Phil Collins is sharing his genesis — and everything that followed.
In his new memoir, Not Dead Yet, the British rocker, 65, looks back on his professional highs — he performed for the Queen and befriended Michael Jackson — and personal lows, such as having multiple affairs and asking for a divorce from his second wife via fax.
Here, Us Weekly rounds up the eight most shocking revelations from his bombshell book, in which the dad of Joely, 44, Simon, 40, Lily, 27, Nicholas, 15, and Matthew, 11, holds nothing back.
1. He (sort of) witnessed Princess Diana cheat on Prince Charles
In the early ’80s, Collins got involved with Prince Charles‘ charity, the Prince’s Trust. And, in doing so, he also cozied up to royals. (He helped plan Charles’ 40th birthday party.)
By 1991, he was part of the royals’ inner sanctum. With his longtime assistant Danny Gillen in tow, Collins bumped into Diana while he was visiting his dentist on London’s Harley Street. “A BMW pulls up and the window slides down,” writes Collins. “It’s Diana and, sitting in the driver’s seat, an officer-class chap I recognized as James Hewitt.”
(Royal history refresher: Di had a five-year affair with Hewitt, a former officer in the British army.)
With a smile on her face, the mom of Princes William and Harry asked Collins what he was doing in the area. Then, “light as you like, ‘I’ve just had a colonoscopy. It was great. You should try it.’ Danny and I look at each other. ‘Did that really just happen?'”
2. He insulted the Queen
And yet he still scored future invites to Buckingham Palace. While celebrating Charles’ 40th birthday in November 1988, Collins admits he committed two cardinal sins. “The first is to approach the Queen and introduce myself. One has to wait for the Queen to approach one,” he writes. “I also address her as ‘Your Highness’ instead of ‘Your Majesty.’ Neither faux pas seems to bother her, and she’s quite friendly, referring to me as her son’s ‘friend,’ which tickles me to no end.”
The night ended on a high: Before leaving the party, “I watch as the Queen and Prince Philip jive to ‘Rock Around the Clock,'” adds Collins. “Not an image I’ll ever forget.”
3. Cher asked him for a gig
He’s got you covered, babe. On July 13, 1985, during the Live Aid worldwide concert, Collins was on a cross-Atlantic trip to Philadelphia with a fresh-faced Cher. “I’m a bit starstruck,” the rocker admits. “I don’t care if she isn’t wearing her battle makeup. But plainly she cares. So as I’m getting out my chunky ’80s Walkman, and my cassettes of the Zeppelin albums; she’s making her way to the bathroom. And before we’ve taken off, she’s coming back again, having made herself look like ‘Cher,’ bless her heart.”
During the flight, she asked him what all the hoopla was about. (Collins had just performed in London and was jetting to the U.S. to continue the international concert.) He explained Live Aid, known as the global jukebox, to which Cher replied, “‘Can you get me on it?'” writes Collins. “I’m thinking … ‘What am I, a f–king talent agent?'”
4. He hung at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch with his family
To celebrate Thriller‘s 10th anniversary, Billboard awarded Michael Jackson a special trophy at their 1992 show. However, because the King of Pop had to head out on tour the following day, Jackson pretaped his acceptance speech with Collins.
Riding up to Neverland Ranch in a limo with then-wife Jill Tavelman and their daughter, Lily, the family was greeted by workers in what he describes as Disneyesque uniforms. “There’s muzak tinkling in the gardens and children running around in the on-site amusement park,” Collins writes.
Then Jackson entered. “He’s very sweet and friendly. All thoughts of the weird things I’ve heard disappear in an instant,” he reveals. “I don’t bat an eyelid when he invites Lily and Jill to pal upstairs in his toy room.”
While cameras were setting up in Jackson’s studio, the singers made small talk. “He apologizes for his pale makeup. It’s for a skin condition [Vitiligo], he tells me. I get the impression he feels safe with me,” adds Collins, “And not just because, as the L.A. Times later notes in its report on the telecast, I’m an ‘English paleface.'”
Though it’s a brief encounter, Jackson left a lasting impression. “Michael Jackson, though clearly not the same as us mortals, is not the weirdo we’ve been led to expect,” he continues. “A brilliant musician and a nice guy who’s had to live an extraordinary life from the age of 5. But, even though I have no direct knowledge of the murkier side of Michael’s life, I have to say that there’s probably no smoke without some kind of fire.”
5. He cheated on second wife Tavelman — twice
He’s not proud of his infidelity. The first affair began in 1992, eight years into his union with Tavelman. While performing in L.A. during Genesis’ We Can’t Dance tour, Collins reconnected with his childhood sweetheart, Lavinia Lang.
“Seeing her: time stops, then rattles backward, fast, dizzyingly, to teenage dreams,” writes Collins. “I am not thinking about my nearby wife, 3-year-old daughter and mother-in-law. I know that recounting this makes me sound like a right shallow bastard. But I’m not that way. I’m very loyal. Very committed.”
Well, not that committed. While Tavelman and Lily remained in L.A., Collins and Lang struck up a whirlwind affair in London. About four weeks after their meeting, they decided to leave their spouses. “Before this I have never been unfaithful,” he reveals. “But I class Lavinia as a genuine exception — I have good reason to do this in my misty eyes. She’s the love of a younger life, the one that got away.”
And away she went again. “Alas, from dizzying highs to nausea-inducing lows,” writes Collins. “Lavinia comes back to me, having spoken to her husband, and says, ‘He’s not gonna kill me, but he’s gonna ruin my life: He’ll take the kids.’ As quickly as it was all on, it’s all off.”
Two years later, in 1994, he was back to his old ways. This time, with Orianne Cevey.
After meeting at the Geneva airport, Collins invited the then 21-year-old, who served as his translator during his stay, to his hotel’s restaurant. But, she phoned over and said, “She can’t come. Why not? ‘Because my boyfriend heard about you and he hit me,'” writes Collins. “She has a fat lip … I tell her I don’t mind how she looks.”
Finally, she took the bait. “For the next couple of days, I’m like a dog with two tails,” reveals Collins. “But at the same time: I’m about to go to Paris. And in Paris I’m due to meet my wife and our 5-year-old daughter, who are flying in from London. What have I done? Well, I know what I’ve done. I’ve betrayed my wife and child. Again. And I’ve set sail for perilously uncharted waters. ‘Meet Phil Collins’ new mystery girlfriend. She’s young enough to be his daughter.’ Ticks all the midlife crisis boxes.”
6. He split from Tavelman over fax
You read that right. Six weeks after he confessed his affair to his wife, he wrote her a four to five page letter. “I try to outline the way I feel about us, about the future,” reveals Collins, who was on tour in Frankfurt, Germany. “The most reliable and quickest way to get this letter to her is to fax rather than post it. So that’s what I do.” When he didn’t get a response, he tried again, sending over another fax to their Lakers Lodge home in the U.K.
The not-so-fun-for-him twist: “Somehow Britain’s biggest selling tabloid has got hold of the fax I sent from my dressing room,” he says of The Sun. “What The Sun has edited and used from what I actually wrote has given them the headline ‘I’m Faxing Furious,’ and the story that I was faxing for divorce.” Alas, international water-cooler talk is made.
Fun fact: He married Overy 1999. They divorced in 2008. And now they’re back together again.
7. He compared his mistress to a Disney Princess for his child’s sake
At least it worked! When it came time for Lily to meet Overy, Collins explained the situation using his daughter’s favorite Disney film and soundtrack, Aladdin.
“I introduce Lily to the difficult subject of the new lady in Daddy’s life by telling her: ‘I’ve met a lady who looks just like Princess Jasmine from Aladdin,'” he writes. “She’s wide-eyed at this. ‘Wow!’ That helps Lily and Orianne have an instant connection.”
8. Adele turned him down
She sends her love, though. In October 2013, Adele reached about writing a song together for her third album. (Um, he hadn’t heard of her until then!)
The following month, the Brits met at London’s Dorchester hotel. “She’s exactly as you’d expect: a friendly, not to mention sweaty, north London girl, her down-to-earth personality entirely untouched by her being the preeminent artist of the day and the all-conquering savior of the music industry,” gushes Collins. “I make her a cup of tea and try to hide the shiver of nerves. I feel like I’m being auditioned.”
She then played him a song. Naturally, he liked what he heard and she asked him to finish it. Back in New York, he did just that, learning the piece on his piano, adding in parts of his own then he sent it over to Adele.
“After awhile, I email again: ‘Are you waiting for me, or am awaiting for you?’” he writes. “‘Oh no,’ comes Adele’s apologetic reply, ‘I’m moving, I’m chaining email addresses, I’m looking after the baby, etc. … I later read her saying that it was all too early in the writing and recording process for the album that would become the blockbusting 25; that she wasn’t ready; that she still thinks I’m awesome.”
For more on Collins, pick up Not Dead Yet, on bookshelves now!
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