He’s been in showbusiness for 50 years and his passion for performing is still as strong. The irrepressible Jimmy Osmond talks Elvis, Michael Jackson and why Andy Williams is special to him ahead of his tribute show to the crooner at The Apex
You celebrated your 50th anniversary in show business in 2016 with the hugely successful show A Tribute to Andy Williams – Moon River & Me and you are bringing it back to the UK in 2018. Andy Williams obviously represents someone very special in your life?
I began my performing career aged three singing with Andy Williams on his television series. My brothers were already on the show, so I started working with them when I was very young. I was the little guy who’d run on and be goofy. We ended up as regulars on the show and singing on records like Aquarius.
What was your role on the show?
In those early days, I was the novelty guy, like a mascot. I was the kid brother that everyone liked to slag off. I was the obnoxious boy in the corner. Even in our cartoon TV series, I was the bad apple. But after a lot of therapy, I’ve come to terms with it!
Why was Andy Williams’ TV show so iconic?
It was that era’s version of a Variety Show. In the UK you had Sunday Night At The London Palladium and in the US we had The Andy Williams’ Show, which featured weekly comedy skits and one recurring comedy sketch involving Andy’s encounters with ‘The Cookie Bear’. The show also featured major guest stars, including Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. It was a brilliant production. We were in it for four seasons. Variety does seem to be making a comeback which is fantastic as there is so much talent out there.
Do you enjoy performing A Tribute To Andy Williams – Moon River & Me?
I love it. It’s not about me – it’s about Andy Williams and his music. I perform songs like Music To Watch Girls By, Happy Heart, Speak Softly Love and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and, of course, Moon River. 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. And when I do Love Story, Andy sings it with me on the big screen. It brings back great memories for thousands of people.
What else does the show contain?
I do a section of Osmonds’ material – Love Me For a Reason, Crazy Horses and Let Me In. I also do a comedy section.
Tell us about your special guest on this show, Charlie Green?
I first saw Charlie on Britain’s Got Talent. He is amazing and is popular with Andy Williams’ fans but also has a young fan base as well. It would be hard to find anyone who would represent Andy’s legacy so well. I am very excited about Charlie. Andy’s brothers saw him perform in Branson, Missouri at the Andy Williams Theatre and fell in love with him. Andy’s manager said: “He is the closest thing to Andy I have ever seen” – now that is an endorsement if ever I heard one.
Andy was a terrific mentor to you over the years. Can you talk about the many different ways in which he influenced you?
He surrounded us and himself with the very best people – that’s key. Also, 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.
How do you feel when you sing Andy’s most memorable songs?
I’ve worked my whole life in showbiz and I have such fond memories. When you sing a wonderful song so many times, it takes you back to your memories of growing up. These songs remind me of performing in Las Vegas not just with Andy, but also with Frank Sinatra and Elvis.
What do you remember about working with Elvis?
We shared a dressing room at the Las Vegas Hilton. So my parents thought it would be cute for me to do a number dressed as Elvis. But 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.
How did Elvis react?
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.
You run operations at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. How did that come about?
Andy asked me to keep his legacy alive. His family weren’t interested in continuing the theatre – it’s a very hard job. At first I said no, but then I produced a Christmas show there and it went very well. His family said: “If you don’t take it over, we’ll have to sell it.” So I bought it!
You have also released an album too, Jimmy Osmond: Moon River & Me – A Tribute To Andy Williams. Can you tell me about it.
I was very keen to do it in the way that he would have wanted. It features 18 tracks in total and includes many classics – Charade, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Happy Heart, Born Free, Almost There, and the title track among others.
You have always had a special relationship with British audiences. Can you put this into words?
I’m so surprised the fans have stuck with us. But I’m delighted by their loyalty, especially in this country. For me it’s special in the UK because it is not just about me being an Osmond. It’s about me being me. I’ve done reality TV shows in the UK and that has put me out there. It’s just for fun and not to sell anything. The British public like that. They like people who can laugh at themselves. And there’s a lot to laugh at if you look at my history!
What do you think now of your record-breaking hit, Long Haired Lover from Liverpool?
Everybody still loves that song. It’s still the biggest selling Osmond record. It sold close to two million copies, although I didn’t get a dime for it! I now do a rocking version of it with a flaming guitar. People love that because it’s me having fun with it. Everyone over the age of 20 knows all the words.
When you look back over your marvellous career, is it possible to pick out the highlights?
I have performed for The Queen twice. On one occasion, I had to sing that ‘unmentionable song’. I can remember it clearly as I was standing in the line after the show next to Roger Moore and Liza Minnelli and as The Queen approached me I said ‘Hello, Mrs Queen’. I think she saw the funny side! Much later on in life we had just lost our mother and were performing once again at the Royal Variety Show – this time in Scotland. Coming down the line, The Queen stopped in front of me and remembered my mom, who had previously presented her with a copy of The Book of Mormon. I was really touched – what an amazing memory and so much compassion. One of those moments you never forget. Another highlight was Las Vegas with Elvis – just fabulous.
You are a big fan of Panto and have starred in Cinderella, Peter Pan and most recently Aladdin – what is it that you enjoy about this British tradition?
I really get British Panto as I grew up as a vaudevillian on television and that’s basically what it is, and I love the interaction with the audience especially being a baddie. This year I’m playing Abanazar in Aladdin.
You wrote and illustrated a successful semi-autobiographical children’s picture book, Awesome Possum Family Band. What prompted that?
The problem for today’s kids is a lack of self-esteem. I’m very conscious about that with my own children. So when I got asked to write a book I said, ‘I’m going to write it about my life, but I’ll try to make it positive’. It was about a family of possums. All of them were accomplished, but the littlest one didn’t get it and was trying to find his place. I made all of the possums wear flares like The Osmonds! I’m the ninth child and the book was about possum number nine. You may be one of many, but you can still make a difference. In the end, we all have value. Teachers have since used it to motivate children. To write an autobiography would be boring, but that way I could make my story more fun and interesting.
You are also a very talented caricature artist. How did you start doing that?
When I was young, we were on tour in the UK. Back in those crazy days, the crowds of fans were so huge, we couldn’t even stay in a hotel – we had to stay in a private house. We had police around us all the time to protect us from the crowds. I remember being taken off the tour and rushed on to a plane with a policeman. I was sitting waiting for everyone else and the bobby drew half a character. He said to me: “You do the other half”. I did it and he said: “Hey, you’re quite good at this!” I was just eight, but he inspired me.
You were tremendous on I’m a Celebrity. . . Get Me Out of Here! People loved you, particularly when you smuggled in contraband inside a teddy bear. Did you have a good time on the show?
I loved it. Although they cut out a lot of the stuff that I did. I can’t help it, but I sing all the time. My wife calls me the little jukebox. I just can’t stop! The producers of I’m a Celebrity didn’t want to pay the clearance fees, so in the jungle we wrote our own songs.
What effect did I’m A Celebrity have on your career in the UK?
That show was great. Before, people wanted me to sing Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. Afterwards, I had guys coming out of pubs saying, “How’s Teddy?” It created an incredible new relationship with the audience. People were having a laugh with me and all having fun together. After that, I did Pop Star to Opera Star, Challenge Anneka and in 2016 I did Celebrity Masterchef and made it to the finals. Now people know I’m not afraid to try anything – although I probably should be!
You are clearly an enthusiastic chef. What do you like about cooking?
I love cooking. When I was a little boy, Donny, Marie and I would travel together. They would pretend they had a hotel called Donmarie. The only way I could play along was by opening Jimmy’s Restaurant. I had a padlock on the fridge and if the family wouldn’t pay me to make them food, I’d throw a tantrum! I had my first restaurant when I was 13, and I still own one. Now I cater at Andy’s Theatre.
You are clearly a very close family off stage, as well as on. What’s your secret?
Because we were raised together, we learned to get over things very quickly. We still have scars, but we really love each other. We had great parents who loved each other and gave us a great code of life. We always put family first. Some people think we’re crazy, but I believe in that philosophy. How we treat each other really matters.
Why do you think The Osmonds are still so popular?
We’re still around because we haven’t burnt any bridges. We’ve always tried to leave a little bit on the table. It’s such a greedy business, but if you leave a bit on the table, you will be asked back. It’s not about amassing loads of money. It’s about the experience. That’s why I love live events. You are giving that unique experience to people.
What do you do to relax?
I like to fly remote-control planes in Utah. I put cameras on them and photograph the landscape. I land them, but I crash them more than anything else! Cars are my other weakness. I used to have a lot of cars when I was single. I had a DeLorean, a Ferrari and a Porsche.
I know when you were younger, you were close to Michael Jackson. What are your memories of him?
As kids, we were in the Churchill Hotel in London together. There were 5,000 girls outside, so we couldn’t get out. So we ended up playing soccer in the corridor together! Later on, I promoted Smooth Criminal and raised money for Bad. He was a lovely guy, but I lost touch with him later.
Having enjoyed huge success over more than 50 years in showbiz, you remain very well balanced and happy. How have you managed that?
After this many years in the business, we could have sat back and just celebrated what we’d done. But the way I was raised was always to look for improvements. My dad was an Army sergeant and after every show he made us examine what was wrong with it. We were all hard on ourselves. When Long Haired Lover from Liverpool was number one, I said to him: “Dad, isn’t that cool?” But he just gave me a broom and told me to clean the yard! But I’m very grateful for that. That approach saved us because it taught us not to believe our own hype. We could have gone off the rails, but that attitude helped us to keep our feet on the ground. We don’t put our gold records on the walls. It wasn’t ever about that. It wasn’t about accolades. It was about learning the craft. I’ve never taken myself seriously. That’s my secret to being happy!
Jimmy Osmond’s tribute to Andy Williams, Moon River & Me, is at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on February 7, 2018. Tickets from theapex.co.uk or call 01284 758000