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A TRIP INSIDE THE WORLD OF BILLY OCEAN!

Billy Ocean on controlling his ego, maintaining his marriage, and getting sacked from his tailoring job in Savile Row

STILL GOING STRONG: Billy Ocean

“I THINK that the higher you climb is the more humble you should become.” Billy Ocean’s sentiment is one he clearly lives by, if his new album is anything to go by.

A mixture of his own classic tracks, along with his interpretations of songs that shaped his own career, the revered singer says he chose to cover songs in a bid to pay tribute to the artists who originally sang them.

“There is so much music already written that nostalgically takes you through your life,” says Ocean, whose album Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean, features renditions of songs including Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry and Judge Not, and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

“I think it’s nice to pay your respects every now and again, particularly as the environment for some of those artists wasn’t as pleasant as ours today. In a way, it’s a case of supporting your own; supporting your culture.

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He continues: “Somebody once said to me: ‘Did you know that the real life Lone Ranger was a black man? I found that very interesting because I grew up thinking the Lone Ranger was this white cowboy that was fighting for good, as was depicted in films. But that wasn’t the case. So I feel that if people like myself don’t salute black artists of the past, or pick up the spear and throw it a little further, we will stay ignorant for the rest of our lives.”

His humility is inspiring, considering he does have much to show off about. Celebrated for smash hits including Caribbean Queen, Get Outta My Dreams and When The Going Gets Tough – all of which are featured on the new album – Ocean was one of the most popular singer-songwriters of the early to mid-80s, racking up number ones, international success and a Grammy Award for best male R&B vocal performance for Caribbean Queen.

And yet, the Trinidadian-born star is immensely laid back, with no air of pretentiousness. Did superstardom never cause him to be consumed by his ego?

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“In this business, you’ve got to have a certain amount of ego,” admits the singer, born Leslie Charles. “But ego is like a jacket – you can put it on and take it off. When I go on stage, I’m Billy Ocean. When I come off stage, I’m Leslie Charles. I never walk around saying, ‘I’m Billy Ocean’…but that does help sometimes!”

Indeed, the old ‘do you know who I am?’ routine worked a charm for the singer on a recent trip to the Caribbean.

“I was in Jamaica and I bought a computer. That’s something I’m just getting into, I had my first lesson recently – I know, I’m a dinosaur,” the 66-year-old laughed.

“Anyway, I’d used my credit card and spent a few thousand dollars on all the various appliances. The next day, I had to pay the hotel, but they wouldn’t let me use my credit card. So I got on the phone and I said, ‘Listen, I’m Billy Ocean!’ And it worked! But I don’t pull rank often – that gets a bit boring. I save it for when it’s really necessary!”

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A trailblazing artist, Ocean’s career spans a staggering 40 years and the release of Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean coincides with the 30th anniversary of When The Going Gets Tough, which hit the spot for four consecutive weeks in the UK upon its release in 1986.

“When I look in the mirror, I can see that it has been 30 years,” he laughs. “But it really doesn’t feel like it was 30 years ago.”

By the mid-80s, Ocean was an international success – and he looked every inch the soul star. Whether he was donning denim, leather jackets or smart suits (and who could forget his jheri curl hairdo?), the cool crooner was tailor made for success – literally.

“A lot of the things I wore back then, I made them myself,” he reveals. “I’m a qualified tailor – I used to worked in [London’s famed tailoring street] Savile Row. Then I left and went to work for Ford.

“My mother supported what I was doing musically, but at the same time, I had to generate a certain amount of income to justify my existence in the house! So I worked as a tailor and then I left tailoring… well, I didn’t leave – I got the sack.
“One of my tracks was due to be played on the radio, so I told everyone to shoosh so I could hear it. By the next Friday, I got my marching orders! So I went to Ford, then I continued pursuing music and the rest is history.”

In creating musical history, Ocean has had the continued support of his wife Judy, to whom he’s been married for… how long has it been?

“Do you know…that’s a good question,” laughs Ocean, who has three children with his wife. “I don’t remember! All I know is that we met when I was 15 and she was 13. So we’ve known each other for a very long time!

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“To me, the years aren’t important. As long as the love is still there, that’s what matters. We met at school, we became friends – and we’re still friends.”

With his wife hailing from Barbados, Ocean says he tends to visit the island when he can. Additionally, the star makes trips to Grenada – where his father was from – to tend to business.

“I’ve got a farm in Grenada and I want to get more into agriculture,” he says. “To be able to grow food for a country would be a big achievement for me.”

Does the Caribbean crusader get to visit his birthplace often? And would he consider himself, as the saying goes, ‘Trini to di bone’?

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“Oh, absolutely Trini to the bone,” he laughs. “But the truth is, I don’t go there as often as I used to, simply because most of the people I knew there have either immigrated or passed away. So now, I tend to go more to Barbados, where my wife is from, or Grenada for business.

“My dream would be to hire a boat and spend a year touring the Caribbean. I can’t see it happening, but who knows? Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

BB>Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean is out now on Sony Music

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