He's on the brink of mega-stardom, has a Hollywood home and a new Mercedes. But he still gets teary-eyed over gloomy London skies; the interview SEAL, SINGER, TALKS TO BEN THOMPSON

seal Henry Samuel is one of those names - like Prince Rogers Nelson or Madonna Louise Ciccone - that seem to destine their bearers for fame. Snowflakes nudge the Park Lane hotel room window as Seal, somehow contriving to sound modest rather than monomaniacal, says: "My manager tells me that I'm on the verge of becoming a megastar." Does he view this prospect with any trepidation? "I embrace it whole-heartedly ... that's what life's all about: embracing each experience as it happens, even if it's a bad one. Every experience is good in retrospect."

Hang on a minute. As a child I remember grazing my knee quite badly and time has put no gloss on that. Seal's upbringing was, by all accounts, replete with trauma of a much more serious stamp. Settled with white foster-parents in Romford, Essex, he was suddenly reclaimed by his natural mother at the age of four, and dragged kicking and screaming across London. After she became ill and went to Nigeria, Seal was brought up in Kilburn by a dad, now dead, whose enthusiasm for corporal punishment drove him to leave home in his mid-teens.

Surviving the trials of his youth must have entailed a thickening of the hide. Though his life is now "fantastic", Seal is reluctant to shed a protective layer of reticence. An imposing figure in strange satiny trousers and expensive black T-shirt, he is affable but guarded; happy to admit to having played tennis for five hours the previous day and then eaten quite a lot of biscuits afterwards, but reluctant to be drawn on more serious issues. What kind of biscuits were they? (Suspiciously) "I don't know ... ginger nuts, custard creams."

Seal's current home is in Los Angeles - just near Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills - which he describes as "nice". Does he have any famous neighbours? "There's only three houses on my street and I don't know who lives in them." Living the strange, rootless life of an international pop star, he is not immune to the odd nostalgic moment. "The other day I was doing some writing in my hotel room and I ordered some tea and sat by the window with a cigarette. It was miserable outside - just overcast, grey and totally depressing - and I did get quite emotional and teary-eyed because it was something I was used to: it was London as I remember it from a few years ago when I used to be a bike messenger, cycling down the same road I was looking out over."

Bike messenger work always looks dangerous. "It was. I got knocked off five times a day on average for the first week." Seal worked in McDonald's too for a while, but his main pre-fame employment was in the fashion industry. He spent five years making clothes for a King's Road designer before deciding that his future lay in music. Two years on, in May 1990, Seal's stately guest vocal swept acid house maverick Adamski's "Killer" to number one in the UK singles charts. A solo career followed, with the epic pop swirl of "Crazy" establishing him as a worldwide star. At the 1992 Brit Awards, Seal won everything except best turned out horse.

He is just outlining his philosophy of songwriting - "I've got this theory that they're all already existing out there, and all you have to do is tap into them" - when two hotel staff arrive with the stereo equipment he asked for. Seal puts on a Talk Talk CD. What initially seems a gross breach of interview etiquette (the pop star equivalent of burping before a meal) turns out to be a spur to loquacity. With his third album looming, he confesses to being "a bit hesitant" about putting himself - as he usually does - "in a series of the sort of adverse situations that will inspire lyric writing". So he deliberately sets a course for choppy emotional waters in order to write songs about them? "Yes, well, subconsciously at least."

Does it make it hard for people to deal with him on an emotional level if they suspect that he is going to use their feelings for his own creative ends? "I don't think so." A pause and a laugh. "Well, I don't think so, but one or two of my ex-girlfriends might beg to differ." Surely it's hard to concentrate your attention on an unhappy situation if you're thinking this is going to work really well in a song later? "I guess there is a little bit of that," Seal's monolithic face cracks into a grin. "I'd be lying if I said there wasn't."

The photographer makes his entrance and Seal exclaims at the high calibre of his camera, launching into an animated discussion of rival lens specifications. His reputation as a gadget fiend seems to be well earned. "It's becoming less," Seal insists, before pulling himself up. "Actually, that's a lie." Among the luxury items that have caught Seal's eye recently are a recording studio the size of a suitcase and a fancy new Mercedes. It would be wrong to claim that money has changed him, though. "Even when I didn't have any," he remembers ruefully, "I always lived above my means. If it was a choice between a pounds 500 suit or having somewhere to live, I'd always go for the suit."

When Seal wrote "Kiss From A Rose'' - the exquisite baroque ballad which made him not only the first British topper of the US singles charts in two years, but also the author of the most frequently played song ever on American radio - he was living in a squat in Kensal Green. "It was about eight years ago," he remembers "way before I even dreamt of making an album ... I couldn't even really play any instruments at that time." How did he go about composing the song then? "It was pretty much conceived from beginning to end in my head: I hummed all the instruments into a Portastudio - 16 tracks of vocals with all the harmonies and the orchestral movements." That's a pretty extraordinary way of working. "It is really," he smiles "I wish I could still do it."

The extraordinary American success of "Kiss From A Rose'' - "even people who like me are saying: 'God, won't it ever go away', and I have to agree with them: enough already" - is not going to lure Seal into a change of citizenship. "I regard myself as British or English and always will," he insists, "even though America has embraced me in a very nice way, I'm constantly reminded of not being American." It's possible that it's Seal's very foreignness which has enabled such a broad spectrum of American disc- buyers to accept him. He nods his head: "Especially taking into consideration the fact that I'm black, they're less likely to be preoccupied with 'well, if he's black, how come he isn't singing straight R'n'B?' ''

Ironically, the same broad appeal that makes Seal a potential breaker of boundaries in America has made his new, sensual slap-head persona slightly less of a sensation in his home country than his old dreadlocked space alien. "In England the critical consensus seems to be that I came from the club or dance" - he pauses till the right word comes along - "epidemic," he laughs, "and now I've gone all wishy-washy and American."

His printed explanation for not including a lyric sheet with his second album should go some way toward allaying these fears. "How many times have you fallen in love with a lyric that you thought went: 'Show me a day with Hilda Ogden and I'll despair', only to to find that it [actually] went 'show me a way to solve your problems and I'll be there'." Seal gets up from his chair and looks out of the window at the vanishing snowclouds. "This weather's incredible isn't it? A minute ago it looked like the end of the world."

9 Seal appears on 'Jack Dee's Saturday Night' on 30 December.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

    £21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference