Jean Michel Jarre: Smooth operator

Jean Michel Jarre has been a national icon in France since the Seventies. But millions gasped this summer when his movie-star lover publicly dumped him. Now, for the first time, he tells all. Julia Stuart listens

Jean Michel Jarre is lying on a voluminous brown sofa in his Paris apartment, his flies partly undone. The French musician suddenly notices the wardrobe malfunction and starts fumbling furiously with his crotch. He laughs as he does up the button, and then resumes a practised sulky look for the photographer. In the far corner of the lounge, behind a fake orchid, visible only to visitors curious enough to risk bolting round to have a look when the man of the house momentarily leaves the room, is a photograph of him embracing a woman.

Jean Michel Jarre is lying on a voluminous brown sofa in his Paris apartment, his flies partly undone. The French musician suddenly notices the wardrobe malfunction and starts fumbling furiously with his crotch. He laughs as he does up the button, and then resumes a practised sulky look for the photographer. In the far corner of the lounge, behind a fake orchid, visible only to visitors curious enough to risk bolting round to have a look when the man of the house momentarily leaves the room, is a photograph of him embracing a woman.

It's not the first time that Jarre, a pioneer of electronic music, known globally for his mega outdoor son et lumière extravaganzas, has been caught with his flies open this summer, albeit metaphorically. The resulting scandal was reported around the world.

In June, the French actress Isabelle Adjani stunned France - and the unsuspecting Jarre - by announcing on the cover of Paris Match magazine that she was dumping him. "I believed him and I was mistaken. I discovered his liaison with an actress thanks to watertight evidence, which shattered me. No, I am not getting married in August, and so much the better!" she declared. And if that wasn't humiliation enough, Adjani, the star of Camille Claudel and La Reine Margot, added that Jarre's infidelities were already the cause of the depression suffered by his then-wife, the British actress Charlotte Rampling.

It was particularly delicious revenge on the male species by Adjani, who herself was rejected by the actor Daniel Day-Lewis by fax in 1996 when she was seven months pregnant by him. But it didn't end there. The New York Post added to the scandal by naming the other woman as Anne Parillaud, star of Luc Besson's Nikita - and the woman in the photo in Jarre's lounge. He has remained tight-lipped ever since - until today.

Outside Jarre's apartment, in the chic 8th arrondissement, there is no sign of the paparazzi who have been on his tail ever since. They must have followed the city's celebrities on their August exodus to the south. Through marble corridors to his door, one is hit by the smell of new carpet when it is opened by his assistant. Jarre moved in last February, and spends half of his time here, and the rest at his other home near Versailles. The modern living space has white walls and a magnolia carpet, and the only furniture is the sofa, a black coffee table, three Perspex chairs and wooden shelving. There are five speakers standing in a circle in front of a flat screen on the wall.

Clutter covers the surfaces, including a Rothschild Bank chequebook (Jarre has sold over 60 million albums...), a laptop, several opened bottles of water, a woman's hairband and a paperback copy of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. On the bookshelf is a Nikita DVD. The most remarkable item in the room is a glass bust of Beethoven with his hair standing on end, which lights up. It was made on the instructions of Hitler by the designer Jean Perzel, seized by the French Resistance (of which Jarre's mother was an active member), returned to Perzel, and bought for Jarre by Rampling.

Jarre looks incredibly youthful for a man who turns 56 tomorrow. He is strikingly handsome au naturel, not yet done up for the photographer by his make-up artist, who straightens his shaggy dark hair and applies conspicuous eyeliner. Dressed in a worn stripy top and battered jeans, he invites me to sit next to him on the sofa, settles himself in and puts an arm across his slight frame, perhaps as a subconscious protection, although his manner is, initially, friendly. But as soon as I bring up what he refers to as the "saga of the summer", Jarre, who was in London working on his album when the story broke, makes a sudden move for a bottle of Volvic and takes a swig.

"For me, it's an absolute non-event because I had been with her [Isabelle] for a year and a half and, for six months already, we were more or less separated," he says, maintaining his sangfroid. "She involved the mother of my children, Charlotte, and we were all shocked, my kids, my parents. All that really makes me sad, more or less. I don't feel guilty of anything because we are not married, we have no kids, it's the most banal story you can imagine. It has affected me from a moral and personal point of view."

Was he going to marry Adjani? "No. Absolutely not. It was absolutely not my intention, it was something that was entirely fabricated." So, why does he think she did it? "I don't know, it's a crazy thing to do. I don't know - for publicity? I've been really shocked by all this, frankly."

While he happily admits to being in the throes of a love affair with Parillaud, he insists that she is "not linked at all with the problem I've got with Isabelle": "I met her after the decision was made of splitting and that it couldn't work. I'm very happy with this new relationship and I don't intend to change every year or two, I'm not structured in that way. I take the relationship with Anne very seriously, and she does, too."

And how would he answer the charge made by Adjani that he was unfaithful to Charlotte? "Ask Charlotte," he says and smiles. "[Adjani] is talking about things that she doesn't know, and she wanted, in a rather obsessive way, to create a club [of women to whom he has been unfaithful], but that's not my story and that's not Charlotte's story." (In fact, Jarre and Rampling divorced following Jarre's affair with a younger woman. Rampling once remarked: "It is not uncommon for a man to have an affair, or even for a woman to have an affair. But the way I found out! In the tabloids. It was demeaning. And then for it to have continued. No, I could not forgive that at the time.")

Jarre was born in Lyon, the son of Maurice Jarre, the Oscar-winning composer of film soundtracks. When Jarre junior was five, his parents split up and his father moved to America. Jarre lived with his mother in a small flat in the suburbs of Paris. "My father and I never really achieved a real relationship. We probably saw each other 20 or 25 times in our lifetime. When you are able, at my age, to count the times you have seen your father, it says something."

While the pair are now in regular contact by phone, his father's sudden withdrawal clearly had a deep effect on Jarre. "I think it's better to have conflict, or, if you have a parent who dies, you grieve, but the feeling of absence is very difficult to fill, and it took me a while to absorb that," he says.

Jarre studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and then at the GRM (Groupement de Recherche Musicale), which offered courses in contemporary and experimental music. He went on to compose music for films, and songs for a number of singers, including Françoise Hardy. In 1976, he released his second album, Oxygène 4, and his world was never the same again. Its international success remains unparalleled in French recording history, with worldwide sales in excess of 15 million. The single went to number one in charts all over the world. The following year, Jarre was voted "Man of the Year" by People magazine.

In 1978, he released Equinoxe, which sold 10 million copies worldwide, and the following year he performed his first massive outdoor concert in Paris's Place de la Concorde, which was attended by over a million. In 1981, he was the first musician to play in post-Mao China (there were no lyrics to offend anyone). The albums and supersized outdoor concerts continued (including two rainy nights in London's Docklands in 1988), and, in 1994, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. He was still impressing British fans in 1997 when his single Oxygène 8 entered the charts at number 17. The following year, the single Rendez-Vous 98, made in collaboration with Apollo 440, was adopted by ITV as its World Cup theme, and was number 12 in the charts.

His latest offering, Aero, released next month, is the world's first album constructed note for note in 5.1 surround sound. While a small number of CDs currently exist that have been mastered for surround sound, they spread the stereo recording around the five speakers. Aero, which features many of Jarre's greatest hits, as well as three new tracks, comes at you individually from all five directions, giving you the rather pleasing impression that you are either about to be rescued by Blake's 7 or Sigourney Weaver, or airlifted out of Vietnam by helicopter at any moment. The 5.1 recording is on DVD and the surround-sound experience is only achieved by a five-speaker system.

"I'm convinced this 5.1 surround-sound is going to be the next revolution," Jarre insists. "It's the right time, people want something else." The DVD has visuals, too - 75 minutes of a pair of eyes staring at you. They belong to one Anne Parillaud. "She did a staggering performance, going through lots of different moods," says Jarre.

The musician, who, in 1993, became a Goodwill Ambassador of Tolerance and Youth for Unesco, will be staging his first surround-sound concert in Beijing's Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in October. He has plans for a European tour next year, with four shows in the UK, one of which may be at Glastonbury. But for all his undoubted success (though there are those in the UK who consider him naff, hoisted by his own pyrotechnics, perhaps), Jarre remains dissatisfied.

"I don't feel I have achieved anything, that's why I want to go on. Sometimes, you try something, and it works in terms of success. That doesn't mean you like what is a hit. Sometimes you like the most obscure song on your album. In a lifetime you can say, yes, you have instances of pleasure, of happiness, you like some of your work, but your work is the entire story, and if you are not satisfied with a few moments of a few parts of that story, you would like to be able to adjust that.

"I wouldn't advise anyone, if they are searching for happiness, to be an artist, because it's heavy rather than light. Even if we artists are all very privileged, there's a constant frustration about how to do more or better, and never being satisfied. I feel as if I have achieved a lot of unfinished projects that I would like to improve."

Has his life been unhappy? "I wouldn't say that. It's a mixture. I'm working hard to be happy in life - it's my ambition," he says, smiling. What would make him happy? "To find serenity in a relationship, which obviously has not been the case in the last few months. Love is not an easy thing. It's hard work and you can't be lazy. It's the most difficult thing in life, and you have to work bloody hard to make it and to keep it."

One of his greatest achievements, he says, is his current relationship with Charlotte Rampling. They married in the late 1970s and lived with Jarre's daughter Emilie (now 28 and a graphic artist), Charlotte's son Barnaby (now a 30-year-old television director) and David, the son they had together, who is now 25 and a magician. Rampling has praised him publicly for supporting her during years of clinical depression during their marriage.

"If I'm proud of one thing in my life, it's to have succeeded in this evolution through time with Charlotte. She has a unique place in my life. And it will remain forever, no doubt about it. I have a fantastic relationship with her. We were married 20 years very happily. And we have a very nice relationship today. We talk on the phone every week, and are very close to our kids. I have a lot of admiration for who she is as a person and as an artist. But life evolves, and now I'm in a new relationship and that is very, very important to me."

Quite what the truth is behind the shenanigans with Adjani is anybody's guess. But one thing is certain: a partner in a relationship thinking that they are about to get married, while the other thinks it's all over, is the sort of breakdown in communications that even our own Royal Mail couldn't achieve.

'Aero' is released by Warner Music on 21 September

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