Interview: Rod Stewart

BY Jonathan Dean

16th Jan 2023 Celebrities

Interview: Rod Stewart

Singer Rod Stewart, 77, is campaigning about the menopause, helping Ukrainians, and turned down a fat cheque to play in Qatar—and he’s still performing "Hot Legs"

Rod Stewart is at home in his Essex mansion, beaming in a cardigan and a Celtic FC necklace. His spiky hair is as you would expect and takes just moments to perfect. Apply product, dry upside down, add wax. I spot some model trains and ask if they are part of his famous replica of a 1940s US city. 

“Oh, that’s over yonder,” he says in full rasp, pointing to another part of his home. I call it a train set, and he interrupts. “I get offended if you call it a train set. It’s a scale model railroad, if you please.” But it started as a train set? “Yes,” he says, smiling. He began collecting as a boy in Highgate in the 1950s. “I wanted a station,” he says. “But Dad bought me a guitar.” And here we are. 

Rod Stewart 1960s

Rod Stewart in 1964 © Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

You can catch him on tour in the UK. He plays all the hits you would want from his years with Faces and his epic solo career. Are there any old songs that make him…“Awkward?” Exactly. “No. I went through a brief period of thinking I’m not going to sing 'Hot Legs' because it is a shagging song, but what do I finish with? 'Hot Legs'. And people love it. There is nothing I feel uncomfortable singing.” 

I believe him—although few 77-year-olds would dare to sing about cavorting with a schoolgirl and, maybe, her mother. His latest album even has the line, “The sex was immense”. But this is who Stewart is: an entertainer who is as open and authentic as his voice is distinctive. 

What is Rod Stewart like these days?

His charm is a superpower that means, unlike some of his peers, if you google “Rod Stewart cancelled” it is simply a list of gigs postponed due to Covid

Have his tours calmed down since the days he lost count of how many women he had slept with? “They’re not as wild as they were,” he says. “In the old days it was all shagging and drinking, but you can’t carry on like that. I haven’t joined the pipe-and-slippers club yet, but I have to look after my voice.” How does he keep fit enough to perform? “I work out three times a week. I do underwater swimming to improve my breath control. You know who told me about that? Frank Sinatra.” It’s a far cry from, as he confessed in an autobiography, taking cocaine anally to protect his voice. 

Rod Stewart concert

Rod Stewart performing in Indianapolis © Lora Olive, ZUMA Press Wire

There is not a generation that does not love Stewart. I am 42 and his music soundtracked my childhood car journeys. His first single came out when my mum was 11. I ask if his audiences have got any younger. “We just did three months out in America and it was younger than I’ve ever seen,” he says. “Unless the promoter pushed all the young girls down the front to keep me happy.” And, given his wealth, he must really want to tour—surely he has no need to? “Well, I’ve got eight children.” 

The man is a blast. Irreverence from a bygone age mixed with a shot of empathy. For someone worth £300 million, he knows how hard it is for other people now. “Nobody’s got the money,” he says with a sigh. “Usually my tours are sold out, but one in Aberdeen has nearly 1,000 tickets for sale. I shouldn’t admit it, but I’ve no ego.” It is all part of a touring system broken by Brexit, he says, that is making life very hard for young artists in particular. 

"There is not a generation that does not love Stewart"

“I don’t know why we went into Brexit,” he says. “I thought we were OK and nobody ever thought of music when we did that.” Is he optimistic about the industry’s future? “I find it very difficult. Kids just can’t break through.” 

Suddenly his eyes light up. He grabs his phone. “I’ve heard the best f***ing soul singer!” He presses play. A voice comes on crooning "A Change Is Gonna Come". Stewart bursts out laughing at how good it is. 

“They’re called the Vintage Explosion,” he says. “Listen to that!” He’s talking about a little-known seven-piece Scottish r’n’b covers band. Eventually he turns it off, still staggered by how good the singer is. “Will you give them a mention? That’s how we help small bands. He’s probably got the best white-soul voice I have heard since Frankie Miller.” Does the band know about his love for them? “No, I only heard it an hour ago.” (Later I break the news of this celebrity endorsement to the Vintage Explosion. “I am absolutely flabbergasted,” says the lead singer, Will, 42. “Flabbergasted times 1,000.”) 

Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart at Celtic Park, Glasgow © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Stewart is joined on tour by Johnny Mac & the Faithful, a folk and rock band fronted by one of his best friends, John McLoughlin, 55. They share a love of Celtic and pubs—and Stewart sings on the track "Me Oh My" on Johnny Mac & the Faithful’s new album, Midnight Glasgow Rodeo. McLoughlin regales me with glorious stories of Stewart in the wild, like the time in Rome when the singer hoisted his jacket up a flagpole outside an upmarket hotel. Mainly, though, their bond is football. If Celtic are playing, McLoughlin stands in the wings to update Stewart on the score. Despite being born in London, the singer enlisted in the Tartan Army because of his parents. Who will Stewart support at the World Cup, given Scotland’s failure to qualify? 

England? “No, Brazil!” he says, cackling. “I’m the Cockney Scotsman.” Given all the politics surrounding the hosts, Qatar, perhaps this is a good World Cup to miss? “Tell you what, supporters have got to watch out, haven’t they?” I say he could have played "The Killing of Georgie", about the murder of a gay friend in the 1970s, at the opening ceremony as a protest. “That would have been good,” he replies. “I was actually offered a lot of money, over $1 million, to play there 15 months ago. I turned it down.” Why? “It’s not right to go. And the Iranians should be out too for supplying arms.” 

Qatar, the menopause and naming his future biopic

This is not his only activism. Often, Stewart comes across as a family man—he talks sweetly about his kids being into the Temptations—with a lot of time on his hands who wants to put that time to good use. First there were the potholes. In March he spent a couple of hours filling holes in the road near his house in Harlow that made it hard for his Ferrari to pass. He also saw an ambulance stuck. “So I bought the sand,” he says. “Did it myself.” It got the press he wanted—the road is now retarmacked. 

Then he rented a home for a family of seven refugee Ukrainians and gave two of them jobs. A lot of his charity work goes under the radar, but sometimes he wants to lead by example. “I’m a knight,” he explains. Sir Rod arose in 2016. “They give you a knighthood because of what you have done, but I don’t just want to rest. I thought if I make this public, other people might do the same thing. Mick Jagger maybe,” he adds with a mischievous smile. 

"Stewart comes across as a family man with a lot of time on his hands who wants to put that time to good use"

Third in the list of how to grow old gracefully is Stewart’s interest in HRT. His wife of 15 years, Penny Lancaster, 51, was struggling with the menopause, so he found out more about it and, in April, backed her Menopause Mandate campaign to raise awareness. “I hadn’t seen [the menopause] before because my marriages didn’t last that long [Alana Stewart was 39 and Rachel Hunter 37 when they and Stewart got divorced], so Penny was the first, but she would get into blinding fits of rage. One night she threw utensils, so me and the boys gave her a hug and since then she’s worked to let people know what it is. And men have to understand and not just go down the pub.” 

Rod Stewart and the queen!

Rod Stewart meeting the Queen © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Stewart remains a man visibly excited by life, even though times can be hard. His brother Don died in September, aged 94, a few days before the Queen, who the singer met many times. (“She liked Sailing.”) After appearing on a reality show, Lancaster joined City of London Police as a volunteer special constable and was on duty during the monarch’s funeral. “She burst into tears,” Stewart says. “She was within touching distance of the coffin.” 

He is never more animated than when enthusing about his wife’s new job—he worries when she is out on the beat and she texts him when she is running late. “Darling, go to bed,” she says. 

"Stewart remains a man visibly excited by life, even though times can be hard"

Stewart’s inevitable biopic will be a riot. “I keep getting offers,” he complains. “But I’ll be the last to do it—even f***ing Robbie Williams has one now.” 

Will he let all the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll just hang out? “Yeah, I have no skeletons in the closet, as far as I know. I just wish someone would make one before I kick the bucket.” 

What will he call it? “She Was Only a Pilot’s Daughter, but She Kept Her Cockpit Clean,” he quips. Sure, but they tend to name it after a song—how about "Some Guys Have All the Luck"? “That would be lovely.” 

© Jonathan Dean / The Sunday Times / The Interview People 

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