Rocking around Rod’s Christmas tree! From the guests to the gifts (and those little rock star touches), Rod Stewart on HIS big day
- Rod, 74, revealed his family switches between his three homes for Christmas
- He said he has bought wife Penny’s present – last year he got her a white Bentley
- The singer discussed his tour and new album with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Rod Stewart and I are sitting on comfortable cream armchairs in the gym on his sprawling Essex estate. It stands beside the main house at the top of a long driveway that sweeps up from the wrought-iron gates, and was a cowshed, choked in weeds, before it was fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment.
Rod, now 74, has just been put through his paces by his personal trainer. He’s still in his tracksuit sipping a glass of water. With Christmas looming, he tells me he loves to follow all the festive traditions.
‘We all go to church on Christmas morning. Not that we ever go during the rest of the year, but I like to on the day itself,’ he says.
‘Then it’s home to play football with the boys on the lawn. I like to wait until 6pm for the main meal, otherwise you’ve had a few glasses of wine and then you’re asleep. We always have turkey and all the trimmings. We’re just like anybody else.’
Rod Stewart, 74, will spend Christmas in Palm Beach, Florida, with his wife Penny Lancaster and their sons, Alastair, 14, and eight-year-old Aiden. They’ll be joined this year by Rod’s daughter Kimberly and son Sean, from his first marriage to Alana Hamilton, and Kimberly’s daughter Delilah, by the actor Benicio del Toro. Pictured, Rod in a festive outfit
Well, not quite. For a start there are three homes to choose from. ‘We take it in turns,’ he says. ‘Sometimes we’re here in Essex. Sometimes we’re at our home in Beverly Hills. But this year it will be in Palm Beach, Florida.’
And who does the cooking? ‘Either my chef from here in Essex, or the one in Los Angeles. This year, it’s the one from the UK. It’s a big operation getting all the available Stewarts together.
‘The Ferrari has to be driven from LA to Florida on a trailer so it’s there for me to use.’ But Rod makes no apologies. ‘I earned it,’ he smiles. ‘I’ll spend it.’
After his current tour finishes on 20 December he’s off to Florida with his wife Penny Lancaster and their sons, Alastair, 14, and eight-year-old Aiden. They’ll be joined this year by Rod’s daughter Kimberly and son Sean, from his first marriage to Alana Hamilton, and Kimberly’s daughter Delilah, by the actor Benicio del Toro.
Wherever he is, he always listens to the Queen’s speech, although the time difference means he’ll catch it later if he’s in the US. ‘You can find it easily online,’ he says.
He’ll also watch his favourite seasonal films. ‘The one I like best is The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks, about the young boy going to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. That always gets me in the mood. We open our presents before we eat.
Rod Stewart with wife Penny Lancaster, centre, and his exes Alana Stewart, Kelly Emberg and Rachel Hunter in August. He shares seven children with the four women
‘I don’t know how anyone finds something to give me. I’ve got everything. It used to be paintbrushes for my model railroad. Now I tell them to give the money to charity.’
And what about his gift to Penny? ‘I’ve got it already,’ he says. ‘I know she’ll really love it. She also likes a bit of jewellery but I could pick something and it might not be her style.’ There are always alternatives. ‘Last year I bought her a white Bentley.’
Does he have any idea what Penny’s going to buy him this year? ‘No. But she’s always great. She plans it months in advance. A few years ago she had a beautiful rowing boat built which we put on our lake in the other house in Essex before we moved here.
‘I named it Celtic Pride.’ He pauses and looks around the gym with its Celtic FC scarves and signed players’ shirts adorning the walls. ‘You’d never guess which football club I support, would you?’ he says with a chuckle.
Penny also takes charge of the Christmas music, so what will be playing in the Stewart household? ‘Me,’ he says, with a grin. ‘Penny insists on it. But it must be my Christmas album. Nothing else all day, although she might occasionally allow something of mine from the Great American Songbook.’
Rod and Penny are educating their sons, Alastair, 14, and eight-year-old Aiden, pictured, in the UK. The family will head to Palm Beach, Florida, for Christmas
THE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING TRIP I NEVER MISS
Rod pictured with his sister Mary
Before he flies off to Florida for Christmas, there’s one shopping trip that’s always on Rod’s list.
He was a fifth child, 14 years younger than his eldest brother Bob and an afterthought who left his mum exhausted.
‘So my sister Mary, who’ll be 91 this year, more or less brought me up,’ he says. The two remain very close and each December, as a sort of delayed thank you, he takes Mary off to Harrods on a Yuletide shopping spree. ‘
She’ll say, “Oh Roddy, you can’t possibly buy me that,”’ he smiles.
‘And I’ll say, “Of course I can. I’m rich.”’
She’ll have more choice this year, as Rod’s just released his new album You’re In My Heart, a combination of his vocals from his greatest hits, with fresh orchestrations by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
‘I can’t take any credit,’ he says. ‘The record label came up with the idea. I didn’t have to lift a finger. They just took my vocal tracks and then, under producer Trevor Horn’s guidance, accompanied them with all these lush strings.
‘I couldn’t imagine them on a track like Maggie May or Tonight’s The Night, but it works beautifully.’
It’s clear he dotes on Penny, and after a somewhat hectic love life that’s given him eight children, he’s more settled today than he’s ever been.
‘Penny’s great,’ he says. ‘She’s very grounded, but I don’t want to say normal because she’s extraordinary. She keeps the family together. When she first came into my life, the older kids were very suspicious.
‘”Another bird trying to get her hands on Dad’s money. Less for us.” That sort of thing. But she won them all over. And now they all look to her for advice – especially the girls.
‘She doesn’t beat about the bush. She’ll tell them what she thinks and they’ll listen. And her judgment’s always spot on. She’s the glue in the Stewart family.’
He’s extremely proud of the stint Penny did as a special police constable in Peterborough for a TV reality show earlier this year. She found the experience so rewarding she’s now in talks to take on the job part-time for real, with the prospect of six months of training before she’s accepted.
Wherever he is for Christmas, self-described monarchist Rod always listens to the Queen’s speech, although the time difference means he’ll catch it later if he’s in the US
What does Rod think about it? ‘No one’s ever been able to stop Penny if she’s decided she wants to do something. And I’m always behind her all the way. But am I scared for her? Yes, a little.
‘Did you see that drug addict who threatened to stab her with a needle on the TV show?’ He’s suddenly very serious. ‘As long as she’s accompanied at all times by another constable, she’ll be OK.’
ROD’S DOUBLE ACT
As well as singing with Robbie Williams on his new album You’re In My Heart, Rod’s previously recorded plenty of duets perfect for downloading at Christmas…
WINTER WONDERLAND (with Michael Bublé)
Rod and the popular Canadian crooner give this Christmas classic an easy-listening makeover.
WE THREE KINGS (with Mary J Blige)
Rod teams up with the Grammy winning soul singer for a remake of the 1857 Christmas carol.
IT TAKES TWO (with Robbie Williams)
Robbie returned a favour to Rod by duetting on this new version of Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s 1965 hit.
Not everyone could have entered Rod’s complex life and not only coped with it, but taken charge the way Penny has. A good example is the way she juggles the former wives and girlfriends, not to mention the children, and sometimes all under one roof at the same time.
‘I don’t know how she does it. I get on well with all of them, although it can be a bit awkward if Alana and Kelly [Emberg, mother of Rod’s daughter Ruby] and Rachel [Hunter] are all in the same room. But Penny keeps all the plates spinning.’
It’s all very different from a couple of decades ago when in 1999, after two children together, Renee and Liam, his second wife Rachel Hunter told him she wanted out.
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ he tells me now. ‘I was a rock star. You don’t dump a rock star! It knocked me for six. It was a huge shock. But she was just 21 when we married and a mum a year later. My sister Mary told me she was too young for me as we were walking down the aisle. And she was right.’
It made him far more cautious when he met Penny, who’s 26 years his junior, shortly after Rachel left him. They dated for eight years before they married in 2007, and when they had their two sons he approached fatherhood very differently too.
‘With Kimberly and Sean, I was deeply in debt to the US taxman. So I was away a lot on tour to earn much-needed money. Did the kids suffer? Yeah, they must have done. Their dad wasn’t there. But I didn’t have much choice.’
These days he plans his schedule around Alastair and Aiden’s holidays, and he and Penny have chosen to have the boys educated in the UK. ‘They’re taught more here,’ he says. ‘They learn quicker. They go to school six days a week and they love it.
‘They’re at the same school now. It’s wonderful to see them go off every morning in their uniforms. They’ve given me a new lease of life. And they’re mad on football too. We play on the astroturf pitch I’ve had built in the grounds.’
Recently there’s been a new addition to the household – a rescue dog from Battersea. She’s a Labradoodle originally called Blondie, though she’s been re-named Lily by Aiden, who says she responds better to that.
Rod’s busy home life is counterbalanced by the demands of his career, and there’s plenty coming up in the run-up to Christmas with his new album just out.
He’s hugely enjoying his current tour which ends with three nights at London’s O2 on 17, 19 and 20 December, each of which will see him accompanied on stage by the Royal Philharmonic for the first time.
There was a report recently that he was going to drop some of his raunchier songs – Hot Legs, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? from his live shows because they were no longer age-appropriate but Rod dismissed the rumours. Pictured, the star on stage in Germany in 2015
There was a report recently that he was going to drop some of his raunchier songs – Hot Legs, Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? and so on – from his live shows because they were no longer age-appropriate. Rod snorts.
‘Nah! Where did that come from? Of course I’m going to keep singing them. Anyway, they were appropriate when I first sang them. It was a different time. You could smack a girl on the bum then and it wasn’t the end of the world.’
He does approve of the #MeToo movement, though. ‘Course I do. Not that I’ve ever had to throw myself at a woman. It’s always been the other way around,’ he chuckles.
The only track on the new album that doesn’t involve the Royal Philharmonic is a duet with Robbie Williams on the Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston Motown hit It Takes Two.
‘I know Robbie through football, and his wife Ayda is on Loose Women and so is Penny. Also, my chef is married to his housekeeper. He emailed me and said he’d got a Christmas song, Fairytales, and he’d be honoured if I sang it with him.
‘It’s on his new album. Once we’d recorded it, I told him he owed me a favour. He’d have to duet with me on It Takes Two, so that’s what we did. But we’ve never sung it together.’
Rod revealed he has already got his wife Penny Lancaster’s present – last year he got her a white Bentley. Pictured, the couple pose for a photo in May
That’s because they both recorded their vocals at separate times. They were due to perform the song together at this year’s Royal Variety Performance, but Rod had to pull out with a throat infection.
It would have been his third Royal Variety show, although he’s performed for the Queen privately too. ‘I’m a monarchist,’ he says. ‘I think the Queen is wonderful. And I know Charles quite well. He’s great fun.
‘I was a bit disappointed that Harry and Meghan have decided not to spend Christmas with the Queen this year. If I was Harry, I’d think there was plenty of time in the future to have Christmases on my own or with Meghan’s mum.
‘The Queen’s 93. I flew around the world to be with my mum and dad at Christmas because I knew they didn’t have many left.’
Rod, who was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2016, recalls how nerve-racking it was when he once sang in front of her in a room no bigger than the gym we’re sitting in.
‘It was a fundraiser at the palace. There were about 40 guests and the Queen sat with the Duke of Edinburgh 15ft away from me. I was so bleeping nervous! I sang five standards. Actually, I announced in front of her that Penny and I were getting married. She had a big smile on her face.’
The lifelong footballer is having his right knee replaced in January, before a string of dates in Las Vegas in March. There’s never any shortage of new projects, but how would he feel about a film of his life following the recent Bohemian Rhapsody, about Freddie Mercury, and Rocketman, about Elton John?
The lifelong footballer is having his right knee replaced in January, before a string of dates in Las Vegas in March. Pictured, Rod on stage in London in February 2017
‘No one’s asked me yet,’ he says. ‘But would I be interested? You betcha. And my youngest, Aiden, who’s the spitting image of me at that age, could play the young me. I don’t know who they’d get for the adult version, but that’s not my problem.’
He thought the Queen film was ‘just brilliant’, but he had one or two misgivings about Rocketman.
‘The chronology wasn’t always right. When they showed Elton singing at the Troubadour he was performing songs that were released 20 years later. And it was a bit too Mamma Mia! for me,’ he says, waving jazz hands.
The recent pictures of Rod’s astonishing model railroad (you call it a train set at your peril) attest that he’s clearly got a forensic eye for detail.
‘To me, making it was more fun than running it,’ he says. ‘I can only explain my love for it by saying the sense of fulfilment it gives me comes from the fact I created it with my own hands.’
Yet until now he’s always been rather shy about discussing it. Might that be because he felt it was a bit geeky – not very rock’n’roll?
‘Absolutely. I thought it was a bit dodgy. I didn’t want anybody to know about it. But it’s incredibly absorbing. I’ve lost more hours than I could count constructing it in my attic in LA. Penny would stand at the bottom of the stairs. “Rod,” she’d shout. “There are children down here, growing up.” But she knows what it means to me.’
Though his passions keep him young, he leaves nothing to chance. Gary, his personal trainer, keeps him in trim, though Rod’s not a man who puts on weight.
‘But I did because of the prostate cancer,’ he says. Earlier this year he revealed he’d been having treatment for a couple of years. ‘I’m the right side of that now, but it was caught early. Look at this, though…’
He lifts his T-shirt and pinches a modest roll of midriff, which he says is disappearing. ‘As part of the treatment you’re given a female hormone which makes all the fat go to your tummy. Apart from that, I’m in full working order.’
For a man his age he’s remarkably unlined. Yet there’s no evidence he’s a fan of Botox.
‘No, but I’ll tell you a secret. Every morning, after I shave, I rub Oil of Olay into my face. Ronnie Wood and I used to do that when we were 19 and I never stopped.’
Ronnie said recently that one of the reasons they’ve both stayed at the top of their game is because they each still sport a full head of hair.
‘When we were on tour together, we’d know when each other was sick,’ says Rod. ‘I’d look at him and say, ‘Ron, your barnet’s collapsed.’ It was an indication of the state of our health.’
Penny walks in, back from a shopping trip with some friends. Rod jumps to his feet and gives her a big hug. ‘Ah, the love of my life,’ he says.
‘Listen,’ he chuckles, turning to me. ‘I’ve got such a ridiculously great life. I must be the luckiest man alive.’
Rod’s album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, You’re In My Heart, is out now. Rod is currently on a UK tour, for more information visit rodstewart.com.
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