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Michael Bublé: 'Your real legacy is the empathy and kindness you show'

Michael Bublé could have been an ice-hockey player or a journalist. But from a young age he knew that his singing gift was something special

Michael Bublé singing on stage

Michael Bublé performing at the O2 Arena in London, March 26 2023. Image: Robin Little/Redferns

A four-time Grammy award-winner, Michael Bublé was born in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, one of three children. His interest in music began at a young age, but when he was 13 that his family realised his singing talent. He got his big break when singing at a wedding, where he was introduced to music producer David Foster.

Michael Bublé’s self-titled debut album was released in 2001 and he’s gone on to sell 75 million records – and counting. Ahead of a new tour in May, Bublé writes his Letter To My Younger Self, recalling his youthful ambition and self-belief, growing up surrounded by the love and support of his family.

At 16 I was utterly in love with music. I was so ambitious in knowing exactly who and what I wanted to be. My grandfather, who was a plumber, was already sneaking me into nightclubs and bars and doing free plumbing work for club owners and musicians who let a 16-year-old kid get up on stage and sing with them. I was in love with Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr, Ella and Louis Armstrong and Louie Prima, the great Italian-American singers. And I loved Elvis. It was interesting – at that age, I had a sense that I was unique. Part of what was so romantic for me was that I knew I was different, and we all want to be unique. I thought wow, this passion and this love and this voice I have, they make me unique. I was really lucky – I had such a wonderful supportive family, they loved me enough to take me to all the auditions and get me singing lessons and take me to the clubs. There’s nothing better than living on potential at 16 years old. And that’s what I was doing. 

In Rome, Italy, in 2001, around the time his singing career began to take off
In Rome, Italy, in 2001, around the time his singing career began to take off. Image: Luciano Viti/Getty Images

I think when I heard music, I believed I heard the voice of God. I knew that music and creating was just a massive part of my being and my makeup. And I knew I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t go in that direction. That direction could have been in a million other ways – movie acting, journalism. I got very close to going into journalism. People interest me, their stories interest me, and telling stories interests me as a creator. So many times I thought well, if this doesn’t work out for me, I’ll go to the other side of the microphone, and I’ll talk to people I admire. I think I have charisma and I’m a good storyteller, I really enjoy that world. So if I can’t be the one who’s being interviewed, I’ll be the one who does the interviews. 

My grandpa was a wonderful man, a kind and humble man. He was a working man who just loved music. He wasn’t a singer or a songwriter, but he had a deep affinity for music and I think he was a hopeless romantic. He would sit with me and play me songs – like, this is the song that I first danced with grandma to. We would sit in the kitchen every day when I came home from school. And isn’t that funny – when the other kids finished school, they’d go straight off with their buddies to the mall. Well, first thing me and my buddies did after school was, boom, go right to my grandma and grandpa’s house where my grandma would make us food. Then I would sit at the table and my grandpa would say OK, sunshine – he called me sunshine – did you learn the songs I put on the tape for you? And I would say yeah, and he’d say, OK, I want you to sing this one. Then I want you to sing this one. Then sing grandma’s song. And I’d sing something like (he starts singing) ‘You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.’ Then he would test me – he’d say you don’t know There Must Be a Way. You couldn’t, because I only gave that to you today. And I would go (sings) ‘There must be a way to help me forget that we’re through.’ And then we would sit and bullshit about hockey and our Vancouver Canucks and… we were just kindred spirits. I don’t know what to say.  

Buble with his grandparents
Pictured with his grandma (left) and grandpa (right). Images: Courtesy of Michael Bublé

My grandmother was later diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s. But while she forgot so many other things, she never forgot the lyrics of songs. So I would go to the kitchen with her and grab her and we would dance. She would sing the songs with me. (Sings) ‘I want some red roses for a blue lady.’ And that was my life. I was so lucky because I had that close relationship with my grandparents. We were together every day. And now I’ve recreated that with my own family. Because we have such a tight-knit connection with my mum and dad and my wife’s mum and dad and the kids – as a matter of fact, I bought the house next door so they could live next to us because I love having them around so much. That meant so much to me growing up, it formed who I was. So I wanted that for my kids. 

My grandfather passed away only a few years ago. So he was able to watch me grow into the man that I’m sure he hoped I would become. He also watched me struggle. He saw a kid who struggled with fame and ego and finding himself, but I think before he passed on I had matured a lot and I’d been lucky enough to marry a woman who was such a wonderful matriarch for my family. He’d seen us go through tough times, but I think he was always proud of me. I think he accepted that, as a young man going through this tumultuous situation, there would be highs and lows and flaws would come out. But I think by the time he passed, he was proud of the work he had put in, and my mom and dad had put in, and he knew who I was as a man. 

I don’t think I could change anything even with hindsight. I was immature and insecure and that’s just part of growing up. I made many mistakes. There were many times when I could have been kinder with hearts. Including my own heart. But the older I get, the more I realise that making those mistakes is part of learning. So as much as I wish I could go back and change my mistakes, I wouldn’t, because they’re why I am who I am. It’s interesting nowadays, though, because you make a mistake and people want you gone and done for good. I think everyone needs a chance to fall down and get back up again. And to be better. 

Michael Bublé with his son Noah
With his son Noah, in 1015, a year before Noah’s cancer diagnosis. Images: Iconic/GC Images

I don’t think I could go back and help myself get through those years when my son was ill because I handled that in a way that was perfect. I was as strong as I could possibly be under the circumstances [his son Noah was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare form of liver cancer, in 2016]. And I had the right priorities. But if I could give advice to my younger self at any point, through all of the good or bad times in my career and my home life, I’d say, be more present. I spent so much time worrying about the future, or even the past. Now I tell my kids all the time, we cannot change what we’ve done. And we have no control about what is going to happen in the future. So all we can do is be in the moment and be as present as possible. If we can do that we will live a happy life. The older you get, the more you realise that’s the truth. I wasted so much time worrying about what happened or what’s going to happen, that instead of being in the moment when I was falling in love, or on my wedding day, or showing up on Michael Parkinson for the first time, or winning my first Grammy, or touring with my grandfather in Italy – I can hardly remember them. So if I could talk to my young self, I would say, please kid, enjoy these incredible moments because they’re going to rip by so fast.  

Another thing I’d tell my young self is not to worry about your legacy. No one’s gonna remember you. They’re not going to remember The Rolling Stones or Frank Sinatra either. When the Elvis movie came out, my kids looked at me and said, who is Elvis? And I said, what?! You don’t know who Elvis is? They didn’t have any idea. There’s a lot of ego involved in thinking I will be remembered. Your real legacy is the empathy and kindness you show, the love and goodness you give to people you meet on the street or in your family. So I would go back and tell myself, don’t think so highly of yourself. Just be a kind guy. The proof is in the pudding; every single morning, I go to my coffee cup, a wonderful gift someone in the audience once gave me, and it has a photo of my grandma and grandpa on it. So every morning I talk to them and my kids give them a little kiss. And I pour my coffee and I have a morning coffee with them.  

Bublé gets his star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
2018: getting his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Image: Willy Sanjuan / Invision / AP

With my kids [Michael Bublé has four] I feel like I’ve met different children in each one as they’ve grown. I started with a wonderful fat little baby and I fell in love with every little fold over their ankles. And then I fell in love again when they turned one and they became these little toddlers. Then I fell in love with the little three-year-old pre-schooler. And this morning I kissed my nine-year-old son and I fell in love with him again. One day soon, all those children I fell in love with will walk out of my door and leave and get married. I know that. So right now I’m just going to kiss them and hug them and love them as much as I can without driving them nuts. And one day, God willing, they will walk in the door – oh god, look at me crying – and I’ll get to fall in love with their baby, and its fat little legs too. And that’s it, that’s life.  

Michael Bublé tours the UK in May. Tickets are available here

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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