Seal: Marriage is a flawed concept, and it simply doesn't work
Seal is embracing single life as a sober, gluten-free vegan. As he prepares to tour, Craig McLean hears about his reinvention
It's a cold, bright Saturday afternoon in Vienna, where Seal has been flown in from LA to perform a lucrative private concert at a palace. The UK singer has just released his 10th album. Standards is a collection of covers of Great American songbook numbers. Hammering home the Christmas gifting vibes is a new single, a "duet" with Frank Sinatra on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. But he won't be playing that.
"They just want Seal tonight - the greatest hits," the singer smiles. This means a setlist based round such Nineties classics as Killer, Crazy and Kiss From a Rose.
The man born Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel in west London is dressed in shades of grey: battered boots, designer combat trousers and a vintage Yoji Yamamoto overcoat, which he keeps on for the duration of our conversation. He's colour-coordinated - his nail polish is charcoal.
"Grey's the theme," he murmurs. "I haven't worn nail polish for a while but I wanted to get a pedicure. If you've got ugly bloke feet, that's one way around it."
At 54, Seal is at the age where touch-ups are part of the game. Doubly so if this father of four is back in the public eye in the wake of his divorce from supermodel-turned-TV presenter Heidi Klum. So Seal is also pursuing a "practically vegan" and gluten-free diet. He's off the booze, too.
"I haven't drunk for coming on five years," he states, a length of time that almost corresponds with the period since he and Klum split. "I was never a big drinker … Every time the ex-wife was pregnant she'd stop drinking, and I'd happily not drink anything the four times that happened. So no brownie points or anything," he beams. "Cigarettes, now they were hard to give up, God!"
He insists he's never been to rehab but admits hankering after the odd glass of plonk, "because it's not really drinking, is it? It's cultural". That's a line that would have had him laughed out of Vegas by the Rat Pack dipsomaniacs he's gamely channelling on Standards.
Ask which of his selection of songs on the album means most to him and the reply is immediate: Smile, the deathless ballad with music by Charlie Chaplin and words ("smile though your heart is aching …") sung by Nat 'King' Cole.
"No matter who you are or where you are, that song and its lyrics will resonate with you at some point. It's the happiest, saddest song in the world."
Happy sadness or sad happiness: it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that Seal's world of late has been all about those emotions. He was 40 when he first saw Klum in the flesh in London in September 2003, at GQ's annual awards bash.
"She had this amazing dress on, this black, almost see-through dress, and this huge smile," he told me on a previous encounter. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, whoever goes out with that girl is one lucky guy …'"
Three weeks later they bumped into each other at New York's Mercer Hotel. She invited him for pizza, they clicked, they got engaged, they got married. Simple as. Except it wasn't - when they first met, Klum had just discovered she was pregnant by ex-boyfriend Flavio Briatore, the Formula 1 tycoon. Her daughter Leni was born in May 2004.
The couple had three children of their own - Henry, (12), Johan, (11), and daughter Lou, (8) (Seal also adopted Leni) - and lived a high-flying LA lifestyle.
Then, in January 2012, after almost seven years of marriage, the seemingly golden couple announced their split. At first it appeared amicable. But when it emerged that September that Klum was seemingly in a relationship with her bodyguard, Seal was incensed.
"While I didn't expect anything better from him, I would have thought Heidi would have shown a little more class and at least waited until we separated first before deciding to fornicate with the help," he was quoted as saying.
The inference was clear. So much so that Seal's people quickly issued a follow-up statement: "Seal would like to clarify that he was not implying his wife was cheating while they were together, but he was merely pointing out that their separation and divorce were not final and they are still legally married."
Perhaps having learned his lesson, today Seal won't be drawn on the specifics of their split. He does reveal, however, that, if it wasn't for the kids, this expat Londoner of three decades' standing would, post-separation, have returned to the UK post-hast: "I can tell you that straight off."
Still, it seems clear that things between the exes are civil. In August he was a guest on America's Got Talent, on which his ex-wife is a judge, and the pair performed a skit together. "Whatever makes the kids happy … I mean, it's functional," Seal shrugs. "It is what it is."
He is similarly clear in his thoughts on the institution of matrimony. "Would I get married again?" he muses. "Well, it's a flawed concept. It simply does not work.
"Marriage is a contract. And like every other contract, it needs to be amended and updated. 'Do you promise to love, worship and obey, whatever, till death do us part?'" he splutters. "It's utterly ridiculous to expect someone to promise to do that."
Early next year Seal will be hitting the road in Europe, touring Standards with an orchestra. He also reveals, jokingly (I think), that he has another project on the burner.
"It's a show called Cooking With Seal - a YouTube channel which involves me cooking this same dish: teriyaki noodles with fried tuna. It's student food," he acknowledges with a grin.
Sounds great. And it sounds like he has time to make it happen - the millionaire pop star is currently unattached.
"Single life for me, mate. Hence my show. Cooking with Seal - a show for everyone - with a core demographic of embittered bachelors!"
And Seal's off again, laughing, clapping and slapping a delighted thigh, happy with his solo lot. Ol' Blue Eyes, we might imagine, would approve.
Standards and Santa Claus is Coming to Town are out now. Seal's UK tour starts on February 10 and he will play Dublin's Olympia Theatre on February 25, 2018. Visit seal.com for details