He may be well into middle age and a proud father and grandfather, but Tom Jones, the boy from the Welsh Valleys, can still pull in a youthful and enthusiastic crowd to his concerts.

By Robin Eggar

Tom Jones' voice fills the Melbourne Entertainment Centre and the audience roars its approval. As an instrument of seduction it is a far greater aphrodisiac than whatever is packed into his taut black jeans.

In the last three years he has made a serious chart comeback; his brilliant remake of Prince's Kiss has been a world-wide smash and given him instant credibility to a new generation. He now finds as many eager teenagers are buying tickets for his concerts as the blue rinse brigade and as many pairs of knickers are still being thrown at him on stage.

Couldn't Say Goodbye his new single which was released last month aims to repeat the process. The tour which begins in Oxford on March 21 - and includes five nights in Cardiff - will simply prove his point. There are rumours that he may need the money, but after a quarter century at the top he is still hungry for adulation.

Tom Jones is now 50. He could pass for a decade younger. His face is comfortable, lived in but not abused. His teeth do project a ring of even pearly white confidence that only comes from expensive oral surgery, while his nose is straighter than a Welsh coal miner's son's has any right to be. His curls are now a distinguished shade of grey.

"I stopped rinsing my hair a couple of years ago, " confesses Tom, "My wife said, 'For God's sake stop it looks like somebody's slung a bucket of soot over your head'. So I decided to grow old gracefully. I also had an operation to removes nodules from my vocal chords that took twenty years off my voice."


Tom Jones with Robin Eggar in Sydney Harbour,

November 1990


It is late afternoon and Tom Jones is eating breakfast in his two storey hotel suite. He is wearing only a towelling dressing gown, a brace of gold chains nestle amidst his chest hair. There is a £50,000 solid gold Cartier Pasha watch on his left wrist but his chunky gold rings and diamond and sapphire encrusted bracelet are upstairs. "Mark doesn't like me to wear my jewellery for interviews," he says.

Ever since the death of Gordon Mills - who discovered him singing in a pub in Pontypridd - Tom has been managed by his son Mark Woodward. Moustachioed Mark, 33, was largely responsible for the change in direction and is acutely aware of his father's image - perhaps too much so. Tom may have been a millionaire for over two decades, but much of him still remains firmly rooted in the Welsh valleys.

He loves to talk of those days and as he does the Welsh accent gets stronger. He tells of Pontypridd and growing up in a street of miners homes, games of winter kiss chase around the solitary street lamp and an 11 year old's longing for a Catholic girl called Linda. At the age of 12 Tom was confined to bed for two years with a serious case of tuberculosis.

"I still remember it vividly," he says, "The worse thing was I couldn't sing, so I had to turn to painting. I was drawing lots of girls because I had already fallen in love with my wife. I could see her out of the window playing with other boys and I felt this ache in my heart as well as my groin."

TB taught Tom never to mourn anything. When he left his bedroom he only had a year left of school and was desperate to be a man. After work as an apprentice glove cutter he would go dancing with Linda, or down to the singing room at the local pub. The inevitable mistake happened and Tom was a married father before he was old enough to drive. Mark was nearly eight when "It's Not Unusual" shot to Number One.

Overnight stardom is never easy on marriages - especially on the wife. Linda loved the house they bought in Shepperton but was never happy as Tom's work led to his spending most of the year in the States.

Linda found watching his shows uncomfortable. "She is a fan of my music but she decided she didn't really want to see it anymore."

The Jones moved to an exclusive Bel Air mansion, but Linda was never happy there either. Shy by nature, she scarcely left the house and made no friends with other star wives. A miscarriage had left her unable to have any other children and she was devoted to her grandchildren Alexander, seven, and Emma, three. "I would say to her you don't have to be here all the bloody time," says Tom, "Your feet are not nailed to the floor. Last year I did a British tour and when I was ready to leave she wasn't."

They bought a 25 acre farm in the Vale of Glamorgan. Linda now spends most of the time there. Tom visits regularly, glad of an excuse to sink a few pints in his native land. " I was on the road nine months of the year," says Tom." It put some heavy strains on the marriage - particularly when the papers kept linking me with everybody from Liz Taylor, to Raquel Welch. Now we've reached an understanding that suits both of us. I love visiting Wales, she loves living there. Being married keeps me single. It stops me from being really stupid with some young girl and regretting it six months later"

Tom does not boast about having had affairs - his name has been linked with beauty queens, singing stars and teenage girls- nor does he deny the rumours. He is an unashamed old fashioned male chauvinist, whose eyes light up every time a female, any female, walks into the room. On stage he just takes it to extremes and the ladies love it.

The Voice lives a life strange to most other mortals. Everywhere he goes, Chris Montgomery is at his elbow, eyes scanning the room, watching the street for that one fan in whom adoration has turned into assassination.

Mr Jones has acquired expensive tastes from humble beginnings. His post gig dinners are almost always thousand dollar affairs. He drinks only vintage Dom Perignon champagne and vintage wines with his food.

When he drinks Mr Jones becomes a fine raconteur. He tells of hanging out with his friend Elvis, of watching him deteriorate. "I stayed with him once in Hawaii in 1969," he says, " He'd rushed out to buy guitars and we sat down and played - I was about as good as he was except I knew a couple more chords.

"Fortunately I learnt early in my career that I was not immortal. Back in '66 I crashed my new Jaguar. I woke up with 14 stitches - I've still got the scar - with my mother yelling at me that all the publicity had gone to my head and that I'd bloody well better pull myself together."

Fortunately now that Tom Jones is approaching the twilight of his career he wants to prove that the Welsh boy from nowhere should be remembered properly. He is a great performer, with so much talent that he can switch effortlessly from the schmaltz of "Green Green Grass of Home" to an old R&B cover, from "What's New Pussycat" to the pelvic grinding funk of "Kiss".

I would hate people to think of me as being a jack of all trades," he says, "I think as far as music is concerned I am a master of all vocal styles. Except maybe for Elvis there has never been anybody so versatile. Sinatra couldn't sing rock and roll, Mick Jagger can't sing Fly Me To the Moon. I can. There isn't another singer who can sing better than I can. Not yet anyway."

He may not be a modest boyo, but Thomas Jones Woodward is certainly one hell of a singer. Forget the Vegas glitter, the knickers and the hullabaloo, when it comes down to the wire he is indeed the Voice made flesh.

Robin Eggar, 1991. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form.