'Talent shows don't offer instant success, the reality is you have to work your butt off'
Donny Osmond won millions of fans as a teenager with his hit Puppy Love and has reinvented himself over the years to ensure lasting success. He tells Gabrielle Fagan the effect Elvis had on his life and how he's avoided the perils of showbusiness
It feels as though Donny Osmond has been around forever, such is the longevity of his career. "I'm a survivor and I've got the scars to prove it," declares Donny Osmond with feeling, and rightly so; the former teenage heart-throb and singer has had to cope with huge success, career slumps and hard-won comebacks over the years.
By the time he was 30, the heady years - as the first boyband superstar, stealing the show as one of The Osmonds, and with millions of girls swooning over his solo hits - seemed like a long-lost dream as he languished in career wilderness.
"There have been peaks and troughs, as well as many triumphs," admits Osmond, who's also weathered health problems. Three years ago, a dance injury he sustained while competing in, and winning, Dancing With The Stars in 2009, the US version of Strictly, threatened his mobility, and 18-months ago, a problem with his vocal chords left him fearing he'd never sing again.
Currently in the UK performing in The Soundtrack Of My Life tour - the title of his 16th album, which includes a track he's penned called Survivor - the mahogany-tanned, youthful-looking 59-year-old feels amply qualified to offer wise words of warning to today's young wannabes yearning for stardom.
"I've been able to transition from teen idol to older entertainer, which not many people have managed, but it's been tough as well as amazing. Talent shows these days hand people apparent instant success on a silver platter and let them think they're set for nothing, but glamour, fame and fortune," says the performer with a wry smile.
"That's possible, of course, but the most likely reality is working your butt off, still having ups and downs and moments of despair when you feel it's all over, and even being reduced to performing for two people and a dog if you have to. Believe me, I've been there and done that and come out the other side. I never regret those hard times, which were scary, but they're the ones you learn and grow from and shape you. You have to believe in yourself."
Skilful reinvention - and being cast by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber as Joseph in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - as well as his gritty determination ("After selling 100 million records, I wasn't just going to disappear") eventually saved him in the Eighties. Since then, he's doggedly forged enduring success.
It was as a complete shock when his voice apparently started fading. "I put it down to ageing when there were notes I simply couldn't reach," he remembers, but it proved to be a polyp on his vocal chords, which needed surgery. "I truly feared I'd never sing again, but my voice is back to full strength now," he says with clear relief.
Without surgery for his dancing injury - he discovered eventually that a tendon had pulled away from the bone in his hip - he was warned he could be left with a limp and unable to dance again. Audiences at his long-running, sell-out shows in Las Vegas, where he sings and dances alongside his sister Marie, can attest to his full recovery.
Osmond got hooked on the limelight early. Aged five on The Andy Williams Show, the thunderous applause frightened him so much, he ran off stage and was only persuaded back when the crooner explained, "They're all clapping for you."
"I remember thinking then, 'Wow, I have to do this for the rest of my life'."
Constantly performing and touring cost him a normal childhood, but he has no regrets, even though he struggled as a teenager to deal with sometimes harsh criticism.
"Rolling Stone magazine came out with an article which said it was the worst day in rock 'n' roll history the day Donny Osmond was born. I was so young, trying to figure out who I was, and that was hugely hurtful," he reveals.
Notably, he's avoided the hazards of fame that affected his troubled peers, Prince and Michael Jackson, the pair were teen stars together and friends. "I've always been able to compartmentalise my life really," says the father-of-five and grandfather of eight, who's been married to his wife Debbie ("The sweetest girl on the planet") for 38 years.
"As a kid, my father, who was our manager, never let me get above myself. I mow the lawn, put out the trash and play with the grandkids. I protect and treasure all that because I depend on it to stay normal. I think Michael, who I still miss very much, and Prince envied that in a way, as they'd always ask me about details of my home life," says Osmond, who lives in Utah, USA.
He relishes career highlights, including performing at London's Earls Court when he was 14. "I flew over the audience singing Puppy Love with thousands of girls trying to reach me, which you can imagine at that age was pretty cool. I thought, 'Does it get any better than this?'" he says.
"I was 15 when Paul McCartney came to my dressing room with his daughter, Mary and asked for my autograph. Can you believe that? For years, I thought I'd dreamt it, but I checked with him recently and he said it was quite true."
Advice from Elvis Presley, who he met at 14, also helped keep him grounded over the years and resonated particularly when, in his late twenties, he started to sarcastically parody his hit Puppy Love.
"Elvis was a king on stage, but off it was the most humble man, who was also very kind. He once told me, 'If I could do it all over again, I'd get close to my fans and appreciate them more'," he remembers.
"That came back to me with a jolt when, after one of my concerts, this lady stopped me and asked me why I'd made fun of Puppy Love. With hindsight, I replied, probably arrogantly, that, 'It's my song and I can do whatever I like with it'.
She retorted: 'You may have had a hit with it, but it's a big part of my childhood memories and you have no right to mess with those'. That stopped me in my tracks and I realised the song, in fact, belongs to so many people, and I still include it in my concerts."
He has no plans to retire: "Never - show business is my life and performing's in my DNA. I love the challenge of continually progressing my music and style. Some of the words in my Survivor song sum it up: 'I did my very best and now as the seasons pass I've tried to make it last'. I love my life, am having a blast, and don't feel my age. Debbie jokes that she has six boys not five and if I act like a teenager sometimes, she'll say, 'Honey, grow up,' but I tell her, 'Honey, where's the fun in that?'"
Donny Osmond's UK tour starts today. Visit donny.com for details.