‘Donny was always Batman and I was always Robin’

Jimmy Osmond PIC: Arthur Allison
Jimmy Osmond PIC: Arthur Allison

Fifty years ago a cherubic-faced three-year-old Jimmy Osmond stepped up to the mic to sing alongside his brothers on Andy Williams’ US television series, a Britain’s Got Talent style variety show.

He was brown haired and wide-eyed, like butter wouldn’t melt, and confidently announced he would sing Red Roses for a Blue Lady; the assured little boy told Andy he wouldn’t need the accompaniment of an orchestra, ‘I sing with my group,’ he said, shaking his head when asked if he was nervous, cool even in the dizzying glare of the limelight.

The Osmonds, famed for their wholesome delivery of bubblegum pop, now had little Jimmy to add the cute factor, joining pin-up and teen idol Donny, Alan, Wayne, Merill, and Jay.

Osmondmania was at its height in the early 1970s when screaming teenage girls and flashing cameras accompanied the band’s every move.

Over the course of their meteoric career the brothers sold around 77 million records worldwide and won the hearts of innumerable fans with a sweet as cherry pie back catalogue and their all-American Colgate smiles.

Jimmy had his own early solo success story too; he received his first gold record at the tender age of five for a song he recorded in Japanese called My Little Darling, while his 1972 release Long Haired Lover from Liverpool saw him enter the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest performer to achieve a number one single on the UK singles chart.

Today Jimmy is a tanned and chirpy father of four; artfully styled hair, designer denim jacket, beaming and friendly, he breezes into UTV with his entourage, greeting everyone with a ready smile and a firm handshake as he arrives to discuss his new tribute show to Andy Williams, Moon River and Me.

With dates in Belfast and Londonderry, Jimmy is revisiting a string of hits by Williams - a personal friend and undisputed musical legend, as well as regaling fans with performances of those well-known Osmond classics.

Williams, who passed away in 2012, was best known for his version of the song Moon River, originally written for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In 1962, he started The Andy Williams Show, which was broadcast around the world and went on to win three Emmys.

The Osmonds were regular guests and the show was a key platform in bringing them to public attention. Andy was one of the most enduring stars of the 1960s and 70s, whose easy style and mellow voice led President Ronald Reagan to call him “a national treasure”.

“Andy was just the biggest star,” says Jimmy. “Without him the Osmonds wouldn’t have been around because my brothers were discovered by Disney but he put us on his show for seven seasons.

‘‘He made everybody on his show feel so comfortable. He had that gift.

‘‘He was really the backbone of our whole career as a group.

‘‘Andy was like the boss, so all my brothers and sister Marie had like this awe around him.

‘‘But he and I became friends and we had theatres built beside each other in Missouri.

‘‘Before he died he wanted me to keep it going and so I bought his theatre and his family empowered me with all this footage of him and I didn’t take that lightly. So I started the show I’m doing and I’ve taken it all over the world.

“I sing Love Story, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Days of Wine and Roses, Godfather - there’s so many. You’ll never sing it quite like Andy but I do try. He was very hip, very classy, and he mentored so many of us.”

Jimmy is a very easy person to chat to, full of anecdotes and good humour. It’s clear he still gets real enjoyment from being on stage.

“I was in Vegas doing a show there and this veteran guy came up to me and asked me to sing Danny Boy,” he recalls.

‘‘So I sang Andy’s version of it and he cried. I said ‘Buddy, that really took you back, tell me why?’ And he said that was the last song that his mother sang to him before he went off to war. I love that, to be able to sing music that carries important memories and really means something.”

A lot of the Osmonds’ tracks were influenced by Andy Williams’ sound; his brother Don managed the group for a time and it was during his tenure that they released hits like One Bad Apple - still a timeless boyband confection lauded by Rolling Stone. Love Me For a Reason, Crazy Horses, Down by the Lazy River, Hold Her Tight - the top teen balladeers of the 70s had a string of saccharine chart-toppers that fans of a certain vintage love to hear Jimmy revisit.

He does so without any sense of fatigue. “When you have a different group of people there with you every night and you’re singing to them and trying to connect to them, it’s a different experience every time. You forget yourself and your main concern is whether they are digging what you’re doing.”

Having spent his life in showbusiness, does he ever feel regretful that he missed out on a normal upbringing?

“Not really because anything I missed out on like going to a regular school or going to prom or college or whatever, I’ve experienced all that vicariously through my four children.” Do they think of him as being very cool?

“Not at all,“ he laughs. “I’m just dad. My wife isn’t impressed by it either, in fact she slags me off. She’s more into classic rock. It’s refreshing to go home and forget about all that.”