Michael Bublé’s crowd-pleasing showmanship has made him a star, but hasn’t always made him happy. Has he finally learnt to please himself? Chrissy IIey meets him.
7:00AM BST 15 Apr 2013
Michael Bublé is half the man he used to be. Not too long ago he was, he freely admits, “chunky”. “I look back at pictures of me,” he says, shaking his head, “and I remember seeing the cover of Call Me Irresponsible [his 2007 album] and thinking. ‘Ooh, you’re fat.’” Today, though, he wears a leather jacket that could easily fit a doll, a tiny red T-shirt and the skinniest dark jeans. When I point out that his ankles are the size of my wrists, he looks pleased. He used to overeat to block out misery and make himself happy. But he doesn’t need to do that anymore
Bublé has always been a man of extremes. He ate too much, drank too much and loved too many women. All that changed when the man who sang Haven’t Met You Yet met the Argentinian model/actress Luisana Lopilato in 2009. They married two years later and are now expecting their first child, a boy, due in July. “He’ll be born in Vancouver and raised in Argentina and Vancouver,” he says, smiling so hard that even his cheekbones, now angular and sharp, seem to round with pride. “Mum will only speak Spanish and Dad will only speak English. I am a proud Canadian of Italian heritage and he will have all these heritages.” When they first met, backstage at a concert in Argentina, she didn’t speak much English and he no Spanish. It was one of those coup de foudre moments. At the time he was recovering from his break-up with the British actress Emily Blunt, which he once described as the “worst and the greatest thing” that has ever happened to him. He bought books on how to be happy. He saw a therapist. He and Luisana took things slowly and carefully, a first for Bublé.
We are in a homely suite at the Sunset Marquis, in Los Angeles. It’s a classic rock’n’roll hotel where televisions have definitely been thrown into the swimming pool and late-night tantrums are commonplace. Not that Bublé has ever done that, of course.
His latest album, To Be Loved, is steeped in cosy contentment. It’s an almost ridiculously happy record. When he met his future wife he continued with his therapist. More importantly, though, he stopped eating and drinking. Bublé’s grandfather is Italian and he has an Italian passport, but he doesn’t even make his family’s cream-filled recipe for spaghetti carbonara any more. “You are who you hang out with and my wife doesn’t drink and is very healthy,” he says. “But four years ago I was tiny, so tiny when I went through the break-up. I was drinking every day, doing nothing, smoking cigarettes and I was really skinny. But I wasn’t healthy skinny, I was heart-attack skinny. I’m the kind who if I drink I lose my appetite, boom, and if I have a bite to eat I don’t want to drink, I feel full. And I don’t do one drink. I’m like Barney from The Simpsons – once it begins it begins.” The trick these days, he says, is he doesn’t let it begin.
The promotion schedule for this record includes flying from London to Melbourne and back to LA without an overnight stopover in either city, just enough time to perform a show. Bublé has always been driven. His work ethic is handed down from his father Louis, a fisherman, and his grandfather Mitch, a plumber. Everyone loves Bublé. He’s sold more than 40 million records and when tickets went on sale for his UK tour (10 nights at the O2 in London) they sold out at the rate of 1,500 per minute. Now worth a reported £26million, he has huge homes in Vancouver and Los Angeles. He spans generations, both cool and uncool.
But doesn’t he need a rest? “I’m not thinking like that. I’ve got the baby coming and then I might take some time off or I’ll try acting so I can have my wife and baby with me on set. Right now my priority is all those fans, those people who’ve supported me.” Bublé doesn’t believe in getting something for nothing, he believes in thanking people wholeheartedly. His values are as old-school as his big-band music. “I used to open for [American talk show host] Jay Leno and I used to say, ‘Jay, what is the secret?’ and he’d say, ‘Go to their backyards, don’t go to the hubs and expect everyone to come to you. Go to their backyards and when you are in those little cities that’s how you build relationships, that’s how you build loyalty.’
“And that’s the truth. You can’t put out a record and say, ‘Germany, France, Japan, thanks for buying my record. Of course I love you but I’m not going on tour.’ You’ve got to, you’ve got to go,” he says with urgency.
Does he find it difficult to say no to people? “Yes, I do.” And is there part of him that’s now completely reassured with his success or is part of him thinking, what if this record doesn’t sell, what if people don’t turn up?
“Do you know what’s weird? That’s not happening, that insecurity. Everything has changed. It’s all changed because of the baby. I’m having a difficult time doing these interviews. I’m proud of the record, it’s a beautiful record, possibly my best record. It’s different and I was brave but being brave stemmed from not caring. That sounds cold but I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
“When my manager says, ‘I wonder if we’re going to sell two million or eight million,’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, either is a great bonus, but let’s hope my wife is healthy and my kid is healthy.’ I’m 37 years old and I’m starting to think, what’s it all about? It surely isn’t about how many records I can sell or how many stadiums I can fill. My perspective has definitely changed. I have no drama to tell you about. I wish I could say these songs came from misery or heartbreak.”
It is, of course, a wonderfully sentimental record; Bublé’s version of Young At Heart is especially moving. He has always loved old people, and is extremely close to his grandfather. He still loves to do family sleepovers where they all lie on the couch and sing the old standards together. That song, it turns out, is particularly special to him. When Bublé was due to record it, he had a huge group of musicians assembled, an expensive LA studio booked and even a bar ready for a post-recording celebration. “And the night before that day my mother called and said, ‘Mike, your grandpa is not good.’ So I just told them all, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t be there,’ and I just left and flew home to Vancouver.” His grandfather pulled through, and he made another attempt a week later.
Bublé deemed his performance “emotionless, cold and dead”, so he scrapped it. After another month he found himself in the studio and tried again. “So I thought about my grandpa and I thought about myself. It was the first dance at our wedding. I love the song. I’ve just Skyped grandpa now. I Skype him all the time. I thought about him while I was recording it because I could. Before, I was too upset. This time I smiled through the whole thing, and it took two takes. It’s not perfect but there’s the emotion in it. It just shows if your head is not in it and your heart is not in it, it’s just not there.”
On this album he’s written more of his own songs. Does it worry him that his songs have to stand up against timeless classics? “Yes, sometimes. I just took my favourite songs but for every album you record you could make 50 others. But for this one I was in a good place and I wanted to make it authentic and gentle.”
It’s obvious Bublé could talk about his wife for hours. One song on the album, Close Your Eyes, is dedicated to Luisana, and Bublé seems proud of the fact that he wrote it sitting at the piano while stone-cold sober. It’s meant as a tribute to how much “she helps carry me… How she shares the load with me. I was just thinking, ‘You’re always the one that pulls us through.’” It’s an unashamedly heartfelt tribute to the strength of women, and how much men depend on them. “And people call women the weaker sex,” he says. “How foolish is that?” Quite a turnaround for someone who, just a few years ago, admitted that his chief motivation in becoming a singer was “to get laid”.