They don’t make them like Rod Stewart anymore. Fifty-four years after an idle bit of harmonica-playing at Twickenham Station led to his first professional hire, through decades of chart success, wild days, wilder outfits and plenty of women, he saunters into the gym outpost of his Essex mansion complex looking in excellent health, from the spikes of his famous hair down to his swanky brown trainers. He’s just completed his regular workout: a gym circuit, 10 lengths in his indoor swimming pool, then a dip in his ice bath – his new favourite instalment.
“It’s changed my life,” he enthuses. “All my injuries, my dodgy knees from playing football all my life, it’s all gone. They’re expensive, but even if you have a dustbin, fill it up with ice and water, get into it so you’re waist-high, and wow, it’s the best thing.”
It’s endearing the DIY dustbin solution has even occurred to him. He’s worth £180 million (€201m) according to the UK’s Sunday Times Rich List, but once the son of a sweet shop owner from Scotland, always the son of a sweet shop owner from Scotland.
As Stewart appreciates, he’s led a charmed life. Regardless of rising from humble beginnings, not many could step from The Jeff Beck Group to The Faces to a solo career selling 200 million records without breaking gait. Nor could many date the unholy trinity of Playboy models, former Miss Worlds and Bond girls, and be admired (along with longtime friend and Faces bandmate Ronnie Wood) by plenty of other ladies including fellow icon Janis Joplin.
“She definitely wanted to have it off with one of us,” he recalls of the dalliance. “But she wasn’t mine or Woody’s type – we liked them a little slimmer.”
Now 73, he lives a settled existence in this home with his third wife Penny Lancaster and their two young sons. But while in The Faces, Stewart embodied the rock’n’roll lifestyle: the high-profile romances, the world tours, partying to excess and even earning a ban from the Holiday Inn chain (which prompted the band to check in to their hotels as Fleetwood Mac instead).
I ask him how he looks back on his wild days, and he’s aghast.
“I’m not in the pipe and slipper club yet, you know. I can still go mad. I’m going up to Glasgow tonight to watch Celtic, I’ll have a few bevvies and a shout and all of that. But The Faces and The Who were the original smasher-uppers of hotels,” he says with some pride.
The Faces – called The Small Faces before he and Wood changed the average height of the band – brought to the world enduring classics such as Stay with Meand Ooh La La when they weren’t misbehaving. But it all went a little wayward after Wood left to join The Rolling Stones, and Stewart’s first solo album set him on a different path (“There’s some fabulous tracks on that album, considering the title is An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, and the cover of the record is an old man chasing a child,” Stewart says of his debut). Eventually, The Faces split in 1975.
“We’d taken it as far as we could, with Ronnie Lane being such a gypsy, Woody being poached by the Stones - Mick [Jagger] said he’d never nick Woody, yeah right - and me wanting to do a solo album,” he says. “I don’t think we could have got much further. The original members of the band [Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones] always wanted it to be a band. So did me and Woody, but our careers were blossoming.”
So began his solo career proper, one that’s as much about the signature hairstyle as it is the blondes on his arm, as it is his impressively flamboyant wardrobe – much of which is found in the attic of his Los Angeles home.
“I’ve still got it all – it would fill up this room easily,” he says, gesturing to a gym floor that’s larger than my flat. “But my kids used to use a lot of it. They’d go up there, sort out all the old fashioned bell-bottomed Adidas tracksuits and stage leopard skins, all that stuff. I can’t fit into some of it anymore, it’s too thin. But usually everything comes back in fashion. Fashion comes and goes but style stays forever, as they say.”
The partying, well, that continued. The best accounts are found in his 2012 autobiography Rod, where he documents the salacious use of booze and drugs. “If I hadn’t considered the drinking/shagging/carrying-on to be at least part of my terms of employment – and if I hadn’t done my best to hold up my end as nobly as possible in those areas – I would have felt I was letting down the union,” he wrote.
It reflected in the company he kept, among them, the late, great footballer George Best.
“I knew George very well. There’s great pictures of me and him and Willie Morgan, who used to play for Manchester United,” he says, turning a little more serious. “When he’d come over to the States we’d kick a ball together, have a drink together. Every time I was with George, I was sort of awe-inspired, like I am with footballers. He loved life, but he loved the drinking side even more, and obviously that’s what eventually killed him.”
Fortunately for Stewart, he managed to not fall too deep into the downward spiral, thanks to his football obsession, he explains.
“I never smoked in my life, I dabbled a little bit, but when I was living in California and even going through my worst period – between 1979 and 1980 when I was doing a bit of that [he taps the bottom of nose with his forefinger] – it was football that kept me on a level line, because I had to get up in the morning. We had 9.30am kick-offs and it was an hour’s drive away, so you couldn’t have hangovers. That kept me on the straight and narrow. I always wanted to keep myself fit, as you can see. I didn’t buy all this stuff just to impress you,” he grins.
Along with the football, other consistencies have journeyed through the decades with Stewart, like his friendship with Wood: a rock’n’roll bromance of the ages.
Has he ever visited Wood’s Co Wicklow home, I wonder?
“I don’t think he’s there anymore, he’s here in the UK,” he says. “I don’t know where he pays his taxes, but I know he’s got a house in the country here, and one in town [London, presumably] and another in Barcelona.
“I keep in touch with him when I can, and when we meet up it’s just like 1972 again. Nothing changes. We both go back into that mad sense of humour we’ve both got.
“I sent him a picture of me the other day, sunbathing somewhere in America. I had a piece of wood about that long, that wide, can you imagine it?” he chuckles, gesturing to a piece of wood around six inches long and three inches wide. “It was a sunny day and I put it along my nose, then took a snap captioning it: sunblock. You’d have to see the picture. He thought it was amazing! Sunblock.” (With eight children to his name, he’s allowed the odd dad joke.)
When it comes to constants, there’s also his musical output that’s bothered the top of the charts across six decades. While Stewart’s adapted in genre, his unmistakable gravel-grilled voice marries moments of pop fromage with tunes that still hold today, like Maggie May, You Wear It Well and Downtown Train. Then there’s the disarmingly emotive tracks that single out Stewart as one of this generation’s finest vocalists; like Angel, the anti-homophobic The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II), and Handbags and Gladrags – the latter of which gave The Stereophonics their biggest Irish hit and provided a suitably melancholy theme tune for The Office.
For those who associate Stewart simply with sharp suits and leggy women, it’s worth remembering that Every Picture Tells a Story managed the impressive feat of knocking John Lennon’s Imagine off the top of the album charts, and I Don’t Want to Talk About It / First Cut Is the Deepest kept The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen off number one on the singles charts.
More recently, he refreshed old standards with his Great American Songbookseries, renewing his momentum. And now he’s finding the right balance between growing old gracefully and disgracefully.
“I can’t write songs like Hot Legs, Stay With Me, Do You Think I’m Sexy and Tonight’s the Night anymore,” he says, with the self-awareness that’s underpinned his career. “Those songs were written in my twenties and thirties and I’m not that age any more. I want to write more. . . I don’t want to say important songs, because those are important songs too, but I want to write songs on a deeper level.”
Enter Blood Red Roses, his 30th album, and one which shows the breadth of Stewart as we know him. It starts off the warming melody of Look in Her Eyes, followed by the thigh-slapper of a tune Hole in My Heart, with less-than-serious lyrics like: “I’ve been isolated/Undomesticated/I can’t even seem to boil an egg.”
Elsewhere, it’s more solemn, for example Didn’t I was written in response to the opioid crisis in the States. It’s the lead track of the album; its lyrics are taped to the makeshift rehearsal area in the corner of the gym, so he can learn them ahead of his performance on the Graham Norton Show the following week.
Then there’s his cover of Grace by Seán And Frank O’Meara, which he first heard at a Celtic cup final in Glasgow. It’s a poignant track which reflects on the bond between Joseph Mary Plunkett and Grace Gifford as they married in Kilmainham Gaol, hours before Plunkett’s execution by firing squad.
There’s a video on YouTube of Stewart playing Grace for the first time in Las Vegas, with the full explanation beforehand. Think what you want about him, there’s some chutzpah in pausing the party vibe of a Vegas show to introduce this sombre point in Irish history.
“I played it in Madison Square Garden in New York too, about three months ago,” he says. “I explained the uprising and the English occupancy – I don’t say British, I say English – and I said that this was a rebellion to get the English out of their country. They just wanted freedom.
“On the screens, we showed Grace and Plunkett, the prison, and the lyrics, so everyone got it. There was dead silence in the stadium, then the applause afterwards! It’s captured everyone’s imagination.”
After he decided he wanted to cover the song, he wanted to understand the Easter Rising. “So I went to Dublin and took a tour around Kilmainham Gaol. Have you been there?” he asks. I nod.
“Jesus. The inhumanity to man. I mean, those were supposed to be civilised days. The tour guide explained the prisoners got some straw, just a bucket to shit and piss in, no blankets, and the weather would just come right into the cell. Extraordinary cruelty.”
We can imagine there won’t be a dry eye in the house when he plays Grace in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork next year.
“I know, right? I’m going to cry. My backing singers will cry. There’s a few songs I don’t want to sing every night because they’re so passionate – one is Grace, another is I’d Rather Go Blind. I purposely leave them out of the set for three nights, so that when we do them, they’re fresh. But I think when we do the British tour next year, Grace will be in every night. I wanted it to be the first single on the album. I’m so proud of it, and I love it so much.”
He’s only still announcing the dates, but it’s notable that the Cork show takes place after the Brexit deadline. Does he think it will have an effect on world tours from UK-based artists like himself?
“I don’t think so. I’m of the opinion that there should be a second referendum,” he says. “I think the public have been misled. They’ve been lied to plus London wanted to stay in, Northern Ireland wanted to stay in, Scotland wanted to stay in. And it’s turned out to be a total mess. We can’t break away and there’s going to be stalemate.
“Will it affect the music industry? I don’t think anything ever does. Take the last recession in 2008 – it didn’t affect the industry at all, and I was touring then. But I think it will affect every other industry.”
If Brexit won’t stop Stewart in his tracks I wonder if, like his good friend Elton John, he might stop touring of his own volition?
“No, never,” he says without a second’s thought. “And a farewell tour wouldn’t be 300 shows, that’s for sure. That’s his decision, but it did make me laugh. I sent him a text saying, “What, again, dear?”
Never mind the age-defying benefits of an ice bath, it’s this sparky energy that proves he’s not ready to retire just yet.
‘Blood Red Roses’ is out now. Rod Stewart plays Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork on May 25th, 2019. Tickets are on sale now.
Even as a flash lad, Rod Stewart had a flairfor bittersweet reflection. Now in his autumn years, his voice still as golden as his hair, he's carved a niche as a reformed roue, warning young turks away from the rocks of temptation. A bit rich, you might think, but strangely engaging.
Didn't I is a heartfelt parental plea to a child tangled up in drugs, while Look In Her Eyes preaches caution to aspiring ladykillers in the era of #MeToo.
Meanwhile, the music covers his many incarnations, from acoustic troubador (Julia) to cheesy disco king (Give Me Love) and Motown revivalist (Rest Of My Life).
There's even a sea shanty, proffering the tantalising version of Stewart aboard a 19th century whaling schooner.
Only a feiasty version of Bob Dylan's Rollin' And Tumblin', however, hints at the lawless spirit of The Faces.
Blood Red Roses is solid, but it could use more of that kind of fire
Sir Rod Stewart, still damp from the shower, sits under a tree in the grounds of his Essex mansion, next to his floodlit five-a-side pitch and within cooing distance of his blood-red Ferrari. Life is good for the 73-year-old: a new album, another tour, an imminent trip to Glasgow for a night of football, food and fine wine.
As he sips his afternoon tea, our conversation naturally turns to sex. Despite not having played the field for a long time, Stewart will forever be known as one of rock’s consummate ladies’ men. As he once put it: “There was a period in my life where it was a bit ‘one in, one out’.”
Stewart, who first found fame in the Seventies with R&B group The Faces, is now a septuagenarian father of eight children by four women, including two sons aged seven and 12 with his wife Penny Lancaster. In his heyday, he tells me, “It wasn’t difficult for us in The Faces to have women about. But I can’t remember ever pushing myself on someone. I used to enjoy the chase… the hunt… the romance of it all… and then,” he grins in his endlessly matey throaty rasp, “the shag.”
We’ve been discussing the opening track on Blood Red Roses, Stewart’s rollicking new album – his 30th. Called Look In Her Eyes, it sees this former “a-------” (his word) offering cautionary advice to men coming of age in the #MeToo era, “the younger generation of blokes queuing up outside the club”. Does he think it’s more difficult to be a young man today?
“Well, there are no written rules or regulations, it’s just common decency,” he begins. “That’s what Look In Her Eyes is all about. They have one bevy and try get it on straight away. It just doesn’t work like that.
“Yeah, I imagine it may be difficult for guys now, but it’s hard for me to comment on that one. I know that my two sons, who are wonderfully heterosexual, do enjoy the company of women a little bit more than they do men now.” (Presumably he’s referring to his eldest boys Sean, 38 and Liam, 24, rather than the youngsters Alastair and Aiden. But who knows?) “And my daughters have male friends they don’t have sex with,” Stewart ploughs on, “and my sons have female friends they don’t have sex with. Never happened in my day, oh-ho no!” He chuckles lasciviously. “Oh never never never… If it was a girl, it was… shaggable.”
Here Stewart sounds like the wonderfully heterosexual love child of Harry H Corbett and/or Sid James. As such he can come across as a charming relic of a bygone era, unapologetic about enjoying the good times. He’s upfront and up for it, too, ready to acknowledge past misdeeds (mainly a fondness for, shall we say, blonde-hopping) as readily as the triumphs. He’s a cheerful open book, which is as infectious as it is disarming. It’s a beautiful early autumn day in this luxe corner of London’s commuter belt, and the house is busy. An employee is setting up a microphone and speaker in the capacious gym, which is festooned with 50 years’ worth of Celtic memorabilia.
Team Rod are finessing this weekend’s travel to Bucharest, for another long-range warm-up concert ahead of a typically busy 2019 of arena and stadium shows, not to mention another run of his on/off Las Vegas residency. Stewart and his 12-piece band – “Six gorgeous women – three beautiful blondes – they’re all fabulous musicians. But they are gorgeous, too. And six guys” – will perform in front of some 80,000 Romanians. Stewart decides they should fly the day before because “we lose three hours” on the flight, which isn’t good for the voice on a show day.
Fresh from one of his thrice-weekly workouts (“I’m somewhat obsessed”), he wears black velvet slippers with silver piping, thin black jeans and a flouncy white shirt. It’s open to the tanned sternum, displaying a range of glittering medallions and necklaces, one spelling out the word “Celtic”. The damp hair, if not quite at peak cockatoo, is almost there. Cockatiel, let’s say.
Stewart occasionally takes his boys on tour, but they’re now back at school and subject to dad’s rules.
“Do your boys watch [sic] Fortnite?” he asks me of the computer game scourge of the Western world. “Oh my God! Headphones on, shouting, terrible! We’ve now decided we’re gonna cut all communications off, cut the Wi-Fi at nine o’clock. We’ve got to, otherwise I feel like I’m losing my sons.
“But I make sure I get ’em out here every night, even in winter, there’s snow on the pitch, I make ’em clear it off round the penalty area. Get ’em out every night, we’ve got the floodlights.”
Are they impressed by his fame?
“Yeah, yeah, they are. Aiden, one time I was away, I was speaking to him on the phone. ‘You OK, son?’ ‘Yeah, dad, fine.’ ‘Can I talk to mum?’ ‘Yeah, OK… MUM! ROD STEWART’S ON THE PHONE!’ Brilliant,” he grins with a clap of his hands.
Rod Stewart has sold over 200 million records and is worth £160 million. His last tour was the second highest grossing of 2017, just after Bruce Springsteen’s. Stephen Hawking named his version of Have I Told You Lately as his favourite song of all time. You could say he’s earned the right to be difficult, or guarded. Yet he radiates a boyish enthusiasm, and is full of couldn’t-give-a-monkey’s candour and bonhomie.
Everyone in his orbit gets a gleeful ribbing: his sons, himself, his peers. Has he, for example, apologised yet to his apparently peeved old pal Elton John, with whom he’s been playfully jousting since the Seventies? Stewart called his recently launched goodbye tour “dishonest”, saying it “stinks of selling tickets”.
“OK, let me throw it right back at you,” he replies. “What was your first thought?”
Well, more than 300 shows over two years – it might be the longest farewell in music history…
“Yeah! And he hasn’t actually said it’s a farewell yet! He said: ‘Well, I might still do the odd show here and there…’ But, no, he’s really got the hump with me. ’Cause when he did announce it, I sent him a text: ‘What, again dear?’ And I got nothing back! Tumbleweed!” Stewart cackles. “Penny says I’ve got to phone him up. I will. I will get round to it.
“He’s got two kids so I can understand why he wants to pack it in,” Stewart continues. “’Cause he’s always worked harder than me. Wow, does he work hard. Really does. But he only sings for 30 minutes,” he says with another playful poke at the singer he calls Sharon (and who calls him Phyllis in return).
Stewart keeps up his own stamina up with clean living. He’s never smoked anything in his life, he says, “but I’ve done cocaine. We all know that. The difference is, in the old days, the cocaine was amazing.”
Today he eats healthily “most of the time. All I’ve had to today is cornflakes, because I’ve been so busy. But I like fasting. Not the whole day, ’cause I’m gonna have dinner tonight, but it won’t be a heavy dinner.
“But I do like a drink. That is my downfall. I drink three glasses of wine per day, every day. Not big ones, only little tiny ones. But I cannot have a decent meal and have a glass of water. I just can’t do it, mate.”
His routine is to have two glasses of white, then one red. But the key to his good health is no gluten, which means no beer. “Trust me: get rid of the beer, and start eating gluten-free bread,” he advises. “F---, it don’t half make a difference to that bloated feeling. Are you married? Tell the missus to get gluten-free bread just for you.”
Filing a mental note to make my other half customise the weekly shop (and have my dinner on the table when I get back from Essex), I ask Stewart about his recent clear-out of antiques from his house. Well, of some of his antiques from one of his four houses (here, south of France, Beverly Hills and Florida, “down the road from Donald Trump”). The auction raised £90,000 for charity, more than double the estimate, and this self-diagnosed “hoarder” says none of it was hard to part with. What, not even the frankly hideous “gold painted spelter figure” of a banjo player that sold for £2,900?
“Oh that? I’ve had that since the late Seventies. F--- knows where I got that from. Are you kidding, I can’t remember! I’ve got three houses full of antiques.”
And there’s plenty of good stuff left. Stewart collects everything from Roman busts and model trains to Regency furniture, and once said that he’d “give anything” to work at Sotheby’s. His favourite way to unwind is to read auction catalogues in bed. Does he have a good eye for the inanimate as well as the animate?
“I think I have. I’ve been collecting paintings since the early Seventies. I’ve always collected Pre-Raphaelite stuff, and it’s gone up and up and up in price. But I don’t collect it for that reason. I just adore it. I put it on the walls, look at it and go: ‘That painting – that’s what I’ve worked for.’”
And with that, Rod Stewart jumps out of his chair. He wants to show me a video on his laptop: footage of his hand-built model railway set, which he completed in the loft of his Beverly Hills home last year. It only took him 23 years. “That was a big part of my life. That’s probably why I’ve returned to songwriting, the more I think of it,” he says, looking at train set. “There’s a big void where that used to be.”
Rod Stewart’s Blood Red Roses is released next week
Rod Stewart will release the 30th album, Blood Red Roses, of his five-decade career on Friday (Sept. 28) and even the 73-year-old singer can’t quite believe it himself.
“Amazing huh? Absolutely amazing,” says the double Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (the second time for his work with the Faces).
“I think it’s the love of the process. It’s the love of the music. It’s still with me as strong as it was when I first started out. It’s even stronger now because I wasn’t a songwriter when I first set out. Now I can write songs and it just opens up a whole wonderful world. But you don’t have to be a young person to write songs because they come straight from me heart and soul.”
We caught up with Stewart down the line from his Essex home recently.
The new album’s title track is misleading isn’t it?
It’s a song literally about whaling. The Blood Red Roses, there’s a reason for the title. It was an old, old, old, folk song. And that part of the song I’ve attributed to a chap called Ewan MacColl. He was a wonderful folk singer in the ‘60s. In fact, it was his daughter (Kirsty) who got killed in a boat crash. She was in The Pogues. But what the Blood Red Roses are is when you harpoon the whale and the blood comes out of the spout, it forms the shape of a rose.
The album is really varied in terms of themes and genres. Was that always the plan?
I can sing anything, more or less. I can’t sing classical. So that allows me to do whatever I want. It wasn’t intentional. And the songs are not intentional. I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Alright, right, well I’m going to write a song about giving advice to parents on looking out for the signals of their kids being into drugs.’ I had a track that came from the co-producer Kevin (Savigar), I got a rough vocal on it, the first thing I sang was (starts singing), ‘Didn’t I try to tell ya, this stuff is going to kill ya, whoa, didn’t I?’ So that was it. The song was born.
Keith Richards once said, ‘We don’t write the songs. We receive them and we transmit them.’ Do you agree?
He’s absolutely right. That’s beautiful. The way I write songs, is I sit down, and I don’t write a song. I write down titles, and then if that doesn’t work, whatever comes into my head.
Have you spoken to your Faces cohort Ronnie Wood lately?
No, I haven’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks. I sent him a picture of me on the beach with a lump of wood on my head. I said, ‘Look, Ron, I’m still using sunblock!’ We have that sort of humour. It’s the key to life — laughter — given this world we live in.
Do you still feel Elton John’s farewell tour won’t be his last?
I did criticize the tour as being a bit money grabbing, but maybe that was a little harsh. I did that TV show in New York (Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen) where they always get you drunk. You drink vodka martinis before you go on. Even (my opening act) Cyndi (Lauper) had to have one. Bloody Andy Cohen got me drunk and I said foolish words! Makes for great TV, though.
So have you changed your mind?
Let him do whatever he wants. It’s nice because he’ll be able to see his kids a lot more and I’m sure that’s a reason. What I do is I tour when my kids are on holiday, so they can come with me if they want. My eldest son, Sean (37), he comes out with me on tour. They’re all welcome to come out with me. But the two youngest (Alistair, 12 and Aiden, 7), I try and give them as much time as I can and work my tours around their holidays.
Is the new song Farewell a goodbye to someone?
It’s about a dear friend of mine — Ewan Dawson, he lived in Toronto for a long time — that I more or less grew up with through my teen years into my 20s. I knew him all the way through the 1990’s, then we lost contact with each other. But I knew him when I was not famous, had no money, and was just enjoying life and we enjoyed life together. It’s almost like a love song really to another man although he’s passed on now.
Rod interviewed on RTE RADIO 1
Rod Stewart looked ready to spill out of his stylish mules as he prepared to rock Germany on Tuesday.
Yet despite the overhanging heels, the 73-year-old performer appeared as easy and stylish as ever as he prepared to shake, rattle and roll 17,000 fans at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin.
Incredibly, Rod the Mod is celebrating 50 years since he signed the first contract that put him on the road to enduring stardom.
Greeting the fans: Rod Stewart recognized fans and well-wishers that gathered outside the Berlin arena where he played to a full house on Tuesday
The mules appeared to be designer and pricey. Why he was wearing a size too small is anyone's guess.
And it echoes what Kanye West did just a week ago with his too-small slides that he said were inspired by the Japanese style of wearing slides.
Rod looked as always dapper in a light checked jacket over a white linen shirt and artfully ripped light khaki jeans and brown belt.
Overhang: The star appeared to be slipping out of his stylish mules
Looking stylish: The raspy-voiced performer accessorized lightly with a silver bracelet and the protective crucifix he has worn for decades
As always he greeted fans and well-wishers gathered outside the arena with a shout and a cheery wave.
He bantered with the enthusiastic audience and even tried out a few jokes in German, even if his London accent did not improve the punchlines.
The lifelong soccer fan could not resist teasing the home crowd about being knocked out of the World Cup in the first rounds.
Reaching out: Rod tours the United States and Canada in October to promote his 30th studio album Blood Red Roses
He described it as shocking, and then grinned cheekily.
On stage Rod showed no signs of slowing down.
The vintage rocker recently teased his friend Sir Elton John after he announced he was on a 300-date 'farewell tour.'
Rod said he emailed his old frenemy saying, 'What, again?'
Not slowing down. The vintage rocker recently teased his friend Sir Elton John after he announced he was on a 300-date 'farewell tour'
The father-of-eight is promoting his 30th studio album, Blood Red Roses, which is full of his own self-reflective and poignant songs as well as a handful of soulful standards that he has made his own.
Blood Red Roses is released on September 28.
Sir Rod Stewart has had a "good old-fashioned clear out" and sold his unwanted furniture and ornaments for just under £90,000.
The singer, who has a mansion in Sheering, near Harlow, auctioned off a number of items at Sworders' Fine Art in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex.
A pair of Victorian leather armchairs were the most popular items, with the hammer coming down at £7,600.
A spokesman for Sworders said the sales room had been "jam-packed".
The auction had originally been expected to raise up to £40,000.
Sir Rod, 73, who was knighted in 2016, is famous for such hits as Maggie May, Sailing and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?
These Victorian leather armchairs were the most popular auction item with the pair selling for £7,600
There were just under 40 lots in the collection with estimates ranging from £60 to £3,000. All of the items listed were sold.
Among those were a pair of gilt bronze-mounted side tables, which were snapped up for £6,200, a pair of late 19th Century pier mirrors, which sold for almost double the guide price at £5,000, and a set of four gilt bronze two-branch wall lights, which went under the hammer at £2,800.
Sworders also had a limited number of signed auction catalogues the proceeds of which went to children's charity.
This teak leopard print lounge chair was snapped up for £3,800
A cold painted spelter figure of a banjo player sold for £2,900 - way over the £700 estimate
Emma McCann, of Sworders, said that most bidders came from the UK but there had also been a lot of interest from India, Greece and Germany.
She added: "There were 37 lots from Rod and all sold at well over the estimate.
"We certainly noticed a spike in attendance - we had approximately three times the number of online registered bidders and the sales room was jam-packed."
Sir Rod Stewart stands in a private room at the back of that fake pub attached to the Langham hotel in central London. Short and magnificent, he is slim, wiry and dressed all in white (white linen shirt, white trousers, the letters “RS” emblazoned onto the side of unblemished white trainers made especially for him by “a bloke in Argentina, comes up to Vegas”). He is twinkly and tanned. His hair is … Well. You know exactly what his hair is. You know how he talks, too: throaty-gravelly American-tinged cockney, like his singing voice. He is, basically, 73 years old and unmistakably Rod Stewart.
“All right, Holly,” he says, and shakes my hand.
“So this is Polly,” says one of the two PRs (the record company one; there’s also a personal one).
“Nice frock, Holly,” says Stewart. He reaches out to touch the sleeve on my sundress, which is dark navy and printed with yellow roses.
“This. This fabric,” he says to the PRs.
“But with red roses. In a shirt. For the tour.” Stewart is in the throes of promoting his new album, Blood Red Roses, apparently magpie-ing ideas for its full creative manifestation wherever he finds them.
It’s from Ganni, I say.
“Garny? What’s that, Holly?”
G-A-N-N-I. It’s Swedish, I say. I oversee the PRs as they google “Ganni” on their phones.
“Thanks, Polly,” they say. “We’ll see you later, Polly.” They leave the room.
Stewart and I are alone. He guides me towards the seating area, three armchairs ranged round a coffee table.
“Where d’ya wanna sit, Holly?” he asks.
Rod Stewart can call me anything he likes. Turns out, I am some sort of instafan, bedazzled from the moment I walk into the room and stand in Stewart’s presence. How could you not be? How could you not be a little blown away by this decades-enduring explosion of working-class charisma and woman-slaying swagger? The peacock presentation; the tartan and the spandex; the cockney razzle dazzle spliced with fierce, proud declarations of Scottish heritage. The football, the flash, the humble roots and decadent spoils. I Don’t Wanna Talk About It. Maggie May. Handbags and Gladrags. Sailing. You Wear it Well(“Madame Onassis got nothing on you …”). The love it or hate it, commercial triumph of Da Ya Think I’m Sexy. All that glamour, all that glee, all that talent, all that wit, compressed into just one bloke, who is sitting directly in front of me, asking after my dress.
Holly is close enough. Holly will do.
Meanwhile, “I’ve just come off holiday last night,” Stewart is saying, looking warily at the walls. “A boat, going round Sicily. The room’s moving. Because I’ve been on a boat.”
Blood Red Roses is Stewart’s 30th studio album: 13 tracks inspired by Motown, folk and R’n’B, and how about some reggae? It is sad. It is funny. It is kind. It is deft, the work of someone who’s done this before – a lot – yet isn’t remotely bored by it. Stewart’s voice holds up, still exquisitely throaty, still as capable of poleaxing you with heartbreak as it is stirring you up with dark, driving lust.
Its lyrics are peppered with autobiography and indiscretion – always Stewart’s schtick, a Taylor Swift for his time. “As a songwriter, I think I’m OK,” he says. “I’m black and white. A reporter.” His first solo hit, 1971’s Maggie May, was about losing his virginity to an older woman. Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright), from 1976, features the gasping and moaning of actress Britt Ekland, his girlfriend at the time. You’re In My Heart (1977) is widely assumed to be a tribute to Ekland, from whom Stewart had by then separated. Blood Red Roses’ lyrical preoccupations align with the singer’s age: less grinding lust, more grief and parental love. Didn’t I is about a parent comforting a child who’s relapsed into a drug addiction; it’s addressed to a girl, but Stewart’s son Sean – his eldest boy, child of Stewart’s first wife, model and actress Alana Stewart – has a well-documented history of drug abuse. Farewell is about the death of a good friend.
“Ewan Dawson. He was my best friend all the way through the Sixties. I met him when I was not famous, in a coffee bar in Muswell Hill, north London. I walked in and I thought, ‘He’s got on a pair of Anello & Davide high-heeled boots,’ which the Beatles had just started wearing. And I had a pair on! I thought, ‘Blimey, what a miracle.’ So I walked over to him. I said, ‘I like your boots, mate.’ ‘Yeah, I like yours, too.’ And we became friends. He was terribly well spoken; he was, like, a public schoolboy. He only came from Muswell Hill, but he was from an upper-class family. And we just became the best of mates. We travelled the world together. He was a loveable rascal, he was fashion-conscious and he had the best sense of humour. He died about five years ago. Oh, I can’t write songs like Hot Legs any more. Da Ya Think I’m Sexy. Any of those types of songs. I don’t feel them.
I’m not a tearaway any more.”
Do you miss being a tearaway?
You did all right at it, I guess.
“I did great. I was the tearaway of tearaways. I was the leader of the pack.”
He was born Roderick David Stewart, in January 1945, to Londoner Elsie Gilbart and Scottish builder Robert Stewart, in a house that no longer exists. Coincidentally, it stood a little up the road from the flat in which I now live in Archway, north London.
“Whereabouts?” Stewart asks. “I want to work it out. Down from the hospital?”
Down past the Whittington, past Archway Tube, onto the Holloway Road, just beyond that Overground station …
“Just there, near the bridge the trains go underneath?”
“Cor blimey! I used to go down there when I was a kid.”
He grew up above the newsagent his dad owned and ran once he’d retired from the building trade, the “spoilt” youngest of five. Neither rich nor poor, “fantastically happy”, obsessed by model railways and football. He wanted to be a professional footballer.
“Coming from a footballing family, everybody played: my dad, my granddad, everybody. I had no option. And out of the three brothers, I was the most promising. They’ll probably be pissed off with me saying that; they’re both still around. But yeah, I wanted to play football. I don’t know whether I felt it deeply enough, but I wanted to keep my dad happy … And then the music came along.”
Stewart was 17, a “beatnik, singing on Brighton beach, you know? I would do a very good Bob Dylan impersonation, and Jack Elliott, all the great American folk singers, and people would listen, you know, and they’d ask me to sing songs.”
Did he think: bloody hell, this could make me rich and famous?
“That was the last thing on our minds. Elton. Eric Burdon. Mick Jagger. Any of these people. When we all started out together, we just had this thing inside. You wanted to breathe this music out. Get it out of you.”
OK, but did he think, this could get me girls?
“Girls were always in the back of my mind.”
Is any other British rock star as defined by women – the loving of them, chasing and courting and seducing them in his songs and videos, then leaving them, and sometimes marrying then divorcing them – as Stewart?
I don’t think so. Not Bowie. Not Bryan Ferry. Not even Mick Jagger; not to the same extent. In 2010, Stewart told Piers Morgan he couldn’t remember how many women he’d slept with (“And I’m not proud of that, either”), but the gossip columns and paparazzi photographs hold evidence of Stewart in the company of fantastically beautiful blondes, generally models or actresses, or both, most of whom were considerably taller than Stewart. The model Jenny Rylance in the late Sixties; the model Dee Harrington in the early Seventies; Britt Ekland from 1975-77; Alana Hamilton, whom he married in ’79 and divorced in ’84. Model Kelly Emberg, mother to his third daughter, Ruby. Model Rachel Hunter, whom he married in 1990 and divorced in 2006. Model Penny Lancaster, his third and, one presumes, final wife, whom he married in 2007 and with whom he has two sons, twelve-year-old Alastair and seven-year-old Aiden.
He has eight children in all – four girls and four boys – by four different women. The eldest, Sarah Streeter, was born before Stewart was famous – when he was 17, still a child himself – and subsequently adopted. “She’s in her fifties now. We don’t see much of each other, although we do keep in contact. She calls me Dad, and I call her my daughter, but it’s not quite the same and she knows it. I didn’t take her to school. I didn’t change her nappies. I didn’t do anything with her as a child. But we’re doing our best. That was scary times. I had to tell my mum and dad. My mum wanted to know if I was going to get married, and I said, ‘Well, not really, Mum,’ you know. She’s really old-fashioned. She said, ‘Well, she won’t get married in white, will she?’ I didn’t have a f***ing clue what that meant.”
“I’ve never been clumsy with women, let me put it that way. I’ve always held them in high esteem. But sometimes, when I finished with them … I was a complete coward.”
What’s the worst thing you’ve done to a woman?
“Ha. Could you rephrase that?”
What’s your biggest regret, in terms of past behaviour?
“Not being man enough to face up and say, ‘Darling, it’s finished. It’s all over.’ ”
You’d just stop returning calls?
“I’d disappear. That’s what we did in those days.”
They still do it now. They call it “ghosting”; people just stop responding to text messages.
“How do women handle it?”
“No. If you wanted to get rid of me, for instance?”
I’d tell you.
“To my face?”
Maybe over the phone.
Stewart considers this sensible. “Yeah. You don’t have to meet in person, avoid all the tears …”
But I wouldn’t do it by text. Or fax.
“Phil Collins sent a fax, didn’t he? Ha ha!” (I later discover Collins denies having ended a relationship by fax.) “I’ve never done that,” Stewart says. “I’d just disappear. I broke more hearts than I had mine broken. It took me a long time to grow up in that department.”
This aspect of Stewart’s public identity – the skirt-chasing; the serial modellising; the relentless heartbreaking; the authoring of lyrics such as, “Who’s that knockin’ on my door? It’s gotta be a quarter to four. Is it you again, comin’ round for more? Well, you can love me tonight if you want. But in the morning make sure you’re gone” (Hot Legs, 1977) – seems fantastically at odds with the sexual politics of the moment, with MeToo and Time’sUp, Twitter feminism and everyday sexism. I wonder how Stewart feels about all that. I assume it will seem absurd to him, a bizarre, dishonest denial of the fundamental male-female dynamic.
I am wrong.
I ask him if modern feminism is in conflict with the version of masculinity he represented, and he interrupts me.
“Tell me what I represented?” He sounds almost sharp.
I guess … you are, or have been, something of a … womaniser?
“That’s a horrible word, ‘womaniser’.”
“Yeah! So’s ‘player’. Horrible. Let me put it this way: in my early twenties, going into my thirties, I never offended, as far as I know, any woman in the MeToo way … You know?”
I guess we’d have heard, if you had.
“I was doing what I think a lot of guys would have done in that era, with the money I had earned and the fame. I was not breaking the law, which brings us back to breaking a few hearts, which I sincerely regret. That was immature.”
He liked “playing the game”, he tells me, enjoyed “the chase”, but, “never pushed my luck”.
“Certainly on a few occasions I thought, ‘Well, this is a bit of a pushover.’ A couple of times when they’ve literally come on to me and they’ve been really beautiful … Otherwise, I
love playing the game. The hunt. Taking them out for dinner, impressing them, and pulling up in the Ferrari or whatever it was. I’ve been famous for a long time, so I’ve had all these luxuries. Jump
in the Ferrari, turn round, open the door, you know? I love romance. But as far as MeToo? That movement is long overdue. Of course it is.”
Stewart and I meet in mid-July, in the week after David Davis and Boris Johnson resign from the government over Brexit negotiations. It’s also when Donald Trump visits the UK, dining with Theresa May while the British public take to the streets: all rage and placards and Trump baby balloons that aren’t as big as everyone first thought.
I wonder how British politics seem to Stewart, who has based himself in Los Angeles since the late Seventies. As a young man, in the Sixties, Stewart was politically active. He joined demos, left-wing campaigns, the Aldermaston marches: “A real little red,” he said in a past interview. “Your actual Jack Kerouac. Barnet right down to here. Ban the bomb. You name it, we ban it. Anti-apartheid. Save cats. Save dogs. Shag in tents. What a life. What a life.”
Shagging in tents?
“CND was all about women.”
Does he have any genuine political passion?
“I do feel political. I just … prefer to keep it all to myself. I mean, I think Trump is … unfortunately, or … fortunately … going to be with us for a while, because he’s turned the States around. Industry’s doing well. The stock market’s up. But there’s something about him that people don’t like. I don’t think he’s going to be impeached, unless they can come up with some collusion with the Russians. I usually watch CNN, which is very anti-Trump, then I’ll watch Fox to see what the other side of the story is, and try to get a balance.”
Stewart seems uncharacteristically evasive where Trump is concerned. I assume he’s worried he’ll say something that will alienate American fans, prejudice sales of the new album one way or another. Again, I’m wrong.
“I know the guy.”
“So it’s hard.”
“I lived just down the road from him in Florida.”
Which puts you in an awkward position.
“Yeah, it does. I used to go to his house for New Year’s Eve parties and charities, because I lived so close, and he’s always trying to get me to play Mar-a-Lago, which is where he
lives, so it’s hard for me … He’s never been unkind to me.”
We move on to the infinitely more comfortable subject of fashion. Clothes are a grand passion for Stewart.
“Oh, man, yeah! I mean, if I could be a window dresser, I would. I change outfits three times a day.”
He is particularly attached to the high street store Zara. “Love it. I’ll probably go to every Zara in the United States on this next tour. My midday excursion. The boys go, ‘He’s going to Zara. Get the car round.’ And I will tell you an interesting story. Was I in Argentina? I don’t know where I was … No, I was in America … Or it might have been here. But the people that work in Zara have a reputation for being very cold. You don’t get any help in Zara. Have you noticed?”
Yeah, but I’m not a rock star.
“Oh, they don’t give a shit about me. But I was in Zara the other day and two girls came up. They said, ‘Sir, can we help you?’ I said, ‘What? Zara, you’re helping me?’ They said, ‘Yes, sir. It’s our new policy around the world. Everybody has to have a smile on their face.’ ”
“Yes! Go and see.”
“But I don’t need help, because I know my size in Zara. I don’t even try it on.”
He plans outfits days in advance and generally works alone.
“Although I’m colour-blind, so sometimes with my purples and my blues and my lavenders … I have to ask Penny. She’ll say, ‘No, darling,’ or she’ll go, ‘Absolutely spot on.’
Rod Stewart has been married to Penny Lancaster, the model and broadcaster, since 2007, a year after he and Rachel Hunter divorced. Does he think he’s a good husband?
“I think so, yeah. I think I’ve been a good husband in the last two marriages. I’ve learnt a lot.”
He maintains cordial relationships with his exes, with Alana Stewart, Hunter and “Kelly, who I never married, but we had Ruby, our daughter. We’ve had our ups and downs, you know, but we’re all growing old and beginning to …”
“A little bit.”
I ask him what is the secret to a good divorce. He says there’s no such thing. “It’s just a horrible time – horrible for the kids. They’re always the ones that suffer. But my relationship with my kids is absolutely brilliant. So you pick up your phone … [he shows me his phone screen, points at a string of phantom alerts] … and you see, ‘Stewart, Stewart, Stewart …’ And they’ve all called you. And that’s wonderful.”
He’s a grandfather to seven-year-old Delilah, daughter of his and Alana Stewart’s daughter Kimberly and the actor Benicio Del Toro. Kimberly and Delilah live with Stewart in Los Angeles. Delilah “won’t kiss me! It’s heartbreaking. I say, ‘Come and give Grandad a kiss.’ But she won’t. I keep thinking maybe I smell or something. She’s a little wary of men. Do you have children?”
No, I’ve never wanted them.
“I had an argument with Jacqueline Bisset once about this. I couldn’t understand why women don’t want to have children.”
What did she say?
enjoying her career. She was genuine. She was a gorgeous woman. She just said, ‘No, I don’t see me as a mother.’ ”
I ask about his hair, which, he says, “is just hair, and it won’t lie down”. I ask him about his experience of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and he says, “There was a lot of sex, but not many drugs. I never really was a druggie.” I ask him about death, which he says has bothered him a few times. “I had a little bout where I had cancer in the throat.” In 2000, surgeons had to cut through Stewart’s vocal cords to remove a malignancy, meaning Stewart not only had to contemplate mortality, he also had to think about what his life might be if he survived but the treatment robbed him of his voice. “Some near plane crashes. Those things help you grow up, you know. This ain’t gonna go on for ever. Make amends.”
Does he formally apologise to people?
“Oh yeah. I’m good at that. Really good.”
When was the last time?
“That’s personal. I can’t tell you that.”
I have time for one final question. I ask Stewart why the first cut is the deepest, according to the title of his 1976 hit. It’s a conversation I’ve had with my friend Martha, who has always argued there’s no reason why the third cut needn’t be the deepest, or the 17th – whichever one you bleed to death from, basically.
“You’ll have to ask Cat Stevens,” says Stewart, who answers this question like he answers most questions, without blinking, and as if it’s not the first time he’s considered it. “I didn’t write it; I just made it famous. But I would imagine it’s your first heartbreak.” I accept this and make to pack up my things and leave, but Stewart is still warming to his theme.
“When I broke up with Rachel [Hunter], that was my big heartbreak,” he says.
I do some maths: Stewart’s marriage to Rachel Hunter ended in 2006, which means Stewart was almost 60 the first time he had his heart broken.
That must have been a shock, I say.
“For a man who’s always got his own way? Yeah. I didn’t have the tools to cope. It had never happened to me. I didn’t know how to see it. I didn’t notice that she wasn’t quite as interested in seeing me as she [had been]. I was in smithereens. But she was too young.” Hunter was 37 when they divorced.
Did Penny save him?
saved myself,” he says. “But she helped.”
Now, our time truly is up; Stewart’s hairdresser is waiting for him. (He is ever so pleased he’s hung on to the hair, he’d said earlier. Would he have got a hair transplant if he’d lost it? “I probably would,” he said.)
Stewart hugs me goodbye, says he doesn’t feel as if he’s answered my questions properly, congratulates me on the dress again and calls me Holly one last time.
I head for the door.
“Where you going now, anyway?” he asks.
Zara, then Archway, I say, quite truthfully.
my own heart,” he says. “Girl after my own heart.”
Blood Red Roses is released on September 28
NEXT TOUR DATES
The Marquee, Cork, Ireland
Home Park Stadium, Plymouth
Cinch Stadium, Northants
Seat Unique Riverside, Durham
Badminton Estate, Worcester Park, Bristol
Sewell Group Craven Park, Hull