Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

Tony Bennet Interview -

He's got a jaw like Gibraltar, pale green-blue eyes, silver hair, that perfect shade of all-year tan and a cobweb voice that casts spells. He's grinning as he walks over with a muscular shuffle like a middleweight boxer.

But the man Sinatra calls 'the best singer in the business' is about to reveal the truth depth of his double life.

On stage, on television and on record and now masterful CD collections he is Tony Bennett, a legendary figure on the entertainment landscape for more than forty years. But under his real name of Anthony Benedetto he is an accomplished painter who spends every Christmas in Los Angeles with David Hockney and the Bradford boy's mum.

'He took an interest in my painting and a great friendship developed,' says Bennett/Benedetto who paints every day, sometimes until 3am . (During his annual forty weeks on the road he uses watercolours: 'They're not so messy.' )

'Hockney's got a beach house down in Malibu and he took me there and hanging in the bedroom is this really beautiful painting. It told him how great I thought it was. He went over and took down the frame -- the painting was literally on the wall. He said:' "If someone wants to steal it they are going to have a tough time -- they'll have to take the whole place." There's always something different going on with David Hockney. He's stimulating.'

Tony Bennett has also always been changing his tune. And being cool. Now, he's also hip having been 'Unplugged' by MTV -- the recording with guests stars k.d.lang and Elvis (Costello) is released by Sony Records in August -- and the man who was an elevator operator and singing waiter has been 'discovered' all over again. He hangs out with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and can run Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and Irving Berlin into long sentences with Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong and Sinatra. He can name drop a chorus line of major talent.

But he always wants to accommodate. Legends are often easier to talk to than the overnight upstarts. He has no entourage -- his two grown sons Danny and Daegal from the first of his two failed marriages are his managers -- and Bennett looks after the other areas amiably. We're sitting in the sunshine near the Thames while he is in London to appear on Michael Ball's TV show.

'Yeah,' he says with a kid's grin -- he's 68 in August -- and a littly shyly ' it's nice to be in fashion again.' Nearly half his audience is now under the age of 35. His 'Steppin' Out' collection of songs written for Fred Astaire and 'Perfectly Frank' his tribute to Sinatra are soaraway best-sellers. 'Tony Bennett Unplugged' sold in America like Rod Stewart's.

A secret for the longevity, of his popularity? He grins and sips his fizzy mineral water:' I didn't plan any of this. I've learned to become very flexible about everything. Sinatra's advice to me was always do good songs -- never cheap songs.

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