Is Phil Collins' insecurity driving him back on the road?

Is Phil Collins’ insecurity driving him back on the road? DAVID JONES asks his family and friends why the 69-year-old drummer is re-forming Genesis with diabetes, walking problems and hearing loss

Wincing with each agonised step, and looking as though he might topple over at any moment, the sight of him hobbling on to the stage was pitiful to behold.

Hunched over a walking cane and clad in a commodious black outfit that barely concealed the excess pounds, he was unrecognisable as the pop star whose angst-ridden ballads – cheesy and self-indulgent to some critics, yet sufficiently popular to sell 150 million albums – were the definitive sound of the Eighties.

Wizened, bald and bespectacled, but admirably stoical and good-humoured, this was the Phil Collins I saw, in poignant close-up, shuffling into a university hall, in Austin, Texas. Not to sing and play the drums, but to give a lecture to a few dozen history buffs on the Battle of the Alamo.

Somewhat surreally, the man whose success once rivalled that of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney is now a world-renowned expert on the fabled fortress siege of 1836, in which 180 Americans, led by Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, defied the full might of the Mexican army.

He even believes he may have been reincarnated as one of the heroic soldiers who fought and died in the battle.

Pictured: Phil Collins with Orianne Collins posing for photos in Miami, November 2018 

Pictured: Phil Collins seen at BBC Radio 2 promoting Genesis reunion, March 2020

Pictured: Collins performing onstage with band Genesis, c. 1980

My close encounter with Collins came three years ago, when I wrote a series about his tumultuous life for the Mail. Since then, I am reliably told, there has been little improvement in his physical condition, despite rigorous physiotherapy sessions and unpleasant electric shock treatment.

Having recently marked his 69th birthday, he now suffers from type-2 diabetes; he is deaf in his left ear after decades of performing beside mega-decibel speakers; and nerve damage incurred during an operation has left him with a condition called foot-drop, which makes it difficult to stand up, much less walk.

And we haven’t even got to the most debilitating of his ailments: the serious back and neck injury that necessitated his spinal surgery. This was caused by frenetically jerking his ageing body, in 2007, as he hammered out a drum solo.

Understandably, then, there was widespread amazement last week when Collins announced his intention to tour again, this autumn, with Genesis, the progressive-rock band that first brought him to fame in the early Seventies.

Though he can manage only a few gentle taps on the cymbals these days, and will leave his 18-year-old son, Nicholas – whom he taught to play with a fiercely critical eye – to deputise, Collins will croon such hits as Follow You, Follow Me and Turn It On Again while sitting on stage in a bath-chair.

Given that he tripped over during a night-time visit to the hotel bathroom on his last concert tour, gashing his head so badly that he required stitches, one imagines the insurance premium will be pretty high this time around. Not that financing it will be a problem; within days of the tour being announced, the demand for tickets was so great that six more dates were added.

Despite the obvious risks to his health, however, I understand that Collins has made the decision to re-form the band with the blessing of his family.

Having divorced 12 years ago, he and his Swiss-Thai third wife, Orianne Cevey, are back together; and speaking exclusively to the Mail from her home in Switzerland, last week, her mother, Orawan, 78, said: ‘It’s really exciting news.

Pictured: Phil Collins seen at BBC Radio 2 promoting Genesis reunion, March 2020

Pictured: Mike Rutherford (left), Tony Banks (middle), and Phil Collins (right) posing for a photo during an interview with Associated Press in London, March 2020

Pictured: Mike Rutherford (left), Tony Banks (middle), and Phil Collins (right), 1978

‘When I was in Miami, seeing my daughter and the family, in the summer, it was talked about. Phil thought it would be a good thing to do.

‘My grandson, Nicholas, may be only 18, but even Phil said he’s very good, and he’s getting more experienced. Phil is very proud of him and says he will love to go on tour with him.’

Doubtless so. But the question is, why does the ailing Collins – who first announced his retirement in 2010, saying he was no longer up to the rigours of performing, only to make a torturous solo comeback seven years later – feel compelled to push himself to the limits one last time?

It is a conundrum his former mother-in-law seems at a loss to answer. ‘Oh, I haven’t really asked him that,’ she said ponderously.

Though the Genesis reunion tour is expected to generate millions, we can assume Collins isn’t doing it for the money.

When he and Orianne divorced, he was forced to pay her £25million in alimony, and her lifestyle is famously extravagant. However, he is still enormously wealthy.

Four years ago, his fortune was conservatively estimated at £110million; more recent reports suggest it could be double that amount, and as his records continue to accrue vast royalties, it is surely rising.

He and Orianne live in a vast, sumptuously refurbished, Spanish-style beachfront villa in Miami, bought for $33million (£25million) from the singer Jennifer Lopez.

They share it with Nicholas, his brother Matthew, 15 (when he is home from his Swiss boarding school), and Andrea, Orianne’s nine-year-old son from a subsequent marriage, more of which in a moment.

Moreover, a few years ago Collins felt flush enough to donate his entire collection of Alamo memorabilia – a priceless historical treasure-trove – to the State of Texas, with the proviso that they built a new museum to showcase it.

So, what is driving him? Having spoken in the past to many people who know what makes him tick, including his first wife, Andrea Bertorelli, former friends and employees, I can hazard some guesses.

Pictured: Mike Rutherford (left), Phil Collins (middle), and Tony Banks (right) pose as they promote their then upcoming North American tour Turn It On Again, 2007

Pictured: Phil Collins onstage during Genesis’ performance at a charity concert at Wembley Stadium in London, July 2007. It has been 13 years since the band reformed

Pictured: Phil Collins onstage during Genesis’ performance at a charity concert at Wembley Stadium in London, July 2007. It has been 13 years since the band reformed

For one thing, Collins, despite his undoubted talent, has always been deeply insecure, finding it hard to believe he ever belonged in the rock pantheon, despite his many hits.

In 2002, at a Buckingham Palace party, he cringingly asked Paul McCartney to autograph a Beatles biography that he had brought with him. Afterwards, McCartney cruelly mocked him for this, referring to him as ‘Little Phil’.

Down the years, Collins’s work has also been derided by ‘serious’ rock journalists and stars with more ‘street-cred’, such as Noel Gallagher.

Therefore, one theory holds that Collins, who ranks alongside McCartney and Michael Jackson in terms of record sales, is reuniting Genesis in a final bid to win the critical acclaim commensurate with his commercial success.

Then again, one well-placed source ventures that Collins, who has always used work as a refuge from his personal difficulties, might be seeking a diversion from unresolved matters that continue to bedevil him after three tempestuous marriages. He remains at loggerheads with his first wife, Andrea, who threatened to sue him over allegations he made in his 2016 autobiography, Not Dead Yet, and who resurfaces periodically to criticise Collins’s past behaviour.

A child prodigy who starred as the Artful Dodger in the West End production of Oliver!, Collins met fiery Latino beauty Andrea at stage school when they were 11.

They married in 1975, and, after Genesis found acclaim, moved into in a fine country house, near Guildford, Surrey. However, their marriage came under increasing strain. Collins was often away on tour, leaving Andrea at home to care for their two young children, Simon and Joely.

As I discovered, in her loneliness and desperation, she had two affairs, and, by her own admission, came close to a breakdown.

Her first fling was with Michael Burberry, a scion of the Burberry fashion house.

Their brief romance began when he worked as a painter and decorator at the Collins house, while looking for work as a theatre director.

When she confessed to Collins, she says, he flew into one of the ‘vein-bulging’ rages to which she became accustomed. Later he took more cryptic revenge – once placing a pot of paint, with a brush protruding from it, on his piano or amplifier when he appeared on Top Of The Pops.

Andrea also had a more serious affair – with Old Etonian Charles Edward Chichester Eustace, the great grandson of the writer and historian Hilaire Belloc.

Pictured: Lily Collins, Phil’s daughter, posing for photos in Los Angeles, June 2019

Her infidelity inspired Collins’s first solo LP, Face Value – which became known as ‘the divorce album’. It included lacerating lyrics aimed directly at Andrea, such as: ‘If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand.’

However, though the singer later blamed her for the break-up, she countered that he had been serially unfaithful to her, and told me that she divorced him on the grounds of his adultery.

Following the publication of his autobiography, she accused Collins of ‘seriously damaging’ her reputation and causing her ‘considerable distress’. It isn’t known whether she carried out her threat to sue for libel, and if so how the case was settled.

Collins is believed to be on better terms with his second wife, Jill Tavelman, the daughter of a wealthy, Californian tailor-to-the-stars, who caught his roving eye when he played a concert in Los Angeles, and who was married to him from 1984 until 1996.

Nonetheless, he lives with a damning public accusation, made three years ago by their daughter, the acclaimed actress Lily Collins – that the emotional anguish she had suffered as a result of her father’s break-up with her stepmother, Orianne, in 2008, triggered the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. 

Though she and her father are now on good terms, she said it had stirred memories of his divorce from her mother, Jill, when she was seven; a painfully brutal split that created lurid headlines in the red-top tabloids.

This famously involved Collins declaring the marriage over, in those pre-email and text message days, by sending Jill a coldly worded fax which found its way into the newspapers.

Which brings us to Orianne: the source of so much joy – and so much heartache – in Collins’s later years.

I first revealed the full, extraordinary story behind their on-off-on-again romance in my series for the Mail. But last week I learned that the acrimonious fall-out continues even now, perhaps placing more strain on the fragile Collins.

He was 46 when he fell for Orianne, 24 years his junior, after she was sent to be his interpreter when he played a concert in Switzerland. The romance proved to be a public relations disaster, and has been blamed for the decline of his career.

In the eyes of his fans, Collins, by his perceived maltreatment of Jill, lost his Mr Nice Guy image. He was also branded a tax-dodger for setting up home in Switzerland with his mistress – in a year when he had earned £25million.

They married in 1999, had two sons, Nicholas and Matthew, and appeared the picture of contentment. In truth, however, their age gap was proving to be insurmountable. He wanted to stay at home with their sons, while she was an avowed party girl.

So, in 2006, the third Collins marriage hit the buffers.

Orianne very quickly found a young, handsome husband, Belgian-Moroccan interior designer Charles Mejjati, whom she married in Las Vegas in 2008.

Collins, for his part, slunk into lonely despond in Switzerland, and says he lay about all day, drinking himself ‘horizontal’. In his autobiography, he described feeling suicidal, and in his mid-50s he became so dangerously ill with pancreatitis that, while being treated, he heard discussions over his sickbed about whether he had made a will.

However, he recovered and swore off the bottle. He then began regularly visiting Orianne – who had given birth to a son by Mejjati – and their children in Miami. An insider tells me that Collins and Mejjati even became friendly.

But all that changed when Orianne suffered a serious spinal injury, and it was Collins, rather than her husband, who nursed her back to health.

Their love was rekindled, she left Mejjati and, when Collins bought Jennifer Lopez’s mansion in Miami, Orianne moved in.

She is still there. However, for the past four years, Orianne and ex-husband Mejjati (they were divorced in 2017) have waged what one of the lawyers involved described as the nastiest domestic case he has known.

Having fought an internecine battle over the custody of their son (which they now share) last week the Mail uncovered the latest documents relating to their protracted legal wrangle, filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

They show that Orianne and Majjeti are still in dispute over the luxurious, £6.5million home they had bought in 2012, in Sunset Islands, Miami Beach.

A £1.15million loan was secured against the property, and JP Morgan bank has filed a lawsuit for repayment against Majjeti.

For Collins, who was summoned to give a sworn statement when the divorce was being contested, and who fiercely supports Orianne, this protracted affair cannot be at all pleasant.

Those who know him say that, until a few months ago, he seemed to want nothing more than to sit on the touchline watching his younger son play ‘soccer’, tinker in his music studio with Nicholas, and read up on the Alamo.

According to her mother last week, Orianne and Collins are ‘very much in love’. Indeed, she envisages a time, perhaps after their children have moved away, when they will remarry.

Yet their lifestyle differences clearly remain.

While his former wife, now 45, is every inch the glammed-up Florida socialite, attending fundraisers for their Little Dreams Foundation – a charity that helps underprivileged young people fulfil their musical ambitions – and running her upmarket jewellery store, the reclusive Collins is seldom seen.

It leads one of the couple’s former employees to wonder whether he is going back on stage out of ennui with his daily existence.

‘Phil is a lovely guy, and he makes the best of his ill-health, but I think he’s plain bored and lonely,’ said the source.

‘He and Orianne lead very different lives – she is a social butterfly while he is the opposite.

‘His most exciting days were spent playing music on the road and getting the adulation, so I’m guessing he wants one last shot of adrenaline.’

This may be the closest we’ll get to an answer. Whatever his motivation, it will be moving to see this frail and complex man shuffle back into the spotlight for what will surely be his last hurrah.

Love Phil Collins’s music or loathe it, no one should doubt his sheer courage. Davy Crockett would undoubtedly doff his raccoon fur hat out of respect.

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