He has sold more than 200 million records. He has slept with more than 3,000 women. He flirts for a living. And he's playing Wembley tonight. Ladies and gentlemen: Julio Iglesias
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The Independent Culture
JULIO IGLESIAS - he likes to touch. He likes to touch women, as has been fairly well documented in 30 years of tabloid photographs and news stories; he especially likes to touch young, tall, firm-stomached, white-toothed women who model for a living. (These days, Iglesias makes only a perfunctory effort to play down his own much-quoted claim to have slept with more than 3,000 women.) But Julio Iglesias also likes to touch men. Interviewed two weeks ago in the good-natured, trashy New Jersey casino resort of Atlantic City, Julio was a whirlwind of high-fives, shadow punches, unrequested shoulder massages and big hugs. Put out a right hand to Julio, and you get his left hand back, so that an intended handshake becomes something more complicated and intimate, featuring interlocking fingers, then escalating into playful slaps on shoulders and arms, using the back of the hand ("Get outta here!" as it were). It's the body- language of the beach, all loose-limbed fooling, choreographed to signal to women bystanders that one's guyness is tempered by irresistible boyishness. Julio, you suspect, towel-flicks for Spain.

So Julio likes to touch men and touch women. But most of all, Julio likes to touch himself. During an Atlantic City show rich in the vulnerable- yet-horny stuff, the flirty Latin Sinatra stuff, on which he has built a fabulously lucrative career (over 200 million records sold), Julio Iglesias was all over himself - and this is a most un-Iglesias idiom - like a cheap suit. Although by no means blind to the traditional phallic associations of a microphone, Iglesias has rethought the range of pop's sexual stage gestures. Singing with his eyes shut, and the microphone some way from his mouth, he ran a flat-palmed hand over his chest, his stomach, a little lower - as if carried away by the sheer unstoppable smoochiness of the occasion: "...Bamboleiro, bamboleira..." This hand-movement had something of the air of indigestion about it. Later, Iglesias put his microphone to work - rolling it against his chest and stomach. One member of Iglesias's entourage later told me: "We call that his willy ironing."

Hand on chest, hand on stomach, eyes shut in impassioned contemplation of the music: Julio went wild, the crowd went wild. "Julio!" cried the women. And then a deeper voice: "Julio!" A casino concert audience will always be unrepresentative of a singer's fan-base; half of the tickets will have been given away by the management as rewards to high-rollers. But there were enough fans here - female, middle-aged and white - to supply the kind of adulation on which Iglesias thrives. "He's romance! He's romance!" cried a French- born woman in pearls who was sitting beside me at a front-of-auditorium table. "I really think he's the most handsome man on this earth." Another woman, in her twenties, brought flowers to the front of the stage. Julio leant down and kissed her rather wetly on the lips. There was general screaming.

JULIO IGLESIAS, who plays Wembley tonight, has quite a job: it requires him to do something that he would be doing anyway, and something that would probably get him fired from most other workplaces. Iglesias, a flirt, flirts for a living. Which, for most people, is the equivalent of being paid to drink beer, or to mess about in the canteen. For whatever reasons, Julio Iglesias lives to turn people on. And people are turned on, and pay to be turned on. Whether we should regard this as Iglesias's great fortune, or his great misfortune, is not immediately clear. But because he is a clever - if strange - man, it is something to which he clearly has given thought. "I need to be loved," he told me. "It's an addiction." Pacing his rather unostentatious dressing room the day after his Saturday night concert, Iglesias said: "If you don't flirt you die! I'm a natural, I was flirting since I was three years old." He strode up and down the room, laughing, pleading guilty to charges brought by imaginary critics, in a life's-too-short-to-argue sort of way: "They say, 'You are a flirt.' Yes! They say, 'You are full of shit.' Yes!"

Born in Spain in 1943, but now resident in America, Iglesias won a Benidorm song festival in 1968, and has since enjoyed unparalleled international success. For the first decade of his career Iglesias was merely a sensation in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries. But then he spread elsewhere - assisted by a Rogers & Cowan public relations campaign that has become legendary in the history of such things.

In 1981 he had a British number one, a Spanish-language version of Cole Porter's "Begin The Beguine". In 1983, he broke into the American market - a longtime ambition - with a Willie Nelson duet, "To All The Girls I've Loved Before". Full American stardom has remained just beyond his reach - "He's chasing the sun," says an employee, "and, of course, he'll never catch it. But his desire for success is so much stronger than his fear of failure." But Iglesias can content himself with 1,500 gold and platinum albums worldwide, and the fact that everywhere, all the time, people are listening to Julio. There are fans who have seen him more than 1,000 times. There is a satricial Spanish novel called Desperately Seeking Julio (" 'O magic pool,' said Julio Iglesias, 'who's the greatest singer in the world?' 'Frank Sinatra,' replied the pool ominously.").

Throughout his career, the sound of his recorded voice has barely changed. Iglesias sings a little ahead of the beat (unlike Sinatra, who sings behind); he doesn't hold long notes. He uses very conversational, caressing, phrasing, of a kind that seems to work better in Spanish than English (of his 70- odd albums, only four have been English-language, or, as he puts it, "Anglo- Saxon"). And he is always recorded with quite heavy reverb, the voice quite low down in the mix: the result, often very affecting, is of someone overheard singing to himself in a long empty room - some poor pained fellow who might require just a hint of mothering. To British audiences, at least, it's a sound forever associated - and this is much to Julio Iglesias's advantage - with lazy, happy days and nights spent on one Spanish costa or another. Understandably, Iglesias is fanatical about the preservation of his sound. "The sound on stage has to be like a studio," says one employee. "If he's not comfortable, the shows can be horrific. I've seen him stop the band on stage in the middle of a song and rehearse them. And lost all rapport with the audience." In the studio, he worries at a track again and again. When he recorded a song with Frank Sinatra for Sinatra's 1993 album, Duets, the contrast in techniques was marked: "When Frank records he doesn't do overdubs," a colleague of Julio's told me. "He just sings it, first take and that's it. Julio is from a completely different school. He's a total perfectionist, very single-minded. Julio takes a long time to finish product, but he wants it right. So: Julio is there with Frank, when Frank's recording, he's sitting there in the studio, and Frank does one take, and the engineer says, 'So, Frank, you want to do any more?' And Frank goes, 'Nah. Only faggots do overdubs'; and Julio just shrinks down into his chair."

IGLESIAS has a typical showbusiness raft of properties - including something in Madrid and a ranch in Argentina - but his main home is a low, handsome place on the very private and secure island of Indian Creek, near Miami. On Friday afternoon two weekends ago, he boarded his own personal jet - a Gulfstream IV with big swivel chairs and, behind a screen, a bed - and was flown to Atlantic City.

This decaying resort began to reinvent itself as a gambling city in the mid-1980s - a process that faltered a little in the face of the Gulf War, recession, and the competing attractions of Indian reservation gambling. The future today looks rosier, but the transformation of Atlantic City is still startlingly incomplete. There's the ocean, some beach, then the wooden boardwalk, supporting generously built families walking with Danny DeVito walks. And by the boardwalk there are the casinos and fudge shops and shooting galleries: rows of fluorescent synthetic animal prizes sway in the breeze. But behind this, there's nothing: block after block of empty lots and seagulls.

It's not hard to imagine a 17-acre Donald Trump monument called the Trump Taj Mahal, one of the three Trump casino complexes in town (chandeliers, mauve carpets, "The Delhi Deli" and so on). But the size of it still manages to be surprising. The main floor of the casino is so big (and repetitive in its furnishings) that your brain builds into the vast view the kind of wall mirrors that are intended to add to the apparent size of, say, a cramped fast-food restaurant. But there are no mirrors. The slot machines go on for ever. Another huge room adjoins the casino floor - the Mark G Etess Arena. Here, on Sunday afternoon, Julio was hanging around backstage, sometimes doing dog-like singing exercises - "Ayeyy-aaaaah!" ("Yes, I bark a little," he conceded) - and giving instructions to members of his large staff. (He does not know how many people he employs, but guesses it is at least 100.) When he asked for something for the first time, he used a tone that was not rude, but suggested that he had already asked several times; his tone incorporated slight irritation that his need had not already been attended to, telepathically. People fetched and carried, and tried to anticipate. Most pop stars know two or three years of this, and then look back at it all with a shake of the head. Julio has been getting what he wants for 30 years. When he needed the air conditioning turned down he said "frio", and the air conditioning was turned down.

It was three in the afternoon, and he had just got up. He was nine parts lean-and-fit to one part louche. Asked about Atlantic City, Iglesias winced - here is a man with a genuinely fancy wine collection and suit collection - but he said nothing. He was both staying in and performing at the Taj Mahal. (When I had suggested to his publicist that Iglesias and I might go somewhere other than the Taj Mahal to talk, she had found it a fascinating but impossible idea; one can be fairly confident that Iglesias did not go outdoors for the three days of his engagement.) In contrast to the bright extra-large printed T-shirts worn on the boardwalk outside ("Too much sex ruins your eyes" written in fuzzy writing, and so on), Iglesias was wearing a dark suit, a dark cashmere scarf tied as a kind of cummerbund round his waist, exquisitely expensive loafers. There is a non-suit look he has sported on some of his album covers (there have been 70 album covers): dusk clothes for a hot climate, things flung on after afternoon sex - white open-necked shirt, jeans, loafers with no socks. But this was the performance Julio, and he was wearing silk socks of unimaginable thinness.

First, he asked questions: "How old are you? Married or bachelor? Devoted bachelor? Do you smoke, no? Tell me, the sound, was the sound good, good sound? You're a rock and roll guy?" He lit a Marlboro cigarette. His accent is fairly strong, but not half as strong as it is on stage. (When I asked his old friend, Rafael Ferro, if Julio hammed up his stage accent to be cute, he nodded and smiled: "Exactly.") Iglesias then explained his dilemma: "I need to balance my life between my emotional life and my professional life," he said. "Because my professional life took over everything in the last 10 years. And I don't want to lose my audience. I don't want to lose my success, because I enjoy very much - who doesn't enjoy the success? I love the success, it makes my blood stronger. When I go on stage, it's like an addiction, and, not only that, when I go on stage, I can move. I am somebody who is physically not very strong. On stage I feel strong. But," - he looks up with great seriousness - "I need to find a place in my life where I can read more, do everything I want without permission. I need that, I need that. I need to find a place where I can swim naked - not naked physically, but naked psychically."

As behoves a friend of Michael Jackson's - "a genius, a very isolated guy" - Iglesias seems very serious about his "addiction" to the stage. Just as he intends to redirect his career through a forthcoming gypsy- influenced, Spanish-language album, and through new "colour" in his voice, so he intends to reinvent - or "recycle", as he confusingly puts it - his life's priorities. "It's like heroin. You get addicted and you know you can die, and you go back to the heroin. The addiction of success. The power! When I go on stage, my skin is 10 times more sensitive. I touch my body continuously because I don't believe it." And yet: "If I don't get a balance, I will die earlier and I will die alone, and I will die miserable." He was almost echoing what had been said by someone who knows him well: "I've got an image," this woman told me, "he'll die an old man, alone." She added: "He can't fall in love, because he is too in love with himself. A lot of people feel sorry for him, women especially, but then that is the attraction, so it all starts again. The vulnerability is sincere, but he does know that it turns people on."

Iglesias says that his parents (father a very successful gynaecologist, mother at home) were divorced "in their hearts, in their brains, when I was a little child"; they were not actually separated until much later. Although he was aware of disharmony, this did not prevent Julio having what he describes as a happy childhood. At the age of 19, with a possible career in soccer ahead of him (he was goalkeeper in a Real Madrid junior team), Iglesias was seriously injured in a car crash on the outskirts of Madrid. He was in and out of hospital for six years; his weight dropped to below 100lbs. His injuries account for the slight drunken unsteadiness in his walk that you might otherwise mistake for a Sinatra slouch. It seems significant to an understanding of his later sexual career that during a period of life when everyone he knew was doubtless out on the pull, he was not. It may or may not also be significant that the hundreds, or thousands, of women who have since been his lovers have almost all been in their early twenties.

Iglesias was married once, to a Philippines-born woman named Isabel Preysler. The marriage was annulled in 1979, and their three children are now adults, living in the United States. Was he a good father? "No. A good father takes the kids to school, goes to graduation. I never in my life did that. Ever." Does he regret this? "No. It's what I did. How can I regret it now?" Iglesias's children had the misfortune to grow up in their father's wildest times - when he was a cut-out tuxedo for tabloid picture editors. "My wildest time," he said, "was '73 to '84."

Was it fun?

"Fun?" Iglesias raised his eyebrows mock-pityingly, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, then closed his eyes, and emitted the kind of noise that would have required some kind of police presence if made on stage the night before - a kind of long, low groan of memory and desire. "Oh yes," he says - big brown eyes, white teeth clenched, the tan - "they were great times." Now, he says, he has settled down with his girlfriend of five years, a 30-year-old Dutch former model named Miranda Rynsburger, a "sweetheart". Is he faithful to her? "Yes, yeah. But what's faithful? It's not a general word that you can say exactly what it means to everybody. I'm faithful to myself, very much."

I asked one of Julio's entourage about the traditional pattern of Julio's love life, and he borrowed my pen and notebook and drew a triangle. Here, at the top, he said, is Julio's current girlfriend, and here, below, are the girls he sees quite a lot of, a few times a year, and here, at this level, are the girls he has met once before, and here - at the bottom - are the new girls, brought in for Julio to meet. "He always has three of these women with him at all times unless he's with Miranda. And he likes them young because, in his own words, he can mould them." He said that Iglesias positively welcomes romantic fooling around among his employees, "because it makes him feel less guilty. Especially if a married guy has girls. Makes him feel much better. But you better not think of going after his girls. No way. Never. People have got into big trouble for that. When I first joined him, I was clearly told to stay away from his women."

Iglesias told me: "I have sex every day I can and I love sex like every human being, but I don't have a number. I love women. I'll love women to the day I die. If I will be a homosexual, I will be a fucking big homosexual." He laughed, and then decided to carry on cursing. During the rest of our interview, Iglesias swore like a trooper, perhaps as part of his boys- own charm offensive, a verbal equivalent of shadow-boxing. Speaking about those who overestimate the number of his sexual conquests, he said: "They don't say I'm in the studio 3,000 hours a year or whatever it is, recording. Do they think I put her over the desk" - a little mime goes with this speech - "and I'm fucking her and mixing at the same time?" And later: "What do I own? I own a fucking voice"; and then: "When I look at myself in the fucking mirror and I see myself naked, I think, 'My God, you're a skinny shit guy.' " Towards the end of our conversation, Julio Iglesias said: "I don't fucking vacation."

I followed Iglesias to the Taj Mahal's empty auditorium, where a young woman singer was auditioning with his band. She was doing "When You Tell Me That You Love Me", which Iglesias sings with Dolly Parton on his most recent album, Crazy, and she didn't notice as Iglesias strolled with supernatural cool on to the stage and picked up a microphone and began to sing with her. He took her waist, and kissed her. After the song, he came down from the stage, and sat with me in the empty hall, while the expert band started messing with the Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces" as bands do, left to themselves. "She's beautiful," he said, with real feeling, and - much slapping and massaging later - he said goodbye.

IN THE next room to Iglesias's, backstage at the Taj Mahal, I spoke to John Searle, who is Julio's production manager. I asked if we should worry about his boss.

"Look," he said, "imagine being single and living this way. What else do you want? All the money you want, world travel, doing what he wants to do, which is sing..." As if on cue, the phone then rang, and there was a glimpse of another way: "Hello David, are you being a good boy? A good boy for Mom?" Pause. "Because I've got to work!" Pause. "I love you too!" Pause. "I'll bring you back that surprise. Yup, I'll bring that surprise."

When he put the phone down, I asked Searle if he thought a more conventional family life might not be good for Julio Iglesias. Searle said, "He could have that, couldn't he? He could drop out tomorrow, go hang out. I think that would kill him. It would be like opening his veins and letting the blood flow." !