The Observer Interview

Tom JonesI've always had the voice, I've always sung, ever since I was small - in school, in chapel, to the radio. I don't really know life without it. I lived in Wales for the first 24 years of my life and it stood me in good stead, gave me values. But that's also a lot to do with your upbringing. It could be working-class, it could be middle-class, but you've got to have love and attention, and I did, I was lucky. I might have become a miner like my father, but I had tuberculosis when I was 12. I couldn't go out between the ages of 12 and 14. It was a big lesson - not to take life for granted. I said to myself, when I get out of this bed, I'll never complain about anything ever again. But I do. I'm never scared to try new things. When you do something and the kids dig it, it's great. It's not about trying to be young, or something you're not, because they always see through that.

You need to have a bit of an ego in this business. When you first get successful you spend a bit - big house, cars, jewellery, all the trappings. But after a while you think, how many watches can one man have? I've been misquoted many times about women. I'd be asked about growing up and I'd say that my father went to work, and my mother was a home-maker. Then it was, 'Tom Jones thinks men should work and women should look after the house.' But I didn't say that.

Elvis was an icon. For him to tell me he liked my voice meant a lot. It was the same when Frank Sinatra told me he loved the way I sang. I was never interested in drugs. I like to have a drink because I like the things that go with it - pubs, restaurants, having dinner. It's not just sitting in the corner with a bottle. That's how drug-taking seems to be: people going off on their own to the toilet to do it.

Getting a knighthood was fantastic. You look into yourself - am I worthy of this? I find I don't swear as much as I used to. When you do shows you feel as if you're pouring yourself into the audience, and when they applaud it's as if they're saying, 'We know, we get it.' It's so reassuring.

I don't like bad behaviour just because you're rich or famous. I remember early on I had to get there really early for my TV show and I was moaning away. When I arrived there was this building site, and this kid was going up a ladder carrying a hod, which is what I used to do. And he said, 'Hey Tommy, want to give me a hand with this?' I thought, Jesus Christ, I'm moaning, but he's going to be up and down that ladder all day.'

Even when I was younger I didn't look in mirrors much. I've got a good bone structure and I try to keep myself in shape, but I'm not vain. If you're singing love songs, sexy songs, and the feelings aren't coming across, then there's something wrong. But if you're always doing it with a wink, that can catch up with you.

I'm not looking forward to retiring. The biggest fear for any performer is that it will be taken away from you. It's so much part of you, a physical thing, it's scary to think one day it won't be there any more. If I'm not able to sing, I won't know what to do. There is no alternative to ageing - just death. The only reason I would like to be young is that you've got longer to live. But it's a great feeling to have grandchildren.

Interview by Barbara Ellen Sunday October 22, 2006 The Observer