Tommy Lee: Beneath the skin

Wildman rock drummer with Mötley Crüe, celebrity ex-husband of Pamela Anderson... and chemistry and literature student? Charlotte Cripps unmasks the real Tommy Lee
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The Independent Online

Tommy Lee - ex-husband of the actress Pamela Anderson, maniacal drummer of Mötley Crüe and all-round wild man of rock - has just rolled into town for the release of his solo album, Tommyland: The Ride. There's also the reality TV show Tommy Lee Goes to College, which follows Lee's unlikely sojourn as a student at the University of Nebraska, where he takes classes in chemistry, literature and - but of course - horticulture.

Opening the door to his hotel suite at Blakes Hotel, in London, Lee, at 43 years of age, is every inch the charismatic rock star, sleek and sexy in black leather trousers and a white vest, and covered in tattoos. The room is a lavish deep red, resembling an opium den, with a four-poster bed and burning incense. "They say if you stay in a red room for too long, it makes you crazy," Lee says in a husky voice. "I like dark. I don't like bright. Bright is too hard on the soul."

Lee will later describe his life since joining Mötley Crüe at 17 as "crazy", but he seems to be doing very well for somebody who has spent most of his life going to bed "wondering whether I would ever wake up again".

He is currently in the middle of the Crüe reunion tour. Having just supported The Rolling Stones in New York earlier this month, he's is in good form, despite being blown up by accident a few weeks ago in a pyrotechnic stunt that went wrong in Wyoming. He suffered minor burns to his arms and, he assures me, his "eyelashes are much shorter", but for a rocker who has been drumming with the pop-metal outfit since the early Eighties and has sold more than 40 million records, this is no great rock'n'roll catastrophe. What is rather more serious, perhaps, is that the entire UK consignment of his new CD has been stolen from Hanover at the weekend by thieves.

His mobile telephone rings to Kanye West's song "Gold Digger", and he mooches softly to it, raising his fist in the air. His jet-lagged entourage want to know if he's up to attending Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne's son Jack's 20th birthday party at the trendy London restaurant Momo. "We were going to charter a private jet [from the US]. We usually do," says Lee. "But it's a lot of money just so you can smoke. I absolutely hate the airport and traffic. Those two things absolutely bum me out. And, oh my God, I got metal - my nipples are pierced and there's a wallet chain - and you are like there for an hour getting shaken down at security. It just sucks. It puts you in a bad mood. Do I look like I have a bomb on me? C'mon. I just want to get there."

The consensus among the hovering TV crews and the chambermaids is that Lee is very sweet, but he doesn't seem to mind this slur on his rock'n'roll reputation. "I wrote my autobiography [Tommyland] and I star in my own reality TV show because I want people to get to know Tommy. Not Tommy Lee, just Tommy: the guy who is a father, who loves just about everything. It gets frustrating when everyone has a certain perception of you. I'm really a cool, mellow guy. I'm not as crazy as everybody thinks."

I have been warned not to bring up the subject of the former Baywatch star Anderson, whom Lee married after dating for just six weeks. Their turbulent three-year marriage saw him spend four months in jail for spousal abuse and it ended in 1998. According to Lee, one of the problems was that he reminded Anderson of her alcoholic father - apparently, "She'd freak out hearing an ice cube hit a glass." When the couple weren't busy making the papers for fighting paparazzi or ill-advisedly making a home-sex video (on an internet site near you), they found the time to have two sons, Brandon, nine, and Dylan, seven.

It was only when he went to jail - "when I was in solitary confinement with no TV, nothing" - that Lee had time to reflect. "I just sat there in peace and quiet. I was like, 'Wow! I need this. Okay, Tommy, you have two choices: you can be miserable or you can take this quiet time and ask yourself some questions, ask yourself where you are.'" It was this period of self-examination that influenced Lee's decision to make Tommy Lee Goes to College, having missed out on an education in favour of life on the road. "In my senior year of high school, Mötley Crüe got a record deal and I had to make a choice: do I go for the diploma or go off around the world and rock shit? It was a pretty easy decision."

But didn't he get horribly bored in jail? "All the time," he says. "Well, actually Monday through to Wednesday was terrible. I looked forward to Thursdays when they would come and get me, take me up to the roof and stick me in a cage. At least I got to go outside." The song "Anger Management" on his first solo album was inspired by the experience. "You realise what calibre of person you are when you are forced to sit in group therapy and the guy next to you says, 'Yeah, I'm glad to be here. I violently snapped my wife's neck.' I'm sitting there like, 'Me and my wife just got into an argument!'"

Nowadays, he's happy to have swapped prison for the world's better hotels. "The best hotel room ever was at the Camino Real, at Cancun, in Mexico, when I got married on the beach to Pamela. The elevator goes right up to the penthouse and you have your own swimming pool," says Lee. "Mind you, four days ago, I stayed in a hotel in Dallas, Texas, and - you are gonna love this - it was called The Notorious Suite. It had a raised stage and stripper pole in it."

Lee wrote his new album in the studio of his Malibu home, in which he has "a real Starbucks installed". One track, "The Butler", is a recorded message by Lee pretending to be an English butler answering the telephone for a rock star. He has so many drum kits, he has to store them in a warehouse in LA. His current favourite is a red drum set covered in fuzzy fur. "It's more like a couch," he says proudly. His first drum was a Christmas present from his parents (he has a Greek mother and an American father). "It was a blue-sparkle snare drum," he recalls. "We weren't rich. I built it up one piece at a time."

These days, Lee is "in awe" of his life. "I'm still alive. I'm like, 'Wow! we just sold 45 million records... Oh my God, I married the prettiest girl in all the world.' It's constant. I have had a wonderful, amazing, exciting life and two beautiful kids. It doesn't suck. A few days ago, I took the kids in a helicopter to the drag races."

"I'm a passionate person who loves life," he says, going on to describe himself as "very single. Single's fun - you don't have to check in with your girl, but it's not easy. I do get lonely." His wish is "to find the ultimate partner, a little partner in crime - female, of course. She'd be pretty and funny - a sense of humour is good. That would be nice."

Any chance of a reunion with Anderson? "Probably - her and the boys came to the Rolling Stones show a few days ago. We are crazy about each other," he says. "I guess we are just trying to figure out what the hell we are doing. We are going through a weird phase, but we love each other. We are stuck with each other because we have two beautiful children. I'd definitely like to give it another go."

'Tommyland: The Ride' is out now on Rocket Science; 'Tommy Lee Goes to College' is on E4 tomorrow night at 10.30pm