As Sir Tom Jones 75th birthday approaches his biographer Sean Smith chats to Andy Howells about a new book on the music legend.
Sir Tom Jones reaches his 75th birthday this Sunday (June 7) and who could have predicted when he was born in Pontypridd in 1940 what an unforgettable roller-coaster ride his life would be?
Leading UK Biographer Sean Smith, who has written books on Cheryl Cole, Kylie Minogue and Gary Barlow, among others, has meticulously researched Tom Jones life and career for a recently released biography entitled Tom Jones – The Life.
The biography traces the music legends beginnings from starting out in the Welsh mining town where he suffered from TB and married his sweetheart at just 16, to scoring his first UK hit seven years later that would propel him to international stardom.
“I enjoy writing all my books for different reasons because everybody is interesting before they become famous,” Sean tells Andy Howells, “but Tom was also interesting after he became famous. His whole life story is such a big one and I really enjoyed that challenge.”
Sean who insists on having a courteous respect for the subjects he writes about, visited Tom’s hometown of Pontypridd to conduct interviews with friends and family and uncovered much in the way of new stories about the star, “They were very pleased that someone had taken the trouble to go there and speak to them to find out about him in a proper fashion,” he says.
It’s something to try and get beyond the famous PR driven images of Tom Jones in the 1960s having knickers thrown at him from adoring fans as he tries to perform his greatest hits but Sean peels away the image to reveal another side to the star. “I think there is a more sensitive and introspective man, as well as the image which makes him much more interesting and complex,” he says.
Of course, the biography also covers Tom’s early chart successes with hits such as It’s Not Unusual, Green Green Grass of Home and Delilah under the watchful eye of manager Gordon Mills, but it also analyses the stars wilderness years when he went to the US and became little more than a Vegas lounge singer.
Picture: Rapture Photographics
“He had an incredible lifestyle, but artistically and professionally it didn't fulfill him. In the mid 1980s when Gordon Mills, his first manager died, things got taken over by Tom’s son Mark and his wife Donna. It was a slow process, but they gradually rehabilitated him with the British market because he was a forgotten figure. He appeared on the Jonathan Ross show and performed Kiss with The Art of Noise. It gave him just that little bit of credibility and he’s built that up in layers. Ultimately last winter, he was at a sports event in Melbourne performing with Ed Sheeran.”
Given the fact that Tom has had such a lengthy career, was it difficult for Sean to know what to leave out of the biography? “You have to drive the story on and I’m always aware that you can’t lose the reader,” he says “There’s a huge amount of ground, but I really felt I was dealing with modern history with Tom, when you get his run-ins with the mob and all these people he knew including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Janis Joplin. I felt like I was writing an encyclopedia but he is more interesting than that.”
The biography which is available in both hardback and e-book has already been well received and Sean couldn't be happier. “It’s only just dropped out of the Sunday Times best sellers list,” he says, “I’m pleased about it but it also shows he’s a popular guy.”
- Tom Jones - The Life by Sean Smith is published by HarperCollins and available in hardback at £18.99 and eBook at £9.49
- For more on Sean Smith and his books visit his official website
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on June 5, 2015 See the e-edition here.