Tom Jones: What I’ve learned
Born Thomas Jones Woodward, Sir Tom Jones, 75, has been a professional singer for 52 years and has released almost 500 records, including Delilah and It’s Not Unusual. He lives with his wife, Linda, in Los Angeles, and they have one son, Mark, who is his manager.
I know what it feels like to be objectified. For a long time my image overpowered my talent. The whole sex thing. You become this caricature of yourself, because you’re doing two Las Vegas shows a night and trying to please the crowd. I always thought my voice would blow through all that. But no, not always.
If you’ve ever had an illness, you know not to take life for granted. I was bedridden with TB from the age of 12 to 14. I’d see kids out in the street and I couldn’t go and play with them. That had a big impact.
Never underestimate the extent to which people want to have sex with celebrities on TV. I remember seeing Marilyn Monroe when I was a teenager and just thinking she was this exotic sex goddess. So you’re aware of what people are attracted to, because you’ve felt it yourself from the other side of the screen.
There’s an attraction that comes with the job that’s addictive. Even when I was a kid and got up and sang in school, I didn’t just get attention from girls, but from the fellas I knew, too.
Put a pen in my hand and I start to sweat. I’m dyslexic. I can read any word you put in front of me, but ask me to write it and five minutes later I’m still there.
You can never predict when the knickers are going to get thrown. That’s the worst thing about it. If it’s during an up-tempo song, fine. But then I’ll be singing The Green, Green Grass of Home and they’ll start flying. You think, my God, I’m singing about a man in jail dreaming about home and I’ve got a pair of knickers on my head. It gets out of hand.
A lot of people still think I’m black. When I first came to America, people who had heard me sing on the radio would be surprised that I was white when they saw me. Because of my hair, a lot of black people still tell me I’m just passing as white. When I was born, my mother came out in big dark patches all over her body. They asked if she had any black blood and she said she didn’t know. I’m going to get my DNA tested. I want to find out.
What you’re taught as a child isn’t always the truth. When I was a kid we were told to boo Winston Churchill when we saw him on newsreels. Coming from south Wales, they never got over the 1926 miners’ strike. Supposedly, when he was told that the miners were starving, he just said they should “tighten their belts”. But then I got older and started reading history and I realised how great he really was.
I always think I’ve got more time than I have. Which means I’m always late. I don’t know why.
I’m a lover, not a fighter. I never got off on violence. I once beat up a boy who wouldn’t stop picking on me and, when I got home, I cried because it upset me so much.
Be a gentleman. I’ve always respected the female sex. I try not to swear in front of women, even if they swear a lot themselves. A woman can tell you to go f*** yourself in the blink of an eye now, but I still feel a twinge if someone is using bad language around them. I think you should open doors for them and offer them your seat. I know a lot of women who say you don’t need to do this for us. But I feel better when I do.
There’s not much I’m good at. Singing has always been my knockout punch.
– The Times Magazine / The Interview People