Tom Jones interview: “The women, the sex… I don’t regret anything”

Sir Tom Jones on his 'paranoia about homosexuals', being a teenage dad - and why he hasn't become an American citizen

I became a man very quickly when I was 16. My 15-year-old girlfriend Melinda got pregnant. All my aunties and uncles came to my house and had a big discussion about what should be done, while Linda and I sat in the corner all wrapped up in each other. And my mother noticed us and said, look, we’re all planning their lives, and they’re oblivious to what we’re saying over there. You can see these two kids are in love and they’ll get married when they’re old enough anyway. So what’s the point standing in their way? So as soon as Linda turned 16 we got married. We moved in to the back room of my mother-in-law’s house, everyone chipped in to help. And I had a job. So we didn’t really want for anything. It was a happy time, there was nothing negative about it.

I realised years later, looking back on those days, that being a young husband and father didn’t hold me back. It just made me more determined to be successful for my wife and son. The only problem was that I was doing shifts in a paper mill and sometimes that stopped me getting out to sing in pubs and clubs as often as I wanted. But I knew I was only biding my time. I had tremendous drive.

If I met the 16-year-old Tom Woodward, I’d like him very much. Because my values haven’t changed. Even my taste in music hasn’t changed. Great Balls of Fire excites me as much now as ever. Rock Around the Clock – that influence fed me so much, got my blood pumping. Then I heard Elvis Presley and I thought, my God, I can sing like that! We have exactly the same range.

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Growing up in Wales, in a large working-class family, it was so wonderful. That kind of grounding, it gives you a sense of wanting to be successful – and you learn the values of working-class life, which I think is an asset. I know people who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth and they can see working-class people, they can go into pubs and mingle with them but they’ll never be one of them. And I was one of them. And I still am.

I was always ready. Sometimes I drive around the streets in Pontypridd now and I think, my goodness, I must have had big balls in those days, to think I was going to do it all. I remember singing in the local pub and they said, you’re a great singer Tom, and I said, yeah, I’ll meet Elvis one day. And they said, yeah yeah yeah.

The one thing that would really impress the teenage me, the thing I’d never even dreamt of, was being knighted. Hit records, I was up for that. Hit TV series, I was up for that. Making it in America, I was up for that. But being knighted… I’ve always been a royalist. And I was knighted by one of the greatest monarchs ever known. That’s a big deal to me.

I heard Elvis Presley and I thought, my God, I can sing like that!

I’ve never said I came from nothing. To be honest with you, I saw a special Rod Stewart gig in LA and he said: “I came from nothing.” And I thought, you didn’t come from nothing. I saw your mother and father in the documentary and they were hardworking people. To say you come from nothing… I don’t agree with that. We all come from something.

I was never anti-establishment. I was only rebelling against what was happening at the time. I knew Rock Around the Clock was going to wipe the slate clean of all that crap. And it did. It killed all other music. Later on I appreciated singers like Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson. I know a lot of Americans frown on him because he blacked up – but to us it was just a white man who loved the way black people sang so much he even blacked up. It wasn’t a derogatory thing, it was celebrating black people.

I was ready for most aspects of the music industry but when I met the producer Joe Meek, that threw me off a bit. Because he was a homosexual. I thought, wait a minute, is the London scene, the people who run British showbusiness – are there a lot of homosexuals involved here? Because if so, I’m going back to Cardiff. So much so that when I signed with Decca and Peter Sullivan became my manager, and he said the same thing Joe Meek said – tell the boys to pack their gear up, I want to talk to you myself – I said, you’re not one of these queer fellows are you? And he said, what are you on about? I became paranoid, you see. I wondered, was that required to make a hit record? But then I got into it and I realised no, it just so happened that the first guy to record me was a homosexual producer. Once I got over the shock of that, and realised it wasn’t true, most people were normal. Well, I shouldn’t put it like that. Homosexuals are normal, it’s not that they’re not normal. It’s just that they are what they are.

I was only rebelling against what was happening at the time

The women, the sex… That’s all been talked about so much. But that’s not the essence of me, that’s not what makes me tick. It’s Not Unusual was a hit before anyone saw me. It was the power of the voice. The media always pick on the women, and how did that affect your wife. With everyone famous, not just me. They always bring sex into it. It’s part of life of course or we’d all die out. But what’s important is why are you different, what’s unique? I don’t regret anything. All in all, no matter what happened, my marriage is still solid and my son still loves me. I haven’t done anything bad in my life.

I still live in LA but I get my British fix. I come home a lot. When I went through immigration the last time, one fella said to me – you’ve had your green card since 1976! Why haven’t you become an American citizen? I said, read the name on my passport. He said, Sir Tom Jones. Ah, he said, the Queen wouldn’t like it, right? And I said, exactly.

I’d love to go back and spend a day with my mum and dad. I’d just tell them how much I love them. Maybe I’d go back to 44 Laura Street and be a little boy again. There’s a song Jerry Lee Lewis recorded, and I sang it onstage, called The Things That Matter Most to Me. It goes, ‘I wish I could go back and relive yesterday, and for a while be my mammy’s little boy again.’ And that’s true. Just to relive that for a day would be lovely.