Tom Jones and Gavin Rossdale are the first to admit they’ve had a terrible time of it recently. The two judges for ITV’s newly repackaged The Voice UK are sitting in Rossdale’s dressing room on a dark winter’s day talking with heartbreaking honesty about family life.
In April, Jones’s much-loved wife of 59 years Linda died shortly after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Meanwhile, last year Rossdale, lead singer and guitarist with rock band Bush, was divorced by his popstar wife, Gwen Stefani, after she discovered he’d allegedly been conducting a three-year affair with the nanny of their three boys.
Both men, in different ways, have been left distraught. And for both of them, The Voice could not have come at a better time. Jones was famously, and controversially, dropped by the BBC for the last series. Controversially because Jones, at 76, is a national treasure and many viewers regarded him as the show’s best judge.
Jones and Rossdale seem to have a natural affinity – both are sex symbols, both have had colourful lives and both know what it’s like to experience deep personal lows.
“I’ve been having a fantastic time with Tom,” says Rossdale. “I’ve just learnt how to be gracious.” Gracious is not a word many would associate with Rossdale, a well-spoken 51-year-old who could easily pass for his mid-30s. He accepts that his public image in the UK leaves something to be desired and sees The Voice as the perfect opportunity to do something about it. “I thought, selfishly, it was a chance to be seen as a human being, because having been through the whirlwind media frenzy of a divorce, you get reduced to a couple of sentences.”
Rossdale says it was an easy decision, not least because his daughter Daisy Lowe (the result of a relationship with designer Pearl Lowe) lives in Britain. Rossdale talks of the model’s recent appearance on Strictly Come Dancing and says he could not be more proud. But his relationship with Daisy has been complex – he was her godfather, and it was only after she took a DNA test at 14 that he accepted he was her father.
Does he think The Voice is his chance to build a better profile for himself? He laughs. “I’d use the word ‘only’.” He talks of other stars who were relatively unknown or appeared past their sell-by before being rescued by The Voice. “There’s Ricky Wilson from The Kaiser Chiefs, here. And Adam Levine from Maroon 5 in the US. They’ve all benefited.”
“And there’s Blake Shelton,” adds Jones. “He was an average country singer. The same thing has happened to him. His personality has come across.” Rossdale squirms silently. Shelton is a coach on The Voice in the US alongside Gwen Stefani, Rossdale’s ex. Now they’re in a relationship.
Gavin Rossdale and ex-wife Gwen Stefani
Jones talks about how the revamped show will be different on ITV. They’re increasing the number of live shows from three to five so viewers can get to know the contestants better. And the record label Polydor will have a closer relationship as they bid to send the winner to the top of the charts – a common criticism of The Voice is that it has yet to produce a true star.
I ask Jones whether he was upset when he was dropped from the BBC version. The singer has never minced his words, and he doesn’t now. “I was p****d off. I I never got to the bottom of who made the decision. It was between the production company Wall to Wall and the BBC, and I still don’t know why. The first thing I thought was, ‘Why have they left it so late in the day?’ When we got the call, we said, ‘When did you make this decision?’ ‘Yesterday. And we’re going to give it to the press tomorrow.’ Oh, that’s nice!
“Well of course that’s a kick in the b******s. When I used to work in factories or on a building site, you’d get a week’s notice at least! They don’t call you up the day before and say, ‘Sorry, don’t come in tomorrow.’ You don’t make a decision like that overnight. The decision was made earlier but they just didn’t let me know.”
He admits that he wasn’t upset when the ratings for the show plummeted. “It took a dive afterwards. They were losing viewers, and I thought, ‘Well that’s OK!’ He he he! I think they lost two million viewers.” He says the person most upset by it all was Linda. “When my wife heard I wasn’t doing it, she said, ‘So you don’t want to do The Voice any more?’ I said, ‘It’s not my decision’. She said, ‘You must be joking!’ God bless her, she passed away before I was asked to come back. She would like the fact that I’m doing the show now.”
Jones says Linda’s death has left him in pieces. At first, he says, he simply didn’t know what to do with himself – and for two months did nothing. “I was just in LA, trying to pull myself together. My son was with me [Mark is also his manager] and he said maybe we should get some musicians together and go to England and have a bit of a sing. At the beginning I didn’t know whether I’d be able to sing because if you get too emotional you can’t sing.”
Did he have any idea how hard her death would hit him? “Yes because she had a bit of a scare six years ago, and I thought, ‘If anything happens to her I don’t know what I would do because she’s been there all my life.’ We grew up together as kids. But it happened so fast. By the time she found out she had lung cancer I was on the road. I got back to LA and it was eight days later when she went.”
Did she know she was dying? “Yes. And she was very calm. They told her when she went in to the hospital. When I was talking to her on the phone I said, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Well, not good.’ And I said, ‘Well, what are they saying?’ And she said, ‘Things don’t look very good. I think this is going to be it, you know.’”
The promoters asked him if he could do one more show before returning home. “I said, ‘I can’t, I can’t. My wife is terminally ill, I can’t sing.’ And I couldn’t. I didn’t know how I would be because I knew she was dying. And I got back to LA and we walked into the Cedars-Sinai hospital and the door was open, and she was sitting in the bed going ‘Hey!’ And I thought, ‘My God, this woman, she knows!’ And I said, ‘Linda I can’t believe this, I can’t get my head around it.’ And she said, ‘No, don’t worry, you’ll be all right.’ And I thought, ‘She’s telling me that I’m going to be all right.’ And that was it. She said, ‘You have Mark and Donna’ – our son and daughter-in-law – ‘and the grandkids, you’ll be OK.’ But she knew I was going to be shocked s**tless. And I was. I still am to a certain degree.”
The room is so still as Jones talks and talks about Linda – quietly, lovingly, entirely unselfconsciously.
Tom Jones and wife Linda in 1965
“My son said to me you love to sing, singing is your life. And my doctor in LA said if you stop singing you may as well just go in the corner and die because that’s what you do, so try and get back to it as soon as you can. So we did, slowly but surely. I got together with some of my musicians and I realised I could sing. And then another thing I realised, it was giving me strength. When I would sing I could see her. I had said to her, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ and she said, ‘You’ve got to sing.’ And I realised music would save my life as opposed to wondering whether I’d be able to do it or not.”
When he sees her, does he see the older or young Linda? “All kinds of images flash through my mind, but I always see her laughing. Because she loved jokes. When I was on the road she’d ask, ‘Have you heard any new jokes?’ We loved to laugh. With a marriage, being together so long, you have to have a sense of humour, you have to laugh a lot together.” ‘
Which song makes him most emotional to sing? “There’s a song on the last album I did, Long Lost Suitcase, called Tomorrow Night; an old song. And that’s the one she liked. Every time I’d do an album I would play it to her and she’d say, ‘That’s the one for me.’ That song is tremendous. So I do it on stage now. I have to do it, and I see her.”
Rossdale stands up, and picks up the tissues on his dressing room table. He passes some to Jones, and keeps some for himself. Rossdale is in tears, Jones is just about holding on.
You’ve had a tough time, too, haven’t you, I say to Rossdale.
“It’s very poignant for me to hear Tom talk about marriage lasting till one partner dies, as it’s meant to be; as I would have liked it to have been. So it’s upsetting for me to hear any of that really because I just sit here thinking I failed.”
Does he blame himself? He snuffles, and smiles. “No because I’ve had enough psychiatrists around me to know every marriage is 50–50, or as my shrink says 70–30. I’ve found a way to forgive myself to a degree.”
How? “I dedicate my life to my children.” He has the boys half the time. While Stefani was doing The Voice in the US he had to be flexible, and now it’s her turn to be accommodating. “She wrote to me, the only time she’s ever written to me outside of the kids, and said, ‘Congratulations on The Voice, you must be so excited!’ And I knew that took a lot for her to do.”
I ask both men what advice they would give contestants on The Voice about fame, temptation, and how to cope if fans throw themselves at you. Rossdale says he wouldn’t presume to offer advice.
“Well, you’ve got to realise why they are doing it,” Jones says. “You’ve got to understand what fame is. Realise that a lot of people are attracted to you because you are famous. Don’t get carried away thinking: ‘People love me!’ Yes, but why?”
I ask Jones if Linda gave him instructions on how to conduct himself after she died. Did she give him her blessing to find a new Mrs Tom Jones? “No!” he roars. “Oh no!! OH NO!!! I only got married once, and that was it.” And now it’s his turn to reach for the tissues.
The Voice UK begins on ITV on Saturday at 8pm