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The Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine

Tony Bennett                    December 10, 2006




I’ve left my heart in a London taxi that dropped Tony Bennett off at the Dorchester Hotel. The man who has made his 1962 hit ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ his signature song, who has won 13 Grammy awards and who has released more than 100 albums over a six-decade career is in town to promote his album of duets, performed with everyone from Sting, Paul McCartney and Bono to Elton John, Celine Dion and Elvis Costello. And who wouldn’t want to sing and swing with such a stylish crooner? For Tony is the kind of gentleman who opens the cab door for me and would never encourage women in the audience to hurl their underwear at him. ‘That’s not my number,’ he says. ’I learned quality from Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne, who was a lady on stage – but you felt the sex coming out of her performance.’

  When the timeless Tony appeared at Glastonbury in 1998, he walked over bales of hay as if they were a red carpet to save his silk suit from the mud (‘that was fun’). ‘I was the Madonna of my day, except I never took my clothes off,’ says Tony, who has even warbled with Kermit the Frog and likes to keep an eye on changing trends. ‘I asked Fred Astaire once what he thought of miniskirts and he said, “I hope they never go away.” ‘And Tony gives me an irresistible grin.

  In his 80th year, he finds himself even hipper than ever. ‘It’s all happening for me – Clint Eastwood is doing a documentary on my life and the Smithsonian Institute just accepted one of my paintings,’ marvels Tony, a keen watercolourist who numbers David Hockney among his close friends. ‘So I finally made it, after 50 years of touring,’ he adds with another grin as our cabbie, John from Enfield, takes us to Mount Street to say hello to Tony’s favourite English tailor, Dougie Hayward (‘all the Hollywood stars use him’).

  A grandfather of four, Tony gets all misty-eyed at the sight of a crocodile of nursery-school tots passing by on the pavement before we head past his old apartment at 47 Grosvenor Square, where he lived for twoy ears in the late ‘60s. ‘I brought up my children for a while here,’ says this twice-divorced Anglophile,, delighted that his granddaughter Remy is now over here as a drama student at the Central School of Speech and Drama (‘Robert De Niro was responsible for helping to get her in by vouching for her’). Tony’s partner now is Susan Crow, 40 years his junior. ‘She’s wonderful, a beautiful person. I don’t know about marriage; we just get along so well,’ he says.

  Susan is assistant principal of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts that Tony founded in the New York blue-collar suburb of Astoria, where he grew up as Anthony Dominick Benedetto. Although he now lives on Manhattan’s Central Park South, he still goes back to his old patch to play tennis three times a week and skip with his personal trainer. He also exercises by strolling around town without an entourage. ‘Off stage I’m just a citizen. I don’t feel the need to hide behind dark glasses; I learned that from Alec Guinness.’

  A former lift operator (‘I was so bad that people had to crawl out between floors’), he started his musical career as a singing waiter and got his big break when Sinatra named him his favourite singer. But Tony’s manager son Danny had to save his career from the doldrums in 1980, when Tony admits he was ‘one step away from bankruptcy’, and made him cool again with a new generation by relaunching him on MTV. He has survived everything, including taking cocaine. ‘They make a whole big thing out of my brush with drugs; it was very slight. I never overdosed in my life and I was never hospitalised,’ says Tony. ‘A reporter once asked me what I thought of Mick Jagger saying that he wasn’t going to be like me and Sinatra and go on and on, that he was going to retire to a castle in Spain. I said, “That’s like asking the lamp-post what it thinks of the dog.” ‘ But he brushes off Mick’s sneering remark, adding, ‘Anyway, it has gotten back to me that Keith Richards likes what I do.’

  And unlike Jagger, Tony doesn’t need a prompt yet to help him remember his lyrics. ‘If you make a mistake, a kind of divine inspiration sets in and you make up a line that comes out better,’ he chuckles. Meanwhile, there’ll be no retirement or even a long goodbye, Sinatra-style. ‘The only time it’s farewell,’ he says firmly, ‘is when I die.’