"Penny puts her trust in me. What I've done in the past is history"
At 70, Rod Stewart has no intentions of slowing down. He talks about his marriage, his wild past and why his kids rule the roost
Rod Stewart is wrapped in tartan and sitting on a plush sofa in a London hotel room. He's struggling to find the words to describe the strange feeling that always overwhelms him after coming off stage and walking away from a stadium of screaming fans.
"You feel like you have just made love to 80,000 people and then you are in the hotel room, all on your own. I can't sleep. It's an indescribable feeling," he says.
It's Monday morning in The Langham hotel and, on the eve of the release of his latest album, Another Country, I'm sitting with the flashiest rock god in town. Usually known for his jubilant form, these solitary experiences have always left Rod feeling uneasy. Is it loneliness, I ask?
"No. I tell you what it is. To have that amount of admiration from so many people and then to go back to your hotel room and have a shower and go to bed - which sometimes you have to do, because you have to move on the next day."
I see the chance to tiptoe into Rod's infamous life of debauchery on the road. His tales of touring life are legendary. He regularly got his drivers to whisk one girl to the departures lounge of local airports, depending on where he was in the world, before picking up another woman from arrivals.
For one of his conquests, he organised a proposal written in the sky, while she was on a date with another man. That is, before he frantically aborted the plan midway through, when he bumped into another beauty in the space of a few hours - who went on to become his wife.
Married since 2007 to one of Britain's leggiest beauties, Penny Lancaster, her 44 to his 70 years has finally done for his bad-boy reputation. He has two boys with the model - Alastair, who turns 10 this month, and four-year-old Aiden - in addition to daughter Sarah Streeter (52), who was raised by adoptive parents, daughter Kimberly (36) and son Sean (35) with first wife, Alana Hamilton, daughter Ruby (28) with Texan model Kelly Emberg and daughter Renee (23) and son Liam (20) with second wife, Rachel Hunter.
But his 2013 autobiography, Rod, makes an eye-watering read for any woman hoping to tame his wild streak. Does Penny now have a hard time trusting him?
"Oh no, she trusts me. It's my history and you can't change history. That's the end of it. She knew that going in. I didn't hide anything about myself. She knew what she was marrying.
"She had plenty of time to think about it, because we had a courtship of six or seven years. We couldn't be happier and that's all because we communicated."
After all these years of roller coaster marriages, affairs and heartache - which at one stage left him in therapy - what's the one thing he has learned about love?
He screeches with a pseudo-camp voice: "Shuuut up sisterrrr!" He teases like a girl gossiping about boys at a pyjama party: "Oh, I don't know. It is unpredictable, that's for sure. I still don't understand it."
For a good relationship, he now knows "communication is very important" and there's another key insight into women that many a man has learned the hard way.
When it comes to women, he says, "don't have discussions after you've had a glass of wine and before you're supposed to go to bed". But his next principle comes as a surprise: "Loyalty goes a long way in my book."
He clocks the bemused reaction.
"I know, I know, it's strange that I should say that ... I know what you're going to say," he says and gives almost an embarrassed chuckle.
In his book, he describes being with Emberg, who was pregnant with his child. He was happy with her, his family loved her, he had fought hard to win her back after she had previously caught him cheating - at one stage, crying on the phone to her assistant - and finally his pleas succeeded.
"Yet, for all that, a little demon was at work in my head, saying, 'don't settle, don't get tied'," he wrote afterwards.
He says he has done a complete turnaround with Penny. So what was it about her that drowned out his inner hobgoblin?
It turns out it's all down to geography.
"Maybe it's because she is British," he offers.
"My [second] marriage was to a New Zealander," he says of another model, Rachel Hunter. "And the one before that was American [Alana Hamilton] and the mother of my other daughter. But there was an immediate connection with Penny because she was British."
Some time ago, Penny raised eyebrows when she claimed men should not cook because "putting the apron on" robs men of their masculinity.
Admitting that her views may be "a bit old-fashioned", she said she believed men should be "the hunter-gatherer, the macho man, looking after the family".
Rod gives another insight into why his marriage works: "Whatever my wife says, I agree with."
Despite all his past philandering, what is most notable about Rod's autobiography is how he takes full responsibility for his actions and the hurt and pain he caused various women along the way. Rod now laments he was the only one losing out.
"I had everything I wanted ... I didn't have love. They were purely physical relationships in those days way back when, which was unsustaining.
"I think most guys would have done what I did. You're a rock singer. That's a great position to be in, to be a singer in a band. You're always going to get the girls.
"Any lead-guitar player will tell you that - the singer always gets the girls."
He wouldn't give any young playboys advice, except to say: "Good luck to them. Go and enjoy yourself. Sow your wild oats."
"Their girlfriends are going to kill you," I smile.
He shrugs. "Just do it. You need to get it out of your system."
Then a sheepish look sweeps across his eyes. "Just, for some of us, it takes a little longer than others."
His biggest fear is ill-health. It makes him paranoid. He is constantly going to the doctor for check-ups, but when it comes to superficialities, he is unfazed by the creeping years.
"You just have to live with it, don't fight it. You know, I am very lucky. I have kept my hair [so famous, it warranted a full chapter in his book] and I have good cheekbones - as me wife keeps telling me - so I feel very lucky. Embrace it, guys.
"Of course, men get a better deal than women, all our lines give us character."
With age - and with the changing shape of the music business - he has earned the ability to be his own man.
"I feel much freer. There is a song on the new album called Batman Superman Spiderman. It is about putting my four-year-old son to bed. I don't think I would have been comfortable writing that song 25 years ago. I would've been embarrassed."
"I was too busy being a rock star. It doesn't go with the image, does it? To write songs about your four-year-old son ..."
"In the old days - when I had my other kids - I was always on tour trying to carve out a living for myself, so sometimes the kids would not see me for months on end.
"But now I have made a few pennies, I make the tours around the kids' holidays. Next May and June is when I am touring again - that's their school holidays, and then, in March, I go back to Las Vegas and they are on holidays, so they will come with me."
Surely, at this age and with an estimated fortune of £111m, a white supercar worth £195,000 in the drive, a lingerie-model wife waiting at home in his 18th-century mansion and a young family to see, he would want to pack it in. But the thought never crosses his mind.
"It's what I do. I don't like this word 'retirement'. I have enough days off to spend with Penny and the kids. Touring keeps me young. I like writing songs and performing. God gave me this career. I am a rock star, I suppose, but I think what I am trying to say is that I was working at it [in the past], but I don't have to work as much at it anymore.
"I tell people when I want to tour, and I tell people when I want to make an album. No one tells me what to do. I have no boss."
It's a long way from serving his time going "up and down freeways, in the back of smoky old vans and smelly hotels".
He says it makes him wonder what it is like for the kids in today's reality TV pop star shows that get so close to success and then get rejected?
"I was watching The Voice the other night, or The X Factor, I don't know which, and a girl collapsed on stage she was so distraught. The psychological damage of that.
"To be on the television one minute and then, boom, gone. You are back home in your mom's bedroom in your council house. It must be devastating.
"When we made it, it was like a slow progression - step by step - preparing you to get to the top if you ever got there. And it wasn't up to anyone else to make that decision. It was up to the public out there. Not four or five judges."
Rod wears his fame lightly. Before I leave, he asks, without prompt, "do you want a picture, darling?" as if it's second nature to him when he meets people. We pose, and when I am leaving, he pulls me in for a kiss on the hand.
Maybe the lesson, then, is to go for an older man, because he has done everything he is going to do and a woman is then guaranteed a man is not going to change, I offer.
He gives a cheeky grin. "Well, I'd hate to think I was that predictable."
- Rod Stewart's new album Another Country is out now. He will play Nowlan Park in Kilkenny on June 25, 2016, as part of his Hits 2016 tour. Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster outlets and online at ticketmaster.ie