Don’t let that velvety voice fool you. Engelbert (real name, Arnold George Dorsey) is still breaking hearts at nearly 82 years old — but only with his music. Born one of ten children in 1936 in Madras, British India (now Chennai, India), he’s been married to wife Patricia Healey since 1964.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s he was one of the biggest recording stars and heartthrobs in the world. This father of four is still one of the hottest tickets out there, and very much still on tour (check for dates for his 50th Anniversary tour at engelbert.com).
Here, he shares some of his favorite travel tips, including his secret Scrabble strategy and that one time in prison. Oh, you didn’t know about that?
1 Some fans might not know that you’re British. What makes you long for home?
My transatlantic accent used to be a lot more rounded when I first came to this country. I never sang with an English accent and my first few hits were grown with country roots, so I let the sounds around me slightly influence my speaking tones, thinking it would help me be understood and accepted.
But I’m British to the bone and speak the Queen’s English, except when I’m playing darts or cards. I use both British and American English words when playing Scrabble. I really should tell my opponents that up front, but I’m very competitive.
You cannot take the longing away for certain foods. The UK can’t be topped for Sunday lunch…especially Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, gravy and apple crumble and custard.
Bangers and Mash are such a favorite that I named two pugs I purchased from a chap outside Harrods on Christmas Eve after that dish. This was forty years ago. I think we have stayed away from dogs named after dishes ever since.
And fish and chips and a good ruby (Ruby Murray/curry, in Cockney rhyming slang).
2 You performed hundreds of concerts a year throughout the 1980s. Any favorite stories of places far and wide?
So many stories and adventures…but my mind flashes back to a heart-pounding adventure in Caracas, Venezuela upon arrival for a concert. I was due to be there four days but ended up staying just 19 hours, six in prison on charges that were later dropped when the truth was believed and proven.
When you are traveling abroad, you have to be prepared for anything, especially when you make your living singing. I was carrying my “just in case” prescriptions. I guess that somewhere between the dark large sunglasses and the leather pants and the long hair and that transatlantic accent, it was assumed that I was guilty of something. I was guilty of being a bit of a pessimist and a perfectionist. I wanted to make sure that IF something went wrong with my voice that I would be Johnny-on-the-spot with a cure to carry me through a show.
The limo drive back to the airport was like a scene out of a Bond or Jason Bourne movie. Paparazzi in high-speed pursuit, hanging out of the windows of their cars. Our limo was doing 90 and spinning out constantly on the dusty roads. It’s a wonder we are here to tell the tale. Years later I went back for a concert and my reputation and innocence proceeded me…so the show went on without incident, and the audience and their applause erased all that had come before.
3 Do you remember the locations you visited on the Love Boat and Fantasy Island?
I was thrilled to travel on the Love Boat. We boarded in San Pedro or Long Beach and sailed to Escondido for the action and cut cruise. I made friends with the doctor on the show, Bernie Kopell, and became tennis mates. I wish that when I landed on Fantasy Island that I could have been granted the theme song to The Love Boat… Jack Jones’ ship came in again with that gig. Who doesn’t know that song, and Jacks voice is so clear in my head whenever I hear a line from it.
Will it spoil the fantasy, that we had to travel all the way over the canyon to Burbank to find that the Island of Fantasy was really on a lot in the valley? I was gobsmacked at the way the illusion was created. One thing that was not an illusion was the splendid leading character and the man who played “The Boss”, Ricardo Montalban. What a gentleman and Old-world legend. They don’t make them like him anymore. We became friends upon arrival. I certainly miss that man.
4 Any particular talismans you travel with? Any travel phobias?
I always take my cross and have a traveling mini altar that is set up in my dressing room. I say my prayers every night and a few before the show. I still feel the blessings all these years down the road.
5 What are your top travel essentials, and how have they changed over the years? What absolutely must go in your suitcase?
My iPhone has lightened my load a great deal. I no longer lug a dictionary or a camera or a computer but I’m not without pads of paper and crosswords from the English newspaper. I make sure my carry-on will help me carry on anywhere, even if plans change or luggage is lost. I have kind of a John Wayne walk when I have it fully loaded.
6 Any place you’ve never been you’d like to go?
I think I’ve been lucky enough to visit most of this world in my career. It boggles my mind that I really have to think hard to come up with somewhere I haven’t been yet.
OK, I’d like to be in the audience of one of my shows around the world and take notes on what different nationalities connect to and what areas I need to pull my socks up in. I hope that answer doesn’t sound egotistical because I don’t mean it that way. I work very hard and only get to feel and see things from the stage perspective. I’d like to see how my brilliant lighting director (Tim Ison), who has been with me for decades, brings the stage to life with his magic and how the backbone of my show, the band, look without my back turned.
7 If you could time travel back to any moment in your life, where would you go?
I think I’d travel back to the age of 10 when my musical dreams were just forming in full technicolor. It felt as much a part of my life’s blood as my family of 10 and my darling mum and dad felt to me. They were all around and life was like a magnificent play with many musical interludes and songs. I think I was still singing for my parents and their company from under the coffee table or behind the curtain, but, by George I did it!
8 Any travel plans in the near future? For work or play?
Between my home life and my 50th anniversary in showbiz, my plate is full and my cup runneth over. We will be going to places where I’ll want to buy the T-shirt and remember it years from now. In this ever changing landscape, we must seize the opportunity to see what we can of this world. I want to take time to soak it up this time around.
I’d like to go play and work in Hawaii. I have some wonderful memories of family holidays there.
9 What are your following favorites?
Place to fall in love A dance hall. I met my wife at The Palais in Leicester. There is nothing like the feeling of falling in love in a room full of strangers, all holding onto a partner and the hope that The Last Waltz will last forever.
Hotel I recently visited The Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok. If ever I felt like a king…it was the day the staff gathered outside to see me off and showered me in rose petals. I think it’s on YouTube somewhere but that was some goodbye! I’ll definitely be back.
Favorite airport Dubai’s is big, open, great restaurants and many connections. Nashville Airport is small, welcoming and you always see someone you know as you go. You see struggling artists singing for the customers in the cafe… putting their truth into the lyrics of a great country song. Plus…I have family there to meet me. I love hearing all the stars making the announcements on the tannoy system.
Late night bar Any smokeless, quiet, cozy, intimate place that is close to my hotel room. It’s where the bartender is from the school of Casablanca and will lend an ear and keep his eye off his watch. It’s a place to watch the world in slow motion and unwind. There is one place that fits the bill to a tee. It’s across the cobbled courtyard from my home in Leicester…she’s called The Duchess of Hamilton and is my very own pub. Only open to family and friends and I hold the key and draw the pints.
Best food I am definitely exotic when it comes to my palette. Indian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and sometimes just a toasted cheese sandwich dipped in a good cuppa tea…
Weekend getaway Paris would have to top the list. I spent my honeymoon there before we had anything. We saw everything through the eyes of love and it was more than enough. Now I have dear friends there and love this authentic city and it’s architecture and culture and music. The French love a great melody and romantic lyric…as do I.
Beach I remember a beach in Waikiki where I sat and chatted with Lana Turner every day and my daughter chatted and flashed her braces at Tom Selleck. My wife was happy to join either conversation and keep her eye on the situation! I’m kidding. The point is, there are some beautiful beaches in this world, but it’s who you chose to bury your toes in the sand with and soak up the sun and conversation with that really makes the location one to remember.
Walking city I’d have to say Sydney, as the city is just waking up and the fruit shops and cafes are setting up. It’s such a clean city and very welcoming.
Place you never get sick of Hawaii. From the moment you step off the plane, the aroma fills you and pushes aside the everyday worries. The people and the beauty of the place make me feel tranquil, as does New Zealand.
10 What’s your favorite American city?
I love the city of angels, Los Angeles. I’ve had some spectacular years here. From the days in the Pink Palace on Sunset…formerly owned by Jayne Mansfield, to the quiet cul-de-sac, high atop a mountain where I live today and where no-one complains when I crank up the music outside and learn my songs, and I can pop next door for a good English meal and a bevy with friends of 40 years.
Life is busy in the valleys and streets below, but they are far enough away that they are just part of the glow of the city. A place where dreams come true and stars land on the sidewalk and are part of a Walk of Fame forever story, told over and over. I am lucky enough to be on the sidewalk outside of the Roosevelt Hotel. Go by and give me a spit shine sometime.