Lionel Richie: You Ask The Questions

Are you as romantic as the love songs you have written and sung? And do you have a message for your many fans in Baghdad?
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The Independent Online

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1949, Lionel Richie originally wanted to become a priest, but he changed his mind and formed The Commodores while still at college. The group went on to have three platinum albums, and their hits included "Three Times a Lady" and "Easy". Richie went solo in 1982, and he has since sold more than 70 million albums and won five Grammy awards, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. After a break in touring and recording in the early Nineties, he signed a new contract with the Mercury/Universal label, married again and had two children, Miles and Sophie. He has a daughter, Nicole, from his first marriage.

Have you ever regretted making the video for "Hello"?
Joe Ellis, Spalding

No, my God, no. Of all the things people have talked about in my career, the thing that comes up over and over is the blind girl in that video - even if they can't remember the song. I think that was the twist that made it all work. If I had not had the blind girl in there, I don't think it would ever have been a significant video. When the director told me what he was planning, I thought the same thing: "Isn't it going to be a little awkward?" But he said: "Watch and see." Sure enough, the success of that video was almost as powerful as the song itself.

What did you make of your daughter Nicole's appearance in the reality television show, The Simple Life?
Giles Harper, by e-mail

I had to eat my words over that. One day Nicole called me up and said: "I finally got a job, Dad." And I said: "Thank God, she got a job. I'm so happy. What's your job?" She said: "Well, I got a television show. Me and Paris [Hilton] are going to do it." I said: "That's wonderful. And who will you be playing?" She said: "Myself. I'm basically retired from work because I'm so wealthy..."

I had a nervous breakdown. I said: "What do you mean, you're so wealthy? You haven't done anything." I went berserk! But exactly six months later it became the number one show on television. I had to eat my words. Nicole said: "Dad, I told you so." And I said: "Where's the cheque?"

I think it is absolutely hilarious, and so do Nicole and Paris. They've spent their whole lives trying to upset their parents; this television show is just an extension. All I can do is sit back in the corner and think that when my father saw me come through the door with a giant-sized Afro to tell him I was going to form The Commodores, he probably felt the same way.

You are apparently very popular in Baghdad. Do you have a message for its inhabitants?
Tom Davis, Manchester

Yes, I have found out that I have fans on both sides of the war. When they showed the footage of the troops entering Baghdad on CNN, you could hear "All Night Long" playing on the radio. I'm just so sorry - I'm not a fan of war. Before you run into a country, you've got to make sure that you know pretty damn well what the heck you're doing. I sat through the ruin and the fallout of Vietnam. I didn't go myself, but I saw the lives it destroyed just because of poor decision-making. I just hope this is not one of those situations. Only time will tell.

You co-wrote "We Are the World" for Live Aid. What issue do you feel most strongly about today?
Veronica Hodge, London

We are coming up to the 20th year since "We Are the World", and nothing has changed. There's no excuse for hunger in the world, no excuse. At one point just after we'd released the record, I felt sick to my stomach. I remember saying: "You mean to tell me that it took 45 artists with a hit record to get the world to wake up and see that these people are starving?" It took a celebrity face to get something done about Aids, and it will take another celebrity to raise the profile of something like sickle-cell disease. That we need a celebrity to bring these things to light is a sad reflection on our attention span.

I know that you like renovating properties. Which makeover are you most proud of?
Jill Skilton, Caernarvon

I love the smell of sawdust and concrete being poured. The property I'm most happy with is the home I've just finished. It's the Guggenheim estate in Los Angeles, and I love the house. It's got amazing ceilings, antiques, a staircase and, of course, poured concrete - back in those days, the only way that they could earthquake-proof a house was to pour slabs and slabs of concrete. I really like helping out when we're renovating. On several occasions, the builders had to say to me: "Mr Richie, will you please step away from the tractor? Move away from the tractor, Mr Richie, the ceiling has not been secured!"

You wrote one of your albums, Renaissance, while you were in London. What places in the city do you find particularly inspiring?
Sara Bishop, London

The restaurants. Right after I finish a recording session, or right before I go in, restaurants are my recreation. When I'm not quite sure what I'm going to write about, I sit down, enjoy the food, and people will come up to me and tell me the greatest stories about their lives. "Lionel, I broke up with my wife," or: "Lionel, I found the greatest woman in the world," or: "Let me tell you what I think about politics." Every time I leave a restaurant, I've got at least one story or one more influence in my head. I probably shouldn't say this too loud, because the restaurant owners might demand a percentage of my album sales.

You've provided the backing music to many romantic encounters the world over. How romantic are you?
Barbara Sumner, Birmingham

I am by far the best closet romantic in the world. I've discovered that I can write lyrics better than I can say something to someone. That's the secret to my whole success, really. If you just let me write it down, I'll tell you a lot of things. But if I have to tell them to you face to face, it comes out in a shy and awkward way. The song "Hello" pretty much sums up who I am and who I was growing up. I was always the kid who couldn't play football or basketball. But as time went on, I became very confident when I was writing music, and what I was really thinking on the inside came out in my love songs.

What do your children think of your music? Which artists do you encourage them to listen to?
Kim Tong, by e-mail

My son, no matter what I tell him to go for, loves Linkin Park. I just hope it's a passing fad. Little Sophie is already singing along to Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Ashanti. What I have found is that just by playing the music - a little bit of country, a little bit of pop, a little bit of something else - I can influence them. I don't suggest; I just subliminally play the music in the background and eventually they get it. But if I say: "Don't listen to this music!" that's the first music they'll go to.

Lionel Richie's album 'Just for You' is released on Monday on Mercury