Jimmy Osmond on his 'crazy childhood', the time a bomb threat meant he'd to wear a panic button around his neck and the embarrassing on-stage incident that Elvis helped him laugh about
Ahead of shows in Belfast and Londonderry, the Seventies teen idol talks to Lorraine Wylie about the pressures of growing up in the spotlight and his philosophy for a happy life now
It's been over 50 years since 'Little Jimmy Osmond' made his debut on the Andy Williams show, an American programme, similar to Britain's Got Talent. Back then, he was a chubby-cheeked cherub who at just three years old had one major asset - he was cute. His family's singing act was already a favourite on the show but the addition of baby Jimmy added the 'aaah' factor that audiences love.
Now 55, the cherubic look is long gone and his style is more that of the middle-aged, affable dad. Unfortunately, however, despite the extra inches, the moniker of Little Jimmy title is proving harder to shake. As is the desire to be on stage. Taking time out from his busy schedule to talk about this current tour A Tribute to Andy Williams - Moon River and Me, it quickly becomes clear that while the passing of the years may have brought a lot of changes, the desire to entertain is as strong as ever.
"It's a fantastic show," he says in his trademark lazy drawl. "I guess I'd describe it as an eclectic mix of music and nostalgic footage.
"The Williams family kindly allowed me to use a lot of footage and, of course, I sing many of the big numbers like You're Just Too Good To Be True. There's also a lot of our own stuff so it's sure to bring back many memories. This is a tribute to Andy's life and music. I want to keep his legacy alive and I think he'd be pleased. I'm really excited as my daughter Sophia will be with me on this tour, she's 24 and looks just like her mother, thank goodness!"
Legendary crooner Williams, who passed away in 2012, obviously made a big impression on young Jimmy?
"Yeah," he agrees, before continuing softly: "He gave us our big break but Andy was more than a mentor, he was my buddy. On the show he always demanded perfection, but me and Andy had a good relationship.
"As I got older, we became really close friends and he was keen that I take over the Andy Williams Performing Arts Centre, which I was happy to do."
Jimmy's older siblings - Alan, Wayne, Merill, Jay, Donny and Marie - enjoyed teen adulation and global fame in the early Seventies but it was five-year-old Jimmy who received the first gold disc.
"Oh yeah that was for a song called My Little Darling, I sang it in Japanese," he laughs. "I remember I had to learn it phonetically and it turned out to be a hit, can you believe it?"
He was nine when his hit Long Haired Lover from Liverpool earned him pole position in the charts.
It also secured him a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest performer to have a number one single in the UK charts. However, recent evidence suggests that the boy who sang Long Haired lover from Liverpool might actually have some Irish blood in his veins.
"Yeah, apparently we do have some Irish relatives in our history," he says. "We got one of those genealogists, you know those guys who research your ancestry? Well, it turns out there is an Irish connection. There's also a link to Wales and Scotland. Although I suppose if you went back far enough, we'd all end up related.
"But it's very exciting as I love Northern Ireland. You guys are so cool, you really appreciate music and I'm so looking forward to coming over there."
A natural storyteller, Jimmy loves talking about the good times.
However, there is one anecdote that he finds a tad embarrassing.
Ignoring the maxim that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, I ask him about the time he threw up on some audience members.
"Oh no, ever since Donny put that in his book, I get asked about it," he jokes. "It happened a long time ago when we were at the International Hotel in Vegas. Someone thought it might be funny if I got up on stage and did an impersonation of Frank Sinatra. Well, backstage, all the food is free you know and performers can eat as much as they want so, naturally, I got tucked in. I really went for it.
"Anyway when I got on stage, I was feeling kind of strange. I tried to keep going but when I opened my mouth, it all came out, right over the audience in the front row! Boy was I embarrassed. My dad was watching and I was a little nervous about what he'd say but. Elvis saw it too and he thought it hilarious, he couldn't stop laughing. So it turned out alright."
At the height of their fame, the boys were often overwhelmed by attention from besotted fans. In 1974, however, they faced a more sinister threat when a revolutionary group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army threatened to bomb Osmonds' concerts. All siblings had to have Secret Service Security Protection and Jimmy had to wear a panic button round his neck. Afterwards, he described the incident as: "Kind of alarming. As a kid you feel like you did something wrong, almost. All these people trying to hurt or get to you or your siblings."
The threat passed but Osmond-mania continued and bodyguards became a way of life. Nowadays Jimmy adopts a more pragmatic attitude.
"I never really worried about having to have bodyguards with me everywhere we went, it was just part of the territory. But I love it now, we are still quite cautious but I love meeting people after the shows. It's a much better experience for me nowadays."
Growing up in the public eye must have left its mark but I wondered whether his childhood has influenced his own parenting style.
"I did have a crazy childhood. We were constantly in the spotlight. I didn't even go to regular school although I did have a tutor. My dad was a military man, so we had a strict upbringing," he says.
"My mum was a school teacher and with nine kids, they had to be firm. So yes my childhood might seem kind of weird to outsiders but I didn't know any different. It was just my life. Now I have four children and I have to admit, I do take a different approach. I'm a pretty laid-back dad, I love being with them.
"I tend to leave the discipline to my wife but, you know, if I do have to go after them, I can do it."
Over the years, Osmond has taken part in a number of projects. In 2005, he signed up for I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!. More recently, in 2016, he made it to the final rounds in MasterChef.
"Oh that was fun," he says about MasterChef. "I really didn't expect to get so far but I had a great time. I like doing different things. This year I'm playing Captain Hook in the Peter Pan pantomime. I've always loved theatre."
When he isn't touring, how does he relax?
"Relax?" he laughs, as though he's never heard the word. "I'm not sure I know the meaning of it. When I do get time, I love just being with the family. I've got a beautiful wife and four great kids so just closing the door on everything and being able to chill out at home with them is what I love best.
"I used to play golf but I don't nowadays. I'm actually waiting on surgery on my arm so I can't play, at least that's my excuse!"
Does he get to visit the rest of the Osmond brood?
"Well, Donny is my neighbour and his kids hang out with ours so I see him a lot. Marie is living in Las Vegas so we don't get to meet up so much. We do all try to get together sometimes. I mean, I love my family and we're always there for each other but, you know how it is, you grow up and become a separate unit, that's just life."
If he could go back and give Little Jimmy some advice what would it be?
"I wish I would've believed in myself a little bit more," he says.
Does this nugget of wisdom help him today?
"Life is too short, so nowadays, I try to take fear out of the equation and replace it with faith and just go for it. Nothing should stop us from pursuing our dreams."
In an industry where many have perished on the rocks of substance abuse or scandal, Jimmy credits his Mormon faith and parental guidance for helping him avoid the pitfalls. So is there any temptation he can't resist?
"Hot chocolate," he laughs.
Moon River and Me starring Jimmy Osmond is at the Ulster Hall in Belfast this Thursday, tickets, tel 028 90334 455, and at the Millennium Forum, Derry, on Sunday, tickets, tel: 028 7126 4455