Some surnames are instantly recognisable in the showbiz world – Jackson, Sinatra, McCartney and, of course, the family dynasty that is Osmond.
Osmondmania was massive in the 1970s, not least in the UK with the group’s arrival at Heathrow causing the airport to come to a standstill. Long before the rise of social media made stars seem more accessible, even the slightest glimpse of a band like The Osmonds caused teenage girls to join forces en masse and go into emotional meltdown.
The youngest member of the clan, Jimmy, wasn’t even a teenager at the height of the band’s fame. Now aged 53, he has been responsible for keeping the legacy alive by producing countless nostalgia shows and touring the globe with two of his brothers. He is also a regular visitor to British shores having done pantos, theatre shows and TV appearances, most recently on Celebrity Masterchef where he made it to the final. Next on his list of things to do (along with brothers Jay and Merrill) is The Andy Williams Christmas Extravaganza Starring The Osmonds, coming to a theatre near you in December.
And so it was with nerves jangling that I embarked on a transatlantic chat with him. I began by asking why he thinks The Osmonds have remained such favourites in the UK over such a significant period of time.
“My family have so many great memories of Great Britain,” he tells me. “It’s been so much more fun to perform there than anywhere else in the world. The fans have never forgotten us and the UK not only allows us to do shows together as a group but has also allowed all of us to do our own individual projects, they’ve accepted our individual personalities. Some artists have a run of hits then go away but we always keep changing and doing different projects and bring something new to the people who have loyally followed us. I always feel a pressure to do something different every time I do a show because the fans – or friends as I call them – bring their families along to all the performances. You guys are really cool for still supporting us after all these years.”
Looking back to the 1972 UK Christmas top 20, all the usual suspects from the glam era are there: Slade, T.Rex, Elton John, Lynsey de Paul plus THREE Osmond tracks. The brothers’ classic Crazy Horses, Donny’s Why and, at the pinnacle that festive season, ‘Little’ Jimmy Osmond with the much maligned Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. To this day, he holds the record of being the youngest ever UK chart topper at just nine-years-old. Osmond is almost apologetic when I tell him that, as a child, this was a prized possession in my vinyl collection.
“I’m so sorry, do you want to give it back to me? People loved it and hated it in equal measure but I love to rub it in with my brothers about being the youngest number one act. Back then those Christmas number ones were such a big deal and you had to sell thousands of copies to stay at the top. To this day, even though the family have sold 100 million records, it’s still that silly record that remains the biggest-selling Osmond track ever.
“It was all so intense back then and even though I was a child really, I do recall a lot of it. I don’t know how much of it is memory or, because it’s been so well-documented, I’m just reliving it through all the clips that we use in the shows. I do remember so many experiences though. Impressions of places we played, the bodyguards we had to have and being thrown into the boot of a car when driving out into the crowd at a venue after a show because it was too dangerous to sit in the passenger seat. You tell people now about those extraordinary experiences and they don’t believe you because you really had to live it in the 70s to know how insane it really was. What was so weird about it was, unlike today, there were so few outlets for that kind of interaction with fans. There was really only Top Of The Pops which we had the thrill of hosting as our own show one week.
“Big groups like The Jackson 5 and the Bay City Rollers also had that type of intensity and I think we were all very untouchable so when fans got a rare chance to actually see one of these bands for real they just went mad. It was a special time in an incredible era and I’m so grateful that we were part of it.”
The Osmond brothers received their first big break in the 60s on TV as regular guests on the much-loved Andy Williams Show. His Christmas specials in particular were legendary and it’s the memory of these classic festive shows that Osmond and brothers Jay and Merrill are honouring here in December.
Osmond says: “Andy was our mentor and like family to us. His TV variety shows back in the 60s were like Britain’s Got Talent in terms of exposure. Before he passed away he asked me if I’d continue his legacy so I bought his beautiful Moon River Theatre and his family gave me the use of all the footage from the shows. Last year we just took it out on a small tour and it went so well that we’re bringing it back again for kind of a limited run.
“The public want the option to keep that tradition alive as much as we do because music is so powerful and takes people back through their own lives. It’s great to be part of all that and to have had an impact on so many people. We’re doing all festive songs we sang with Andy including The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and also some of our own hit records, so everyone can sing along. It’s a big production in the style of the classic TV special that you just don’t see much of these days. We’ve got LED screens with footage from back in the day, a live band, dancers and singers plus variety performers including ventriloquist Steve Hewlett and singer Charlie Green who were both finalists on Britain’s Got Talent.”
After more than 50 years in the business, I wonder if Osmond still enjoys performing.
“I love it! We do over 100 shows each year and it’s the most fun. I do a lot of stuff behind the scenes as well but there’s nothing like the immediate reaction from a live audience, especially standing alongside my brothers. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t something I totally loved. I don’t look at it like a job because you have fun and hopefully people forget their problems which I think we need more than ever these days, especially at Christmas. The UK really knows how to have fun, even if its a little cheesy or whatever, they still enjoy it as a family in the same way they love panto, which I’ve also done a lot of over the years. Our show represents the way variety was when we were growing up and so it’s fun to keep that style of entertainment going. The show is going to be fun, festive, warm and fuzzy.”
He adds: “I just want to keep going. I especially love musical theatre. I’ve done Grease, Chicago and Joseph and would love to do more but you have to be asked…so put it out there will you?”
Part of staying in the public eye for many performers these days invloves participating in reality television. Osmond has become a firm favourite on two such shows, reaching the finals of both I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! and the aforementioned Celebrity Masterchef. It seems that the prospect of adventure and fun prompted him to take part in these programmes, rather than a desire to up his profile.
“I’ve never been afraid to try stuff and do things because of the experience and so far it has been great fun. When you do these crazy reality shows you can be seen in a different light rather than just being remembered as that guy who sang on that ‘Liverpool’ record. After so long in the business, you kind get over yourself. Everybody puts their trousers on one leg at a time. You want to do well of course and give it your best but you’re not going to be good at everything.
“With Masterchef I had no idea I’d ever get that far. I was embarrassed that I got emotional but it’s a lot harder than it looks and was incredibly intense. I was so touched by it and the friendships I made. Things just fell together perfectly when I made my dishes. I’ll be making the Christmas dinner for the family this year between shows so the heat is on because they think I’m going to be really good at it.”
By Drew Tosh
The Andy Williams Christmas Extravaganza Starring The Osmonds is at Preston Guild Hall & Charter Theatre, December 21, 2016 (http://www.prestonguildhall.co.uk/home), Burnley Mechanics, December 28 (http://burnleymechanics.co.uk/), and touring.
http://osmond.com/tour-schedule/osmond-tour-schedule/; Jimmy’ Osmonds new album Moon River & Me is available now.