Engelbert Humperdinck has always been a smoothie, a man who embodies the title of his 1973 album King Of Hearts. He’s always loved women, but the one he loved most was Patricia, his wife of 56 years, who suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than a decade, and sadly died in February.
Which is why today Engelbert’s mood is less than buoyant. ‘To be honest I’m pretty stressed out at the moment,’ he tells me. He’s at his home in Leicester, close to where he grew up, but thousands of miles from his other base in Bel Air in Los Angeles where Patricia passed away.
‘These last few months have been quite a traumatic period for me,’ he says. ‘I can’t do my job, and at the beginning of the year I lost my darling wife. It’s been very hard, pretty heartbreaking.’
He and Patricia first met in 1956 at the Palais De Danse nightclub in Leicester. She was 17, he was 20 and just plain old Arnold Dorsey, trying to make a name for himself as a singer. It was love at first sight and they married in 1964.
Engelbert Humperdinck, 85, (pictured) from Leicester, said every lyric will mean more following the sad death of his wife Patricia in February
A year later, he teamed up with Tom Jones’s manager Gordon Mills, who convinced him to change his name to the more memorable Engelbert Humperdinck. He was on his way. He had his first No 1 with Release Me in 1967 and major success quickly followed.
The couple moved from a tiny flat to a luxurious home in Surrey where John Lennon was a neighbour, before making the move to America. Yet their strong ties to Leicester remained, and they kept a family home there complete with its own pub.
‘We went through struggles because I was trying to make a name for myself, make a living so I would be able to look after her, and then along came my showbusiness career and she helped me with that,’ he says.
‘We raised a great family and we lived in comfort and she brought them up in a very respectable way.’
Patricia was a strong woman. In his 2004 autobiography Engelbert: What’s In A Name? he took the bold step of letting her write her version of what went on during the years he kept the tabloids occupied with ‘enough paternity suits to wallpaper a bedroom’.
She revealed how she refused to be seen as long-suffering, and that she considered it a strength rather than a weakness to be able to deal with complicated emotional situations. Engelbert, a complex character himself, didn’t read the chapter until the book was published.
The honesty and intensity of their relationship added a piquant dimension to his singing, but in 2017 he revealed that Patricia had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for years. More and more of her slipped away from him, but with prayer, holy water from Lourdes and the help of German doctors, she regained her speech and seemed to be making progress.
Engelbert said he used every kind of treatment for Patricia, including taking her to Germany for stem cells. Pictured: Engelbert with Patricia in 1968
‘Then along came Covid,’ says Engelbert. ‘It invaded my home in LA and everybody got it including myself and my wife, her carers, one of my sons and my daughter. But Patricia had no Covid when she passed, it was a cardiac arrest.
‘Covid did get hold of her for a while, but she had the antibodies prior to her death and when she died she didn’t have the disease. I think it must have stirred up something else that caused her to have a heart condition.
‘When she was suffering with Alzheimer’s I took her to Lourdes and it’s quite wonderful there. I’m sure all these little things I tried to do for her were instrumental in keeping her here longer than she should have been.
I’ve got long Covid now, but my voice is still there
‘I used every kind of treatment for her. I took her to Germany for stem cells, I took her to acupuncture and electroacupuncture for years and that helped keep her going.
‘The doctor said it was the only thing that would work so we persevered with that, but then along came Covid and that changed the path. Now I’m left with long Covid, stupid little things like aches and pains, but the good part is my voice is still there. The Covid’s hard to get rid of in a hurry, it’s leaving me but it’s taking its time.’
The last time I met Engelbert, who’s 85 now, he told me he’d been doing some faith healing work himself, although not on his wife.
Pictured: Engelbert with Patricia, their son Scott, daughter-in-law Jo, and grandchildren
‘The problem is that a spouse cannot heal a spouse, for some reason no healer can do that. The person that told me I had healing powers was a healer himself, but he couldn’t heal his wife who had cancer.
‘It broke his heart. This is the same with every healer.’ Was he able to heal anyone in his family with Covid?
‘All I can tell you is that our prayer ritual was constant, every night at 8pm. I told people 8pm was the time of prayer, and prayers came from all over the world. It was a chain of prayer, and I felt those prayers at 8pm.
MY MOTHER CAME OUT OF A COMA TO TALK TO ME
Setting out on a British tour after the death of his wife reminds Engelbert of another traumatic tour many years ago.
‘Actually this is a very uncanny story,’ he says.
‘I was about to do a British tour in 1988 when I got a call from my family to say they’d given my mother days to live. So I said, “Put her on the phone.” They said, “We can’t, she’s resting.”
‘She was in a coma, and they were putting me at ease by saying she was resting. I was screaming down the phone and I think my mother must have heard because the phone was in the room.
‘She came out of the coma and said, “Give me the phone!” I said, “Hi Mum, I’m coming home. I’ll be home tomorrow, I promise you.”
‘She said, “Promise you’ll take care of yourself, I love you,” and gave the phone to my sister and my wife and then passed away. She came out of the coma to talk to me.
‘Then I had to do this whole British tour. My family told me my mother said before she died that if anything happened to her she wanted me to sing for her.
‘That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s a repeat performance right now. I went on stage while she was in the chapel of rest and I sang.
‘It just oozed out of me, and of course the public, my audience, knew my circumstances.’
‘I was the reader every night. It was a ritual we kept going, all my friends and some of my fans all prayed at the same time.’
Before he returns to his home in LA, his children Scott, Jason, Louise and Bradley are coming to the Leicester house to hold a memorial service for Patricia.
‘That’s going to be heartbreaking,’ he says.
‘It’s very, very difficult when you lose somebody you’ve been with for so long. It was lovely coming back here and seeing all the gardens she’d made. I do enjoy coming home, but there’s a duty we have to perform and it’s a sad one.
‘I’m sure it’s going to show in my work, because every lyric means that much more to me now than it did. I always sang with feeling, but I can read heartfelt lyrics much more effectively now because, I don’t know, it’s just better…’ His voice drifts somewhere to a place of pain.
He brightens when we talk about his upcoming world tour. It was cancelled last year because of Covid but has been rescheduled to start in October.
‘It’s pretty special because I haven’t worked for so long. I have to go back to LA in mid-August to work with my band and put everything together. We start with the east coast venues in America, then I come to England.
‘I’m so looking forward to the British leg because I look at all the names of the places I’ll be visiting and think that I’ve done them over and over and over again in my early career. Now I’m revisiting them so it’s going to be a wonderful trip.’
In his heyday women flocked to his concerts. They might have thrown their underwear at Tom Jones and flowers at Elvis, but they would rip Engelbert’s clothes off. At one time he would travel with 150 shirts because women would tear them from his body.
‘The only thing that survived were the cuffs, everything else got ripped,’ he recalls. ‘Once, getting on the tour bus, I got on the wrong bus.
‘It was full of women who pulled everything off me, I was hanging on to my underwear because that was all that was left. The police came and put me in a Black Maria and threw a coat over me.’
Now on stage he’ll be feeling the love songs in a different way. He’ll be singing them to Patricia.
‘I’d love to think people know I’m dedicating my songs to her because a lot of them were written about her.
Engelbert recalls his mother coming out of a coma to talk to him, ahead of his British tour in 1988. Pictured: Engelbert with his parents
‘But I know she’d want me to carry on doing my job, because sometimes I’d say, “How am I going to do this?” and she’d say, “You’ve got to, it’s your job.” She’d push me on, and as they say, behind every man there’s a great woman.’
And just as Patricia has been with him throughout his career, so has his trademark black hair. But that’s not going anywhere.
I know she’d have wanted me to carry on singing
‘I don’t allow myself to go grey because grey means old,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to look in the mirror and see a grey-haired person because it changes your whole way of thinking.
‘When I was 25 I went grey prematurely so I said to myself, “I can’t go into showbusiness wearing grey hair.” I dyed it and I’ve been dying it ever since. It’s a miracle I’ve got any hair left from all the dye that’s gone in it over the years! But I still have my own hair.’
And he’s proud of his mutton-chop sideburns too. ‘Oh, they’re still good, still there, and I’m grateful for them because I started the fashion in the 60s.
‘The Beatles had them, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, everybody including Elvis, my buddy Elvis. I told him, “You stole my sideburns!” and he said, “If it looks good on you then it’s going to look good on me!”’
Despite his palpable sadness, the show must go on for Engelbert… hair dye, sideburns and all.
Engelbert’s postponed UK tour begins on 31 October at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. Visit engelbert.com/tour