Showbiz legend Engelbert Humperdinck on life, the Leicester tragedy and his wife’s battle with Alzheimer’s
Fifty years after his debut, the veteran entertainer is as beloved as ever, touring Europe and America to perform to legions of his ‘Humperdinckers’. Following the release of Warmest Christmas Wishes, his first Christmas album in nearly three decades, the singer talks to Alex Green about faith, family and his wife Patricia’s illness.
Engelbert Humperdinck is driving home for Christmas. At least he will be tomorrow, when he leaves London after four days of gruelling interviews.
The veteran balladeer (82) is promoting his first Christmas album in nearly 30 years. Tomorrow he drives to Leicester for early festivities with his family.
“It’s so accurate, a song like that — the song is so real,” he says of Chris Rea’s classic, chatting happily in a quiet corner on the 15th floor of the St George’s Hotel in central London.
The world-famous crooner has the tanned skin and slim figure of a much younger man. Only his poor hearing gives away his octogenarian status.
His wife Patricia is not with him and will not be travelling to Leicester. At the couple’s home in warm Bel Air, Los Angeles, she is being treated for Alzheimer’s.
Humperdinck, who changed his name from Arnold George Dorsey, recently went public about Patricia’s decade-long battle with the illness, which has seen him search desperately for a cure. He will return to LA to spend Christmas Day with her.
“My family has always been important to me,” he explains. “At Christmas time, we celebrate together, but this year I can’t come home to Leicester because of my wife’s illness. Hopefully, when she is better, we will come and spend Christmas at home.”
His wife’s illness dominates the conversation, but Humperdinck is overwhelmingly optimistic. They met over 50 years ago at a dancehall in Leicester, and married in 1964. Now, she struggles to recognise his face.
The performer, known for his deep Catholic faith, credits prayer for preventing her condition from worsening.
“The reason I went public with her condition is because I do have great faith and I believe that the more people who pray, the more it forms a chain, a rosary of prayer,” he says.
“I think prayer is one of the greatest healers around, more than medication.”
He has been investigating alternative medicine, looking to India and Sri Lanka for cures.
“I don’t think you should rely on (regular) medicine,” he declares. “I think you should rely upon herbal doctors, acupuncture and doctors outside the medical world with different kinds and forms of treatment. I rely upon nature to provide the cure for my wife.”
He claims to have found success in electrical acupuncture — shock treatment he claims can form new stem cells. “I think it’s had a lot to do with the repairing of my wife’s health,” the singer insists.
Still a formidable performer with a voice seemingly unaffected by age, Humperdinck has had to reduce his touring schedule to spend more time with his wife.
“It’s hard to leave her,” he says, “but she’s in reliable hands. She has her carers and I have to work.”
Humperdinck’s sharp sense of humour and gentle swagger remain intact, even after 51 years in showbusiness.
When he turns to discussing his fans, dubbed the ‘Humperdinckers’, he is fiercely defensive. Trolling, he says, has never been a problem.
“You do get a bad apple now and again, but that doesn’t matter. You ignore that,” he adds, before chuckling to himself: “I don’t get the bad apples.”
Humperdinck may not be a household name for those under the age of 30, but he has impacted modern music in extraordinary ways. Damon Albarn tried to recruit him for his Gorillaz project, and a recent album saw him collaborate with Elton John.
Humperdinck keeps one eye on the changing landscape of popular taste.
He says Ariana Grande is a “talent beyond” and his dream duet partner, and happily explains his aspirations to appear The Voice, which he uses as a barometer of popular opinion.
“I like watching those shows because they present music that is of today’s nature,” he explains.
“This is the way I keep in touch with what is going on in the modern world.”
Aside from faith and family, his third great love is football, specifically Leicester City FC.
It is no surprise that the death of club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha touched him.
The Thai billionaire lifted the team to Premier League champions, but he died in a helicopter crash at the grounds earlier this year.
“It’s a tragedy. It was terrible, terrible. He was such a wonderful man,” the singer sighs.
“They came to LA to play in a match over there, and I went over to watch them rehearse, I mean practice. Ah, I’m from showbusiness, you see.
“I met all the team and had the trophy in my hands. Oh yes, it was my pride and joy. It was wonderful.”
For now, Humperdinck plans to focus all his energy on caring for his wife, snatching time to sing for his fans when he can. Despite all this, he feels a deep sense of optimism.
“You can’t sit at home and wait for things to happen,” he insists.
“You have to be here,” he adds, slapping the table top with the palm of his right hand.
“You have to be here talking to people. That’s the way I am. I’m not tired of it. I love doing it and I’m still very flattered that people still want to talk to me.”
Warmest Christmas Wishes is out now