff.”
His antics on the show - including smuggling contraband into camp inside a teddy bear - was another highlight. Jimmy recalls a lot of his stuff was cut due to his constant singing. His wife calls him the little jukebox because he can’t stop and the show’s producers didn’t want to pay the clearance fees so the contestants wrote their own.
After that people would stop him in the street, asking him to sing Long Haired Lover From Liverpool or how was Teddy? He went on to do Pop Star to Opera Star and Challenge Anneka.
“Now people know I’m not afraid to try anything – although I probably should be.”
Jimmy’s most well known, of course, for Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, which nabbed the Christmas number one spot in 1972, becoming the biggest-selling single of the year after 27 weeks in the charts. It also landed the then nine-year-old in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest person to top the UK charts – a record he still holds.
Jimmy’s spoke often how everybody still loves the song, still the biggest selling Osmond record at close to 2,000,000 copies; he says he didn’t get a dime for it. He nows does rocking version of it with a flaming guitar which people love.
Over the years he’s worked with the likes of Nancy Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and even shared a dressing room with Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton.
“My parents thought it would be cute for me to do a number dressed as Elvis. One night I was sick on stage. The problem was the food was free for performers and I was a precocious kid, ordering orange freezies and grilled cheese sandwiches like they were going out of fashion. I threw up all over the front row. My brothers picked me up and I kept going. But then I saw that Elvis was watching from the lighting box and I was mortified about it. He was great about it. He was so friendly. In the dressing room I’d see his jumpsuits and try on his shoes. He’d say to me ‘All right, little guy’. Those things will never leave me. They’re burnt into my memory.”
He remembers thinking every kid did what he did.
“I had no point of reference. Now I look back at it and the people I knew as uncle so and so or whatever ended up becoming legends, but I knew them just as everyday people who put their pants on one leg at a time like everybody else.”
While most of his friends were in the business, his parents made a conscious effort to get him involved in baseball and little league.
“I had a handful of friends who I still have today, so I felt I had a good childhood. I wouldn’t trade mine for anything, but seeing my kids and all their friends, the carefree attitude and not a lot of pressure, I wouldn’t trade what they have either.
“My dad was an army sergeant, so he demanded a ton of work and that was never fun, but when you actually did a good job you felt it was all worthwhile. We worked really hard but it never was to be famous, it was just to further the career of everyone. We shared this career and I never thought showbusiness would last for me. To still be able to do my own independent projects, as well as work with my brothers, is pretty fulfilling.”
Jimmy laughs when I ask if he has plans to retire.
“I’d go crazy. I asked Andy Williams that very question. He was doing 100 shows a year or whatever at 70-something and I asked him why. He’s got more money than anything, and the art that was in his theatre that was sold before I bought it was worth $80m alone.
“He said ‘Jimmy, I would go golfing every day and I was dying. This is what I do. I’d feel like a concert pianist who’s worked his whole life to be a concert pianist and then my hands were chopped off’. He loved connecting with people, singing his music. He wanted to do it until he died, and he did. That’s the way I feel. I don’t have to be the star of anything but this is what I do, hopefully lifting people a little bit so they can forget their troubles. To me, that’s the ultimate reward.”
Andy Williams played an important part in The Osmonds’ careers. It’s no wonder he features heavily in two tours Jimmy’s bringing this way.
Moon River and Me, his tribute to Williams, is at Ipswich Regent on October 13 and King’s Lynn Corn Exchange October 28. It’s packed with songs like Music To Watch Girls By and memories of being on his show.
December 16 sees Jimmy and brothers Jay and Merrill perform The Andy Williams Christmas Extravaganza at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe.
“You go places you feel you have friends and feel accepted. You guys have allowed me to not just be a guy in a band that sang that song,” laughs Jimmy
Both shows debuted at the Andy Williams Moon River Performing Arts Center in Missouri, which Jimmy bought from Williams’ family in 2014.
He remembers his mum changing his outfits three times on Williams’ show and has fond memories of those times. When you sing a wonderful song so many times, it takes you back to your memories of growing up. These songs remind Jimmy of performing in Las Vegas - and not just with Williams.
“I worked with all kinds of amazing people... Good Morning America gave me an award that said I was the first Elvis impersonator. When I was on stage with Andy I’d always come out like the novelty act guy, like a mascot. When I was with (Frank) Sinatra I’d sing That’s Life with a raincoat and a hat that he actually gave me. I was the first one to get one of those Elvis jumpsuits and sing Hound Dog... Elvis actually helped us get the costumes together for that and all of us ended up having our own jumpsuits, which became our look in the 1970s.”
The Andy Williams’ TV show was iconic, that era’s version of our Sunday Night At The London Palladium. It featured featured weekly comedy skits and major guest stars including Sinatra and Bob Hope. The Osmonds were in it four seasons.
“He surrounded us and himself with the very best people – that’s key. He was always willing to hear what was wrong rather than what was right about a performance. That is really helpful. Even today after a show, I always ask ‘what needs to be improved?’ That’s a really good way to lead your life.”
The Andy Williams Christmas show has been an annual tradition since the 1960s, featuring guest singers and acts. Moon River and Me was only supposed to be five shows but turned into 27.
“It’s the only authorised tribute he or his family have allowed. That was a lot of pressure but it’s really about his music and that’s what he wanted to be remembered for. It’s an evening of cherishing those melodies you don’t hear very much anymore but everybody knows.
“The Williams family has very kindly allowed me to use clips of Andy featuring everyone from Dick Van Dyke to John Wayne and Bobby Darin, you name it. When I start singing You’re just too good to be true you’ll see it being performed by Andy on the video walls. When I do Love Story Andy sings it with me on the big screen. It brings back great memories for thousands of people.”