Photo by Greg Gorman
If you were to ask Engelbert Humperdinck how he has not only survived but keeps thriving after 55 years of navigating the ups and downs, pitfalls, and slippery slopes on the road to long-lasting success in the fast-paced ever-changing world of show business, you might be surprised at the legendary international superstar’s answer:
“I’m a regular guy,” the much-younger-then-his-years handsome singer, who had a hugely succesful engagement at the Orleans November 25 and 26, responds with a smile.
Despite his disarming lack of conceit, one would be hard-pressed to find an everyday human who has climbed to the heights to sell more than 140 million records, including 64 gold and 35 platinum; received four Grammy nominations and a Golden Globe; had the most played song on radio in 1977 (“After the Loving”); has stars on the Hollywood, Las Vegas, and Leicester Walks of Fame; has toured the world numerous times, and performed for the Queen of England four times as well as for several presidents and other heads of state. And the groundbreaking stream of accolades and honors doesn’t stop there, testimony to the fact that this very down-to-earth purveyor of romantic ballads has never nor will ever let any grass grow under his feet.
“I love challenges,” the British icon, long known to the world as the King of Romance, explains, noting that he has always been a go-getter and a bit of a dreamer. “I have a good mindset. I can’t wait until tomorrow – I live in the NOW and try to do everything to perfection now. I have a great following and I’m going to carry on. So many people want to see me perform. The only time I am really happy is when I walk on stage. Singing is a release for me. It puts my mind in a different direction. And the love from the audience helps.”
From the start, audiences have gravitated to Engelbert in a mega way. It was his 1967 first-ever single, “Release Me,” which jumpstarted Engelbert’s worldwide career, selling 86,000 records a day and eventually hitting 127,000 sales a day, ending up in the Guinness Book of Records for its incredible 56 weeks on the charts. The song went to number one in 11 countries. Other platinum hits soon followed, one of them being 1968’s “A Man Without Love,” which after 54 years has been prominently featured in the 2022 Oscar Issac-starring Marvel TV series “Moon Knight” and which sailed to number one on the Billboard Top TV Songs Chart. Moreover, it has garnered 155.3 million streams and 7.9 million hours on Spotify among 13.6 million listeners in 183 countries thus far.
Also this year, Engelbert recorded a fun Hollywood version of the song “Forever Blowing Bubbles” for the movie “Bullet Train” starring Brad Pitt (viewers can’t miss the bright red onscreen banner with Engelbert’s name on it as the song is played in the film). In addition, his song “Quando Quando Quando” is in the Netflix series “Umbrella Academy.” All this has served to give him and his renowned beautiful and powerful voice a new audience.
Continuing to tour the globe and produce new music, Engelbert is currently finishing up a country album recorded in Nashville. (“It will be finished when it’s done,” he quips.) Having become a much-watched presence on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, and his own YouTube channel boasting more than 100,000 subscribers), he has released his new single and video from the CD, a country line-dance version of Barry White’s 1974 hit “My First, My Last, My Everything,” which has already gotten over two million views. He has also just released another new single, his interpretation of the Bee Gees classic, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
The latter is perhaps a rhetorical question for the artist himself. The past couple of years have been a mixture of high highs and low lows for him in the personal sense. Besides the pandemic, which sidelined his travels and performing and forced him into isolation, in February 2021 he lost his beloved wife, Patricia, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. He has also lost close friends and his sister, Bubbles. (he is the second youngest of 10 children, originally seven sisters and two brothers.). That has made the here and now quite difficult to handle at times.
“I don’t know where my ability to get through it comes from,” Engelbert admits. “I guess Patricia is helping me from up above. I talk to her every day and she is at every show. I thought she was going to get better where her Alzheimer’s was concerned. Then came bloody COVID and we both got it. We both got over it but she had complications.”
It was a few months after her death that Engelbert received one of the greatest honors among the multitude of his career, the Honor of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday Honors List 2021. It was presented to him at the palace by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, who took the time to chat with the singer and others receiving honors.
Still, knowing that his live performing would be a bit of a panacea for his grief, Engelbert was anxious to get back to his audiences. After the pandemic restrictions were lifted, he got back on the road, which included a tour of Malaysia and Thailand earlier this year.
“I am singing better now than when I first started back after two years,” he enthuses. “It took a while to get back into the swing of things. My mindset is to go on stage and do the very best I can. I did a few live video concerts and holiday specials during the pandemic to keep in touch with my audiences but there were problems for me mentally and physically because they couldn’t see how I felt. I’m an artist – a thespian of song – who feels the lyrics I am singing and transmits that emotion to the audience. I have always said that the honesty of a performance is in the performer’s eyes. I only want to be the best, not mediocre, I don’t rest on my laurels.”
Engelbert credits his work ethic and his down-to-earth attitude to his parents, whom he says did a fantastic job of raising him. He also says that his success is due to his being strong-minded and determined along with his love of music, his adoring fans, and the fact that he always strives to put himself in the best light. From the beginning, he never feared rejection, and even today, he says that he is not afraid of doing things that others are afraid to do. But when choosing the songs that he records and/or performs live, he does the ones that are tried and tested. He believes that there is a time for everything so if he doesn’t feel a song, he doesn’t do it.
“I’m smart,” he laughs. “I keep what people like. I have a good record company, OK! Good Records, and producer. I’m always looking for new material that relates to people’s life experiences as well as to my own. For example, I do a song called ‘Don’t Let The Old Man In,’ which was written by Toby Keith for the movie “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood. I live by those lyrics. I talked to Toby Keith and told him that. I said to him, ‘You don’t see a gray hair on my head. I've been dyeing it since I was 30.’”
The entertainer, who still has a full head of dark brown hair, a great sense of humor, and looks 20 years younger than his actual 86 years, has gone through quite a few image manifestations from when he first entered the scene, including dark hair, curly hair, blonde hair, straight long hair, a mustache, and a beard, One thing that hasn’t changed is his IT factor, the uncanny magnetism he possesses that has enthusiastic audiences of all ages rushing the stage for the last songs of his show.
“You have to go through changes to find yourself,” the clean-shaven nicely coiffed Engelbert admits. “You have to be yourself. I’ve done it all via my own thinking. Early on, I had grown very long sideburns to establish recognition and Gordon Mills, who was my manager at the time, asked me to shave them off because he thought they made me look ridiculous, I refused and a year later, he grew them and so did the Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, and Elvis, among others. Sometimes, being ridiculous can be a success formula.”
Although he has always had management, the fact that he has basically controlled his own career moves and determined his own path has also contributed to Engelbert’s success. Above all, he has always stayed true to himself and his romantic art through more than five decades of changing musical trends. Now all he wants is to keep going and to be the best he can for as long as he can and he has a full touring schedule to prove it.
“I believe in living life,” he sums up, “I have love in my heart. Whenever a problem arises, I ask, how love would handle it and I proceed from there.”
Love will continue to make his world go round — his way.
Engelbert will be appearing at Ruth Eckerd in Clearwater, FL on December 12; Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown, OH on December 14; Wind Creek Auditorium in Bethlehim, PA on December 16, and at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT on December 17.