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
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
REX/Eye Candy
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Life and Style
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General


    £5k: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

    Head of Marketing - Pensions

    £65000 - £75000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    SEN (Visual Impairement) Tutor

    £120 - £180 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are looki...

    School Receptionist

    £70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: School Receptionist - Part ...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis