Engelbert Humperdinck, English pop singer, chats with Kevin Cooper about his wife’s Alzheimer’s, stopping The Beatles from having their thirteenth number one, his latest mini album Reflections and his forthcoming concert at the London Palladium.

Engelbert Humperdinck is an English pop singer, who when aged ten, moved from India with his family to live in Leicester.

He began his career by playing saxophone around the Clubs and Pubs until 1965, when performing under his real name Arnold Dorsey, he teamed up with Gordon Mills who later became his Manager, and changed his name professionally to Engelbert Humperdinck.

His single, Release Me spent fifty-six weeks in the top fifty when it was released in 1967. It was believed to have sold 85,000 copies a day at the height of its popularity. The single along with The Last Waltz both topped the music charts in 1967 and sold more than a million copies each. Humperdinck has since gone on to sell more than 140 million albums worldwide.

In 2012 he represented the UK in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest at the age of 76, with the song Love Will Set You Free. After performing first, he finished in 25th place out of 26.

He has released 101 albums, including 2017’s The Man I Want To Be, and his 2018 Christmas album, Warmest Christmas Wishes. Last year he released his mini album, Reflections.

Humperdinck has been married to his wife, Patricia, since 1964 and recently he revealed that she has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the last ten years.

Despite living in Southern California he still retains strong ties with Leicestershire and is a keen fan of Leicester City Football Club. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music by the University of Leicester and in 2009 Leicester City Council awarded him an Honorary Freedom of Leicester. In 2009 he was one of the first nine people to be honoured with a plaque on the Leicester Walk of Fame.

Whilst busy preparing for his forthcoming World Tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Engelbert, good morning, how are you today?

Hi Kevin, before we start please call me Enge. I’m as well as can be expected at this moment in time, how are you?

I am very well thank you, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are very welcome. It’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is doing great; my career is as good as it ever was. Having said all of that, at the moment I am a little bit down as I have recently lost my sister. So, as you can imagine my mind is currently in two places. However, I am happy to talk to you Kevin, because as you know, life goes on.

Thank you, that is so true. I would like to start with a question which, no doubt, you have been asked many times before.

Okay let’s go for it (laughter).

When you first started out in the music business, many artists changed their names, as did you. So I would like to ask you, just where did the name Engelbert Humperdinck come from?

(Laughter) Engelbert Humperdinck came from a guy called Gordon Mills. I first met him during the late 50s, and at that time he was in a band called The Viscounts. Gordon and I became very good friends and we eventually shared a flat together in London. Gordon was a songwriter so I would sit for hours helping him to write music. We not only built up a great personal friendship but also a great professional relationship when it came down to writing music. After a while he became my manager, and it was at that point that he said to me “you will never get on in this business with that name” which was, as you know, and still is Arnold George Dorsey, “so let’s change it”. So, Gordon gave me this composer’s name, the man who wrote the famous opera, Hänsel and Gretel.

And it has stood you in good stead ever since.

Yes, it has but I really do wish that we had added an initial in the middle, something like Engelbert G Humperdinck in order to differentiate between the two of us, because even to this day people will come up to me and ask “so, was it really you who wrote the opera Hänsel und Gretel” (laughter). Please, I know that I am a few years older now, but come on, he died in 1921 (laughter).

Now, we really must speak about your forthcoming Reflections Tour, hadn’t we?

(Laughter) yes, we had. Reflections, as you are no doubt aware is my latest mini album and I thought that this tour would be a wonderful way for me to see in 2020. The album is me reflecting on my past because most of my music that made me famous is from my past and people remember me from hearing that music and those songs. In some respects, it is the same as The Beatles. If Paul (McCartney) sings a new song, the audience will still be shouting out for Can’t Buy Me Love and all those hits because that is what they want to hear. They want to hear the songs that made you famous. So that is what I do. However, I do incorporate some new music.

I have to say that I have been playing Reflections for a couple of weeks now and I personally think that it is some of your best work to date. Would you agree with that?

I am so pleased that you are enjoying the album and I thank you for your warmth and honesty. Regarding it being some of my best work to date, you know, I think that I would have to agree with you. I have to say that, in my opinion, there are some great songs on the album. There is a song on it which is called I’m Glad I Danced With You, which I recorded with my nine year old granddaughter, Olivia. Olivia represents my wife because I first danced with my wife when she was seventeen years old and we have been dancing together ever since. My daughter and her husband wrote the song for me and it is their daughter who represents my wife when she sings the lyrics. That song really does go down extremely well with the audiences whenever I perform it on stage. The people love it, so I keep it in the show.

My favourite song on the album is your version of Toby Keith’s composition, Don’t Let The Old Man In which, as I recall, featured in the Clint Eastwood film, The Mule. I think that you have done a marvellous job with the song.

(Laughter) thank you so much for your kind words and just remind me never to get into an argument with you regarding who sang what (laughter). Yes, you are correct in saying that it really is a great song and yes, I actually did catch the song on the tail end of the movie. The lyrics of the song are my sentiments entirely; I personally live by those things, and I most certainly will not allow the old man to come in. I want to keep that young image of myself going for as long as I am able to do so. Let me tell you, I have never had a facelift, my body is still good; it is in reasonable shape and everything still works (laughter).

However, I will own up and admit to you that yes, I dye my hair, and that is one of the reasons why I don’t let the old man in (laughter). Whenever you see grey hair you automatically think of old. So, I simply do not let that happen in my life. Whenever I look in the mirror, I still want to see that guy I once knew many years ago.

After fifty-four years in the music business, are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

To tell you the truth, I really can’t wait to come home and play The London Palladium. That really is the place that started my whole career. I have to say that if it wasn’t for The Palladium, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. It was me performing Release Me on Sunday Night At The London Palladium which made that song a huge hit, and stopped The Beatles from having their thirteenth number one record (laughter). That song went into the Guinness Book Of Records for selling the most records during that particular year. I really can’t wait to play there once again because, for me, the place really does bring back some great memories.

You have mentioned The London Palladium, so I must ask you, why are you playing just the one date here in England?

To be honest with you, I think what the promoters are trying to do is to make sure that the people remember me and make it a very special date. Social Media will take it all around the world, which in turn will make the people say “we want Engelbert back” which is really what I want them to do. I must admit that I haven’t been home for a while, but I do still travel the world. Recently, I performed in six countries in fourteen days (laughter). I performed in Singapore, Malaysia, Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok and Honolulu all in fourteen days. It really was amazing; a great tour. These are the kind of things that I want to be doing now, especially at my time of life. I really do hope that I leave an impression together with a positive memory in people’s minds.

It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it (laughter).

(Laughter) yes, indeed. I love what I do, I really do. Every single day I work on my show; I make changes all the time. If I hear a song and think that it should be in the show, then I will put it back in. If I works, I will keep it in.

With such a huge back catalogue, just how difficult is it for you to put a set list together?

Very, very difficult (laughter). My preparation for 2020 has been very difficult, but preparation is what allows us to work. But being honest with you, preparation this time around really has been quite a chore; trying to put the act together. There are certain songs that remain, which must be in the show. But the act is tried and tested around the world, and I hope that the choice of material that I bring home is going to be the choice of material that the audiences are going to like.

Are there any songs in the show that you think ‘oh no, not that again’?

Not really, no I don’t think so. I think that I recorded songs that I have enjoyed singing over the years, I really do. I have been very fortunate in that respect.

In April 2019 we sadly lost Leslie David Reed OBE, just how good was he?

Les Reed together with Barry Mason are the two people who made me so many hits; songs such as The Last Waltz, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize and a whole host of wonderful songs. They also wrote great songs for (Tom) Jones such as Daughter Of Darkness, Dear Madame and of course Delilah. Les was a very good friend to me, and responsible for a hell of a lot of my big hits for which I am both thankful and grateful to him. I personally will miss Les very much. I keep those kind of songs in my show, simply because they are mainstays. The Last Waltz was, of course, played in every dance hall around the world; it is such an unbelievable song.

I will let you into a secret, on the tour I don’t sing the song; I don’t have to, simply because every member of the audience sings it to me (laughter). That’s when things become like a rock concert, but it’s a ballad concert (laughter).

If I may, let me take you back to September 30th 2014 and the release of your album Engelbert Calling. On the album you dueted with a whole host of artists such as Sir Elton John, Il Divo, Sir Cliff Richard, Willie Nelson and Dionne Warwick to name but a few. Who did you enjoy working with the most?

That’s easy, that would have to be Sir Elton John. For me, that was the coup of the album, to have Elton singing on it. After Elton it would have to be Willie Nelson who I absolutely adore. There are a whole host of my favourite singers on there; Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers, the list is endless. I have been lucky enough to sing with some great performers, people like Cliff (Richard) and I am so happy that he contributed to the album too. It is so wonderful to know that I have been involved with such great names and the stature of these people.

Is there anyone out there who you haven’t already recorded with, but you would like too?

The honest answer to that is, I don’t know. Who knows what 2020 holds for me; I don’t know what I am going to do (laughter). What I do know is that I will be making a new album. What kind of album; I don’t know (laughter). Will it be another duet album, I simply don’t know at this moment in time? It is all up to the people who are currently guiding my career.

You mentioned The Beatles earlier; and the fact that Release Me stopped them getting their thirteenth number one back in 1967. Did they ever comment?

No, they didn’t but I suppose, that was to be expected (laughter). I have since met Paul many times, and he is always very kind to me. Despite what you read in the papers and see on the television, let me tell you, Paul really is one of the good guys. I was always a fan of The Beatles anyway. I love them all and I have to say that Ringo (Starr) really is such a wonderful person. Right at the beginning of our careers, we all used to live near to each other in St George’s Hill, Surrey; all within a half mile radius of each other. It really was unbelievable. I used to see their cars flying by my house, and they all had dark windows so I thought ‘I think I will put dark windows in my car’ (laugher). I thought that they made me look like someone special (laughter).

After spending fifty-four years in the music business I must ask, would you do it all again?

Yes, I would, I most certainly would, but in a more intelligent way. I would try to guide my career and look after my assets, I really do wish that I had had a better education so that I could have done that now but unfortunately, I didn’t have a great education so I couldn’t guide my career and look at my accounts.

If I had to put you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

I would have to say that performing at The Palladium would be one highlight and being able to perform to The Royal Family would be another. I think that having the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame now means that I am surrounded by the people who I have admired, have seen in the movies and have heard their music. For me to be associated with that really is quite a compliment. I am really thrilled with that.

I was recently speaking to John Lydon of The Sex Pistols and he informs me that you and he regularly enjoy a chat and a cigar over a drink together at the weekend, when you take your motorbike out for a spin, is that true?

(Hysterical laughter) we do? Well what can I say? (laughter). What I will say is that I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny what John is telling you (laughter). What I will tell you is that yes, I still do ride my Harley motorcycle at the weekends. Yes, I still do enjoy a pint or sometimes two. Yes, I do enjoy the odd cigar or two. But having said all of that I am more comfortable being in my chair at home watching the television (laughter). I am so busy travelling all around the world that whenever I do get the chance to put my feet up with a glass of wine, I really do enjoy that (laughter). But as I said, I couldn’t possibly comment further (laughter).

If you weren’t a singer, what do you think that you would be doing?

(Laughter) that is a great question and the simple answer is I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. I am very fond of medicines so I may have got involved in that sort of thing. I may well have taken a degree and tried to become a doctor or something like that.

In May 2012 you released your autobiography, Engelbert – What’s In A Name?: My Autobiography. Was that something that you felt that you wanted to do or was it something that you felt you had to do?

I honestly believed that it was something that I had to do, because as you know, all sorts of people bring out all sorts of biographies which don’t have much truth to them. Therefore I thought that I had better tell them my story first before someone else ruined my reputation (laughter). And for your information I intend to write another book sometime soon. I want to put out another book, because there are still a lot of things that I didn’t say in the first one which I would like to say in the second.

In 2012 you represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest which was held in Baku, Azerbaijan with the song Love Will Set You Free. Was it an enjoyable experience?

I personally enjoyed it, and for me the most enjoyable part of the whole event was being able to represent my country. However, I would advise people in the future not to go on first. The whole event is so long that by the time that they get to the end, most people have forgotten the beginning. Nobody ever wants to be the first page in a book.

How did it feel when you found out that you had had a rose named after you?

(Laughter) you know about that? Well let me tell you that it felt very good. I also have a star in the sky named after me now (laughter). Whatever next?

Out of all of the awards that you have been given over the years, which has given you the greatest pleasure?

I personally think that being on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is really the biggest award that I have ever been given. As I said earlier, it is with people who I admired as a child, people like Clark Gable, James Stewart, John Wayne, people like that, who have some great notoriety, who have made many movies and my star is out there in a very prominent position. It is directly outside the Roosevelt Hotel and let me tell you, that is such a very good position to be in because people keep going in and out of the hotel and every time they do, they see my name. So it really is quite good (laughter).

What piece of advice would you give to a youngster starting out in the music business today?

Wow, that really is a tough question. I would tell them to make sure that their management is honest. The reason why I say that is that you can make a lot of money in this business, but you can also lose a hell of a lot if you are not handled correctly. Find yourself someone with an honest heart.

What was the first record that you bought?

The very first record that I bought was for my darling wife and it was Nat King Cole singing When I Fall In Love. From that moment on I became a big fan of Nat King Cole. I listened to a lot of his records and learnt how to mould a lyric, and just how to make a song my own.

Who did you first see performing live?

That would have been Ray Charles at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester quickly followed by Johnny Ray. I was a young man with my own dreams. I was still dreaming at that time hoping that one day I would be on that stage, and I have now been on that stage many times since.

What was the last song or piece of music that mad you cry?

That would be a song that I recorded for my last album The Man I Want To Be and it is called Just Like The First Time. That song involves my wife, and as you know, my wife has Alzheimer’s disease and we are all trying to get her better. We are trying and I have to say that currently things are working, thank god. It is a very hard job and things are moving slowly, but we intend to beat this dreadful disease. She is starting to speak again, and please, let me take this opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers.

On that note Enge, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been absolutely delightful.

Thank you so much Kevin, it’s been nice speaking to you and I am looking forward to seeing you at The Palladium. You take care and bye for now.