To mark his 70th birthday, rock legend Phil Collins will today be hosting a very special party.
Will it be at his luxurious Swiss villa, the £30 million Miami Beach mansion or in a pad in London, where he was spotted recently at rehearsals with his band Genesis? It hardly matters: the celebration will be on Zoom with his five children — by three wives — logging on from across the world.
No doubt Phil, a much-diminished figure from his chart topping heyday due to poor health, will draw strength from the presence of his three sons and two daughters — including 31-year-old Lily, the star of the hit Netflix series Emily In Paris — at what is a time of great emotional stress.
Despite the broken marriages they are a close-knit bunch — and especially fond of their troubled Dad who has been through the wringer of late, fighting an ugly court battle with his third ex-wife.
Orianne Cevey and Phil Collins attend in Miami Beach, Florida, on November 15, 2018. ‘Out of the blue’ in August last year, Ms Cevey, now a jewellery designer, married guitarist Thomas Bates, 31, in Las Vegas
Orianne Cevey, 46, a former translator, received a £25 million settlement when she and Collins divorced in 2008 after nine years of marriage and having two sons together. At the time, it was the largest UK settlement in history. By 2015, the pair had reconciled and were regular attendees at red-carpet events promoting their charity, the Little Dreams Foundation.
They supported one another through illness and injury — she suffered a slipped disc and partial paralysis while Collins has battled nerve and spine damage from his years of drumming. Ms Cevey even spoke of her desire to remarry Collins one day.
Then, ‘out of the blue’ in August last year, Ms Cevey, now a jewellery designer, married guitarist Thomas Bates, 31, in Las Vegas.
A shocked and hurt Collins told friends ‘I’m done with this’ and departed Miami, leaving Ms Cevey to resume residence at their mansion with her new husband — they reportedly changed the security codes.
But worse was to follow. When Collins launched a lawsuit to evict them, she retaliated in court documents, alleging that ‘[Collins] did not shower or brush his teeth from 2019 until August 2020 . . . [his] stench became so pervasive that he became a hermit’. She also claimed he was impotent and addicted to anti-depressants and painkillers following a back injury which means he has to use a wheelchair on occasion.
Phil and son his son Simon Collins, age 14. On Thursday it emerged that Ms Cevey is selling some of her ex-husband’s gold discs and framed awards in an online auction as she prepares to move into a smaller home
His legal team responded, dismissing the claims as ‘scandalous, scurrilous, unethical and, for the most part, patently false or grossly exaggerated’ and part of an attempt ‘to damage Phil Collins’s reputation in an effort to extort money’.
Ms Cevey was ordered to leave the Miami Beach mansion this month and this week it was reported that it had been sold.
That, however, appears not to be the end of the affair.
On Thursday it emerged that Ms Cevey is selling some of her ex-husband’s gold discs and framed awards in an online auction as she prepares to move into a smaller home.
This news breaks as I am interviewing Phil Collins’s eldest son (with his first wife Andrea Bertorelli), Simon. Initially, he declines to comment on his father’s problems ‘out of respect’. But he is too appalled to let it go.
‘I really feel for my Dad. It’s just a low thing to do. I don’t understand why [Orianne] would do that. Some things are priceless and should not be sold — tokens of your life achievements are certainly one of them.’
Cevey (pictured), 46, a former translator, received a £25 million settlement when she and Collins divorced in 2008 after nine years of marriage and having two sons together
Phil’s decision to tour with Genesis again — the band, with which he made his name before a stellar solo career, have postponed their reunion until later this year due to the pandemic — is ‘his way of dealing with’ the court battles, Simon adds.
In a soul-baring encounter, Simon talks for the first time about his childhood as son of a world famous rock star and of his own long battle with heroin — the extent of which his father was unaware of.
Now based at a purpose-built recording studio in the depths of rural Ireland, he is promoting his own new album, his fifth, Becoming Human.
I ask him how it’s been trying to make it as a musician in your own right when your dad is Phil Collins.
On Thursday it emerged that Ms Cevey is selling some of her ex-husband’s gold discs and framed awards in an online auction as she prepares to move into a smaller home
‘It helps not having an ego,’ he laughs. ‘I don’t feel like I’m entitled to anything because he’s my dad, [and] I’m not defining myself by what he’s achieved. I’m just out to make great records — that’s what makes me truly happy.’ This happiness is in marked contrast to the demons Simon has fought and now exorcised.
How old he was when he first became addicted to heroin? He falters, there’s a pause, then: ‘My whole life . . . I started using when I was about 15. I am now 44. I’ve been clean for about seven years. I’ve never been this candid about it.’
The idea of being seen as a drug-addled musician cliché torments him. ‘One thing that really gets my gander is artists that promote the use of drugs or who use it to promote their music,’ he says. ‘It was a very dark thing for me, and led me to some dark, dark periods.’
Simon Collins was born right into the Genesis legend — his arrival delaying the band’s world tour. Or so says his mother, Andrea Bertorelli, now 70, who married Collins in 1975.
‘Simon was born two weeks later than scheduled,’ she recalled in an interview. ‘I remember feeling under pressure to give birth, because we were holding up the tour. In the end, I had to be induced. I came out of hospital and within a day or two, Phil had left to go on the road.’
The marriage broke down after five years and Simon would be flown out to join his dad on tour during the holidays. It was an extraordinary boyhood, with music at its heart, as he mingled routinely with A-list musicians.
A teenage Simon was with his dad in the green room at Wembley when Jacko made an ethereal appearance. ‘He basically hovered in — wearing a gown, surrounded by an entourage’, recalls Simon. ‘[He had]… an otherworldly kind of vibe.’
Phil’s decision to tour with Genesis again — the band, with which he made his name before a stellar solo career, have postponed their reunion until later this year due to the pandemic — is ‘his way of dealing with’ the court battles, Simon adds
Simon was similarly star-struck by Madonna. ‘It was around the time she was going out with Sean Penn, and he was punching out photographers. I was too afraid to ask for her autograph in case he punched me! So I asked my dad to get it and he told her [why]. They both laughed.’
And then there was the hot summer day that Sting took a swim naked at Phil’s country house in Surrey.
‘Sting came and he skinny-dipped! In front our family! And then he got out of the pool, hungry, and asked my Dad for some sausage rolls.
‘Me and my dad had just come back from the store where we’d bought some sausage rolls because that was my thing, and I was looking at my dad like “No, please don’t give Sting my sausage rolls!”’
There are other memories that are not so pleasant.
He has a hazy memory of falling off of the side of the stage, aged eight, while ‘air drumming’ in the wings and breaking several bones. Members of the audience started chanting Simon’s name over and over, and the rest of the crowd took it up, until ‘Daddy Phil’ got the message that he needed to stop singing and attend to his son.
Phil and Simon share many similarities: the same deep blue eyes, the same thin upper lip and the same distinctive voice pitch. And they were both each given toy drum sets at the age of five years old, which set them on their musical paths in life
Helicopters and private jets were a familiar mode of transport, but the debauched parties favoured by other bands of the era were not Genesis’s style. ‘None of that,’ Simon laughs. ‘It was all about the music with these guys. It was a wholesome experience.’
One journalist noted that the band’s excesses ran to ‘Southern Comfort, Blue Nun and cannabis, rather than industrial quantities of cocaine’. For Simon, hanging out with the children of other band members, the prime benefit was all the Coca-Cola they could drink.
As for their dads, well that’s exactly what they were: ‘A bunch of dads on stage’. And after the gigs? ‘Everyone went back to their hotel and just had a couple of hours of normalcy.’
Phil and Simon share many similarities: the same deep blue eyes, the same thin upper lip and the same distinctive voice pitch. And they were both each given toy drum sets at the age of five years old, which set them on their musical paths in life.
‘When he played gigs, I’d always sit either behind the drums or at the side of the stage, and afterwards, on the way back to the hotels, I’d say to him: “Dad, can you teach me how to play the solo that you did in that song?” ’
‘I knew what I wanted to do by the time I was ten.’
Phil Collins and Lily Collins attend Phil Collin Walk of Fame Star Ceremony on June 16, 1999
At the age of 12, Simon was drumming, in front of 25,000 people, on the But Seriously solo world tour in 1990. He recalls the ‘terror’ of his debut, for which he’d spent hours practising after his father had assigned him the song.
‘I’d learned my parts, and one night, he invited me to play, and I went up on stage and played Easy Lover with him. He chose a song that would be a little bit easy for me. But . . . wow.’
He pauses, lost in reverie. ‘What an experience, really . . .’
Was he ever given the chance to play In The Air Tonight, the iconic Phil Collins debut single? ‘No’, he smiles. ‘That’s his moment. I couldn’t compete with that.’
Was he aware of the deeper meaning behind that song? Collins performed it on Top Of The Pops in 1981 with a large paint pot next to the piano — a not-so-coded allegation that his then wife Andrea had had an affair with a decorator.
How does he feel about the lyrics: ‘If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand.’
‘You write about what you know,’ Simon shrugs. ‘I don’t put any blame on him for what he writes about. It’s a brilliant song.’ His mother has alleged in the past that Phil Collins ‘pursued his own ambitions at the expense of his family’.
‘That’s her opinion,’ he says. ‘It’s not that I agree or disagree. She’s on her own mission.’
Aggrieved exes are an unfortunate recurring theme in the life of Phil Collins.
He supposedly dumped his second wife Jill Tavelman, mother of Lily, by fax — something which he has since denied. Yet for all that bad blood between Phil Collins and his former wives, their five collective offspring are close and in regular contact.
Phil Collins with his family, Lily Collins and Joely Collins in 2010. As for Simon’s own troubled journey, he’s proud of what he’s come through. He began making electronic music in his early 20s and by the time he was 31 he had put out three rock albums
In addition to Lily, Simon has another sister Joely — Andrea’s daughter from a previous relationship whom Phil Collins adopted — and is big brother to Orianne Cevey’s sons, Nicholas, 19, and Matthew, 15.
‘There’s no sibling rivalry,’ he says. ‘I’m proud of what Joely’s achieved [as a film producer]. Nic’s a great drummer, he’s playing . . . with Genesis now, that’s amazing. Matt is an amazing footballer. And everyone knows Lily is an actress.’
As for his own troubled journey, he’s proud of what he’s come through. He began making electronic music in his early 20s and by the time he was 31 he had put out three rock albums.
But heroin was never far away. And in his darkest moments ‘it was an existential vacuum . . . You have this feeling that every day, you wake up and there’s a black hole inside of you, sucking the happiness out of you.’ He overdosed on more than one occasion, and then in his late 30s had a stroke.
‘I was shopping with my mum, walking down the street, when all of a sudden I couldn’t use my legs and I couldn’t talk. I went to the hospital and they were able to bring me back. I realised I was playing with my life.’
In opening up about his drug use, he’s clearly worried about upsetting his family, something he returns to over and over in our interview.
‘It’s not that I don’t feel comfortable talking about it. It’s more . . . because I think my dad would just hate me. I just know it’s going to be a world of hurt . . . This article lands on my old man’s birthday . . .
‘That said, my dad has, you know, done his own dirty laundry in the Press for years.’
It is true that Phil Collins has been unsparingly honest about his previous alcohol addiction. Surely a father, especially one who’d fought his own addictions, would have wanted to know that his son had been struggling for so long?
‘I did tell him. I did. And he did his best. At the end of the day it’s up to me, it’s up to me to sort my life out. There’s no blame there, and I really hope it doesn’t come off that way.’
He credits music with helping him get through his addiction.
He says right now he is in a good place, clean, sober and engaged to a beautiful Turkish singer, Zeynep Erol, 42. And mum Andrea, who lives in Ireland, has been a constant presence. ‘She’s been there for me through the darkest of times,’ he says.
I ask if Phil Collins has been a good father.
‘He’s an amazing dad . . . He’s done his best. I certainly don’t blame him for my troubles, that’s for sure. [My life] has been an interesting one.’
- Becoming Human is out now.