Interview: Chris Rea - MY ROAD FROM HELL; How a near-death experience made singer Chris Rea realise what he really wanted out of life. By Rebecca Fletcher.
Lying on a hospital bed, pumped full of drugs and facing a 14-hour operation to remove part of his stomach, which he only had a 50 per cent chance of surviving, Chris Rea wasn't thinking, ``Why me?'' or worrying about dying.
Instead, he was preoccupied with his music.
``My wife Joan was with me until they wheeled me to theatre,'' says Chris, 51. ``And then this weird thing happened. As they put the mask on, I wanted to shout, `Stop - I haven't done the album that everyone would like me to make. I've got to do that before I die'.''
As he tells Des O'Connor and Melanie Sykes this week on their new daytime talk show, Today With Des And Mel, he has always longed to make the music that inspires him - blues and gospel. Instead, the soft rock for which he is famous - Fool (If You Think It's Over), Auberge and the No 1 hit Road To Hell - have seen him bracketed alongside the likes of Phil Collins and Dire Straits.
``I can't bear to listen to my old records,'' he says. ``The men in suits manipulated my music a lot before and I can't blame anyone but myself. I gave them what they wanted rather than what I wanted.''
But not any more. That near-death experience two years ago made Chris more determined than ever to follow his heart.
The result is his new album, Dancing Down The Stony Road - a pretty apt title given what he has been through.
``I wasn't frightened of dying,'' he says. ``And it did look like the end, but what got me through was the thought of leaving a record that my two teenage daughters could say, `That's what Papa did - not the pop stuff, but the blues music. That's what he was about'. And it is. Stony Road is the one you can pin on my headstone.''
Today, the former 15 stone bear of a man is a shadow of his old self. He weighs just eight and a half stone and needs daily injections to keep his diabetes in check. But although he looks frail and gaunt, there is a spark in his eye that wasn't there before.
``The old Chris Rea was lost in that operation and parts of him I haven't allowed to come back,'' he says. ``I'd have punched walls down before or had dinner with producers who might be able to get me a duet with so-and-so - well, bloody hell, I haven't survived for that. I've found a happy life and I'm a different person.
``I used to hate being a taxi driver to my kids, but now I see our time in the car as special when we can talk. I see a fresh rainy day instead of crappy weather. I know mymilkman's name. And my village, near Maidenhead, is home instead of just being the place we live that's handy for Heathrow. I much prefer the Chris Rea now.''
He was enjoying a career resurgence, thanks to a remixed version of his single On The Beach becoming a chill-out hit in Ibiza in the summer of 2000, when he was diagnosed with severe pancreatitis. ``It started off as a joke about indigestion,'' he recalls. ``But the pain in my shoulder blades got worse and one morning I woke up yellow. My liver wasn't draining to my pancreas. X-rays showed one big shadow - the doctors also thought I had blanket cancer across my stomach.
``I was lying there, waiting to have my pancreas, duodenum and a third of my stomach removed, and suddenly all the money in the world didn't mean a thing. I just thought, `I haven't made the music I want'.
``Even during recovery, spending six weeks waiting to see if it was cancer, with morphine bubbling around in pipes all over me, that was all I thought about.
``It was like being on a journey. All these people started coming into the room - blues legend Charley Patton, my mum who passed away years ago - saying, `Remember that afternoon you talked about doing blues and gospel?' So when I camethrough that haze, I only had one choice - to show I'm a slide guitarist who loves blues.''
The album wasn't quite what his record company bosses had in mind, but this time he was not about to cave in.
``Before, I'd have fought for a bit of what I wanted, but compromised,'' admits Chris.
``But after the operation I didn't have the energy to hustle. So I released Stony Road on my own label, Jazzy Blue.''
He pauses then adds, ``If you listen to the beginning of Road To Hell 15 years on, it is a gospel tune - I never realised it before. I now know what I'm supposed to be doing. Pop isn't my world any more and it's never going to be again.''
Considering he only became a singer by accident, Middlesbrough-born Chris has had a remarkable 25-year career. He has made 19 albums and sold more than 20m records.
Now making the music he loves in his studio by the Thames - full of photos of Joan, who he's been with since they were 16, and their daughters Josephine and Julia - he is a happy man.
``We knew that the amount we loved each other was the hurt we'd feel if I didn't make it,'' he says. ``That's why I don't need the latest Ferrari any more. I've found happiness that I wouldn't have known or appreciated if I hadn't been ill. Every head of government should experience illness - we'd see a different world.''
l Today With Des And Mel, Monday, ITV1, 1pm.
EVERLASTING LOVE: With wife Joan; Picture: JIM SELBY
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Sep 28, 2002|
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