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That’s not because Donny’s just said something funny, though it’s quickly apparent he’s both sharp-witted and happy to joke at his own expense. Nor is it provoked by the rueful realisation that while he’s six years older than me, the on-screen Donny looks at least a decade my junior.
My sudden compulsion is caused by the thought of what my schoolboy self of exactly half a century ago – let alone the girls in my class at the time – would have made of me talking like old friends with the teenybop sensation who sang Puppy Love.
You had to be there to understand the sensation it caused when it went to No.1 in the UK charts in July 1972. But no one explains it as well as the man himself.
“I had no idea of the impact Puppy Love was having until I did it live,” recalls Donny. “Keep in mind, I’d only previously sung it about three times.
“These girls were listening to it hundreds of times per day and radio stations were promoting it like crazy.
“So the intro came in, and everyone was screaming already, and I sang the opening line [here Donny bursts into song over Zoom]: ‘And they called it…’
“And then – I forgot all the words. But, here’s the thing, nobody could tell the difference because of the screaming! I was just making up words and nobody could hear the difference.”
” Donny was only 14 at the time. Yet far from being an overnight success, he was a showbiz veteran who had first played Las Vegas aged seven. He was already a familiar face to American TV audiences, as one of the younger members of singing sensation Mormon family from Utah, The Osmonds.
Donny and his brothers featured in a regular slot on the singer Andy Williams’s top-rating weekly show.
Their arrival to tour Britain following Donny’s solo success with Puppy Love (it stayed at No.1 for five weeks) provoked scenes of hysteria not seen since The Beatles the previous decade.
“After our first flight into Heathrow, we were banned from further landings there when part of a balcony collapsed beneath the amount of fans who had shown up.
“Gatwick wouldn’t take us either, so we had to fly to Scotland and take a train down to London.
“I remember once we were leaving a studio in London and hundreds and hundreds of girls started chasing us.
“We had to run, and as we came round a corner, we saw this little Chinese restaurant. We ran in, hid under the tables, and all the girls passed us by.
“That reaction to us – that hysteria – was always greatest in the UK. It’s why I always loved touring there.”
Now 64, Donny has five grown-up sons by his wife of 44 years, Debbie, as well as 12 grandchildren. Does he remember all their names? “You better believe I do!” he laughs, adding: “And by the time this interview appears, number 13 will have arrived.
“I was talking to the eldest of my grandsons – he’s 16 – and I realised as I was talking to him that I was starring in a TV show at the same age. And then I look at the five-year-old grandkids and think, ‘I started in the business at the same age.’
“My childhood was certainly a lot different, so I’ve lived vicariously through my children and grandchildren.”
He adds: “I never really appreciated who I was meeting and working with at the time. I mean, I worked with Sammy [Davis Jr], Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Andy Williams – all these wonderful legends.”
And then there was Elvis. “My brothers and I were in our dressing room getting ready for our first night show in Vegas. I was 14 at the time. The door opens and he walks in, saying, ‘Hi, everybody. I’m Elvis.’
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, we know that!’ There he was – the king of rock ‘n’ roll – and he introduces himself to us. That was very humble, and impressed me.”
But while he was polite and welcoming to the young Osmonds, it was another member of the family with whom he formed the stronger bond, their mum Olive.
“It was our mother Elvis really loved talking to,” Donny recalls. “You know he wanted to be a preacher – that’s why he loved gospel music – and my mom studied all kinds of religion. But I think it was also because he wanted the sort of stability in his life that my mom represented.”
Donny credits his strong family ties and his Mormon faith for a career longevity that eluded his contemporaries, Michael Jackson and David Cassidy.
“Like David, I had a hard time breaking out of the teenybop image with which we were pigeonholed. At 20 I was already a veteran. In fact, when I was 21 and trying to get my career going again, I was told, ‘Donny, you’ve got to face the fact you’re a has-been. You’ve had a wonderful career, but it’s time to find a different line of work.’
“Michael Jackson even told me I’d have to change my name to become popular again.” While Donny would not consider such drastic action, that advice proved true in a roundabout way.
His comeback song in the late 1980s, Soldier Of Love, was initially credited to a “mystery artist” as the US radio station that first played it feared his name would put off listeners. His identity was only revealed once it became a hit.
Donny reveals that in 2009 he and Jackson were even planning to record a duet version of StevieWonder’s I Wish.
“Then he called me and asked, ‘Donny, can we postpone for a little bit?’ and I told him, ‘Mike, we’ll delay as long as you want.'” The controversial star was found dead a few weeks later.
After starring with sister Marie in a show at Las Vegas’s Flamingo Hotel, that was scheduled for a six-week engagement but ran for 11 years, Donny is now appearing t nt earing in his first ever solo residency at the nearby Harrah’s resort in the gambling capital.
He says his audience ranges from the generation he calls the “Puppy Lovers” to their children and even grandchildren. The show includes him performing an extended rap about his career – “it covers everything I’ve done in 60 years in ten minutes!
“I also do a request segment, where the audience can pick any song from the 65 albums I’ve recorded in my life.
“Last week, this eight-year-old girl raised her hand and I said to her, ‘Do you even know who I am?’ And she said, ‘You’re Joseph!’ She wanted to hear a song from that show, so I did it.”
The girl concerned must have been introduced to it by her parents – it is 30 years since Donny first starred in the title role of the Rice-Lloyd Webber musical Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the US.
Donny also won Dancing With The Stars – the American version of Strictly Come Dancing – in 2009.
He was later invited over here to appear as a guest judge on Strictly in 2014, and met with a mixed reaction.
“I was completely blown away by one of the contestants, Frankie Bridge, and gave her a ten. Everybody looked at me and said: ‘You can’t do that – it’s only week three.’ And I replied: ‘Well, I just did.'” He laughs: “I’ve never been invited back since.”
The story behind the most recent Strictly winner – EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis – touched Donny, not least because his two oldest brothers,Virl, now deceased, and Tom, were both born deaf like Rose.
“They learned to dance to appear in a routine with the rest of us Osmond brothers on the Andy Williams show, and you would never have known that they couldn’t even hear what they were dancing to.”
Half a century after Puppy Love put him on countless schoolgirls’ bedroom walls in the summer of 1972, Donny’s affection for this country remains undimmed.
“I would love to bring this Vegas show to Britain, and we’re currently in discussions about whether that’s possible,” he says.
“I was most recently in Britain last Christmas – at the London Palladium – starring in Pantoland, with Julian Clary and Nigel Havers. At one point in the show, I performed an Osmonds medley, including Crazy Horses and Love Me For A Reason.”
“All these middle-aged women were screaming, and I could see their daughters looking at them as if to say, ‘What are you doing?'” And Donny looks reassured to know some things never change.”
- Donny Osmond is appearing at Harrahs’s Las Vegas throughout 2022. For more information, visit ticketmaster.com/donny
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