Tom Jones: Life and loves of crooner as he hits 80 – and the three stars who spurned him

Young Welshman Tom Jones performed there in 1968 and it was to have a profound effect on his career and life. Sweating in the stifling heat as he sang his heart out, members of the audience handed him napkins between songs to dry his face.

Suddenly, a woman stood up, lifted her skirt and whipped off her knickers before handing them to Tom to mop his brow. Smiling despite his surprise, Tom joked: “Don’t catch cold.”

An entertainment columnist in the audience that night wrote about the incident, branding the 28-year-old singer a “panty magnet”, sealing his status as a heartthrob.

From that moment, a flurry of knickers hurled on to the stage became a given at any Tom Jones concert. Over the years, though, he grew to hate the ritual as it reduced the attention given to his voice.

The dilemma for Tom was that he was being promoted as a sex symbol, which pushed his wife Linda into the background. But from the first time he wiped his brow with a pair of white knickers, he had a reputation that needed to be fed and Tom’s sex appeal followed him wherever he went.

Even Elvis Presley, who became a genuine friend, called Tom “Sockd***”, although not often to his face, thinking his friend’s impressive bulge must be due to the old showbiz trick of sticking some knitwear down the front of his tight trousers.

If witnesses are to be believed,Tom had a voracious sexual appetite, unequalled in the world of entertainment. Tom’s legendary libido became a joke, which ignored the fact that he was married to a devoted wife.

The truth was, the moment Tom shut the front door behind him to go on tour, he was a single man. When he announced he was home, he was married again.

Perhaps one of his early objects of desire, a local girl in Wales called Gill Beazer, was right when she suggested he simply wanted the company of women and didn’t much like the prospect of spending a night alone.

Sometimes his ways risked his career, like the day in June 1966 when he smashed his new Jaguar into a central barrier in Park Lane while with two air stewardesses and a member of his team. Tom had concussion and needed stitches to his head. He was lucky there was no breath test. His mother Freda told him to stop drinking too much.

Occasionally, there was someone who meant something more. The first was Mary Wilson of the Supremes. In January 1968 he knocked at her dressing-room door in Munich at the Bambi Awards, the German Oscars. It was love at first sight for Mary. She was “giddy” at the prospect of meeting him and had no idea he was married; her feelings didn’t change when she found out.

They began an utterly indiscreet affair.

Right from the start, Mary would fly into the town where Tom was performing. In London he would send over his new Rolls-Royce to pick her up. By now he had two – a Phantom and a Silver Shadow.

But Mary was left under no illusion where she stood in relation to Linda while visiting Tom in Bournemouth. He was in a summer season at the Winter Gardens in June 1968. A line appeared in the gossip column in Disc magazine that Mary was in the UK to see Tom.

Linda, who read the music papers, phoned Tom’s PR manager Chris Hutchins and asked, “How do I get to Bournemouth? I’m going down there to sort him out.” Chris organised a car for Linda, then phoned Tom and warned him: “Just get her out. Linda is coming down.”

Tom’s wife, who died in 2016 leaving him devastated, was a genuinely nice, quiet woman, except when she felt her position threatened – then she was a tigress.

Said Chris: “He told me he flew around the place with [friend] Chris Ellis and they removed every trace. And Linda came in and said, ‘Where is that woman?’ And Tom said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. And she said, ‘Mary Wilson, she’s been here’. And he said, ‘No, she hasn’t’.

“But Linda carried on checking the wardrobes, everything, looking for any trace. Finally she opened the oven, the place the boys had forgotten. Now Mary was a great cook and she had prepared a meal the previous evening, which they hadn’t yet eaten. And so there’s this fabulous meal there, and Linda says, ‘Oh yeah! And who cooked this?’ And Tom said, quick as a flash, ‘Chris’.

“And Chris Ellis couldn’t do beans on toast. But Tom said, ‘He’s been taking cooking lessons’. Well, he finally owns up and they went to bed and he told me the next day that they were lying there and they had just made love and Linda started crying, and he said, ‘What’s the matter, Linda?’ And she said, ‘When I think that ***** has been lying on these sheets…'” Later, she reputedly told Tom: “You’d better straighten it out, because you won’t be able to do anything without your b***s.”

Mary’s days were numbered. In November 1969, she was hosting a party at her Hollywood home when Tom arrived and told her he was ending the affair.

But Tom didn’t change his ways. While he was filming his TV series This Is Tom Jones at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire in 1969, production staff had to knock on his luxury caravan four times and wait to be called just in case he was “entertaining”.

TV producer Stewart Morris said that if Tom spotted someone he liked the look of in the audience, Chris Ellis would be sent to invite her for Dom Pérignon in the caravan. Chris would then stand guard outside.

Despite headlines about his sex life, his success rate with female stars wasn’t spectacular. Dionne Warwick, Sandie Shaw and Lulu were three who were strike-outs. Tom did have a serious liaison with a stunning Californian model, Joyce Ingalls.

The back of his Rolls, the caravan and the earth all moved. She seemed to think she’d be the second Mrs Jones, and all but moved into the caravan, dictating who could go in. She was soon packing her bags for the US.

The years between 1968 and 1974 were the ones when Tom was most indiscreet, but his marriage somehow survived. Jimmy Tarbuck, appearing on Tom’s show, quipped: “Do you know that caravan of his has had six new sets of tyres and it hasn’t moved 3ft?” When Linda watched the show with Tom, she didn’t get the joke, which was lucky for him, or perhaps she chose not to.

In 1971, Tom was with Linda in a limo heading to New York’s Kennedy Airport from where they were flying home. They’d had a drink or two and Linda told him she wished he had never become so famous.

“We could have been happy in Pontypridd,” she said. Tom pointed to the gold jewellery that she was wearing around her neck and wrists, and replied: “You’ve not done too badly on it.” Linda opened the window and began hurling bracelets, rings and necklaces on to the road.

The habitually thrifty Tom was clearly the worse for wear, because he began to laugh when she couldn’t get her £50,000 diamond ring off, later telling friends, “You had to see the funny side.” Linda, too, got a fit of giggles, even though she had thrown away thousands of pounds of jewellery.

Tom was meeting plenty of attractive women but his affair with blonde beauty queen Marjorie Wallace was particularly exhilarating if ultimately painful for both of them. They met in December 1973, two weeks after she was crowned Miss World at the Royal Albert Hall. This liaison was something much more than a one-night stand. Marji enjoyed more dates with Tom and Linda exploded when she read about it. She gave Tom a hiding. He recalled on US TV that he was trying to say sorry and pointed to his chin, inviting her to whack him. She didn’t need a second invitation: “She went ‘Bang!’ and then started kicking me.”

Marji’s love life became even more tangled when it was alleged she’d also been with footballer George Best. She reportedly gave lovers marks out of 10. Tom wasnine, George was a three. It was one controversy too many for Miss World organiser Julia Morley, who stripped Marji of her title.

Two weeks later, her racing driver fiance Peter Revson was killed during practice for the South African Grand Prix. Tom offered her a shoulder to cry on and when he opened at Caesars Palace in LasVegas Marji went too. When photos emerged he told Marji she had to go. A fortnight later she was in a coma, having apparently attempted suicide with sleeping pills she had taken from Tom’s bathroom cabinet. She was in intensive care for a week before recovering.

Tom was very upset. He has always said, without prompting, that he has only ever loved Linda, but his feelings for Marji were the closest he came to loving someone else. It was the most serious affair he has had. Linda, however, did not take the Marjorie Wallace affair lying down. Whenever she spotted Marji on television, she threw something at the screen.

Tom Jones: The Life by Sean Smith (HarperCollins) is available as an ebook SEE TOMORROW’S DAILY EXPRESS FOR PART III: People thought I was just tight pants and a hairy chest

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