Charlotte Laws does a brief Q and A about singer Tom Jones, his wife and his new autobiography, Over the Top and Back. Charlotte is an author and TV host, and she dated Tom from 1979–1982.
You dated Tom Jones for three years. What do you think of his autobiography, Over the Top and Back, which hits U.S. bookstores on November 24? And how does it differ from your experiences with Tom, as described in your new memoir, Rebel in High Heels?
Over the Top and Back gives an interesting and comprehensive account of that part of Tom’s life which deals with his singing career, parents and wife. There are delightful stories about his childhood in Wales, interactions with his manager Gordon Mills, and his love-hate relationship with the BBC show, The Voice. It provides details for those readers who yearn for names, dates and conversations related to his career.
But the book is a glass half full because it omits the bulk of his “on the road” experiences. It fails to mention most members of his “traveling” family: his entourage, band and friends (including girlfriends). He performed up to 300 nights per year in cities around America. If his “away from home” adventures were tallied, this would amount to decades of adventures. My memoir, on the other hand, gives readers a glimpse into this hidden side of Tom—for example, what it was like to be with him backstage and in the hotel suite. I describe incidents related to his jealousy, his distaste for racism, his insecurity about his looks and his contempt for gossip. But there are some things I cannot disclose because either I was not present to witness them, or they were told to me in confidence. I hope Tom will someday come forward with the rest of his amazing tale because it is always better to toast one’s life with a full glass.
Some people call you “Tom’s lucky charm.” Are you? Or do you think it is a coincidence that Tom’s career began a decline shortly after he broke up with you in 1982?
I am not Tom’s four leaf clover. Tom claims that he experienced a career setback from 1983 until around 1990, but onlookers saw no downturn. He was selling out stadiums, and he seemed to be as popular as ever. Success is relative, and in my experience, show business folks tend compare themselves with their most successful peers. There is a tangible and often gritty competitiveness. This adds stress to one’s life, a desperation to run faster on the treadmill. But I always found Tom to be different, more easygoing. He is a “go with the flow” guy, not a bulldozer. I would call him a Type B personality. When I asked him about future goals, I never got a goal-oriented, Type A answer. He always said, “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.” Whenever “the lows” started to creep into his psyche, he would remind himself of the financial hardship he knew in Wales as a child and teen. This gave him perspective. It made him feel grateful.
Did he ever talk to you about his desire to explore other areas of show business?
He’s been interested in the movie industry for some time. Once, we were in his Las Vegas dressing room and he asked me to read a book called The Gospel Singer. He wanted my opinion. He and his manager owned the rights to the story, and he was enthusiastic about playing the lead. The next time I saw Tom, I began to talk about the project, but he interrupted me with “It’s off.” He was unhappy about the cancellation.
How did you feel when Tom was dropped abruptly from The Voice? And do you have any insight as to why Tom made so many bizarre comments in the press just after this? As you may recall, he had choice words for the producers of the show and even Engelbert Humperdinck. He made controversial comments about Jimmy Savile, his wife’s appearance and gays.
It was selfish and classless of The Voice producers to tell Tom about program changes at the last minute. He had arranged his concert schedule around the show, so he had a right to be bitter when he learned he wouldn’t be invited back. In his autobiography, he criticizes The Voice, saying that he often wondered whether the show was “run by humans or a machine in a basement.”
As for his controversial statements in the press, some of them were taken out of context. However, I think the others were related to The Voice dustup. Television has always been the measure of success for Tom. When he was tethered to his family home at age 12 with tuberculosis, a television was placed in his room. This made him feel special because sets were rare in those days. Then when he was gaining traction as a singer, television was the medium which spotlighted his success. His mother proudly watched him on TV, announcing, “My son the singing star.” Then he got his own ABC show, This is Tom Jones, which catapulted his career to new heights. Later he appeared on the sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And even though it was just one episode, it gave him great traction and introduced him to a new generation of concert-goers. Tom also believed being a television personality made him more appealing to women. For example, in his book, he says, “Never underestimate the extent to which people want to have sex with people who are on television.”
In Tom’s mind, being on TV is crucial. He was ecstatic when he landed the gig on The Voice and equally disappointed when the gig ended. The loss may have affected him deep down in ways he did not realize. He is not, by nature, a verbally combative person. He may have had a fear that his popularity would diminish. Lashing out, creating controversy or mixing things up (i.e. with comments about Humperdinck, Savile, etc.) was a way to gain attention from the press and public. I think his actions were subconscious. He may have feared being brushed aside, especially as a septuagenarian. People often get kicked to the curb as they age. The Voice essentially kicked him the curb when they replaced him with Boy George, a younger judge. Tom has done an excellent job keeping himself relevant over the decades, maintaining superstar status. He clearly wants to keep the momentum going.
That’s an interesting theory. Fame seems to be important to him. Did he ever talk about this?
Fame is like cocaine. It gives you a high. And yes, this is true for Tom. He told me that he gets his greatest jolt of adrenaline when he performs before a large crowd and just after he comes offstage. Although he enjoys being in the public eye, he has not become jaded. He’s the same person today that he was back in Wales. In his autobiography, he mentions people feeling sorry for him for being unable to go McDonald’s without any fuss. But he likes the fuss. In 1979, he and I were in his Atlanta hotel room watching a wildlife program. I asked, “Don’t you miss going outside?” He quickly answered, “No.” “I guess you don’t need to go outside with shows like this,” I joked, motioning to a cheetah on TV. He laughed. Going outside represented being ordinary, and he preferred to be extraordinary. Who could blame him for that?
His wife has a prominent role in his book. As an ex-girlfriend, what do you think about this?
His autobiography is a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates meant for only one person: his wife, Linda. It is a gift for her, a tribute. It is a sweet gesture. Although Tom and Linda had what I would call an “open marriage”—or more accurately “a don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship—the book is Tom’s way of asking for forgiveness. It is an apology for the years of difficulty and absence. It is also a public confession, confirming that she’s always been a bright light in his world. He had to pretend she did not exist when he began his career in the 1960s because management felt that he needed to appear single, so it is all the more appropriate that Tom is publicly honoring her now. At the end of the book, Tom says that Linda is the force that kept him sane. Like his parents, she was an anchor, keeping him grounded, maintaining a tie to his roots, reminding him to always be humble. Although I have never met her, I know she’s a very special lady.
More from entertainment