The beat goes on: Phil Collins on new autobiography Not Dead Yet
Musical icon Phil Collins knows how fickle fame can be. Having just written his new autobiography Not Dead Yet, the Genesis man talks to Hannah Stephenson about coming out of retirement, his guilt over being apart from his children and his battles with booze
HE MAY have just announced he's coming out of retirement for a series of live shows next year, but decades of drumming have taken their toll on 1980s pop master Phil Collins.
Today, the 65-year-old Genesis frontman and solo star – one of only three musicians to sell more than 100 million records both in a group and as a solo artist – walks with a stick, thanks to several foot injuries from a number of falls; his spine is weak due to years of drumming and vocal cord-easing cortisone injections which can lead to brittle bones, and a misplaced nerve in his elbow has required several operations.
His autobiography, Not Dead Yet, charts Collins' career from Hounslow lad to Oscar-winning music producer and everything in between, including Genesis, his hits and their inspirations, his marriages and divorces and falling foul of the fickle public and press.
At the height of his fame, he collaborated with Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Sting and Peter Gabriel, performed with The Who, starred in the hit movie Buster and even appeared twice at Live Aid.
He was everywhere – apart from at home with the first of his three wives, Andrea Bertorelli, and their two children, adopted daughter, Joely, and son, Simon.
"My career took priority in my first marriage," he tells me.
"But it wasn't the case in my second marriage. Jill (Travelman) and Lily came everywhere with me, which puts a different complexion on things."
It was during the 1990s that Collins went from hero to public pariah, when stories emerged alleging he'd faxed his second wife Jill for a divorce, having gone off with translator Orianne Cevey, 22 years his junior, whom he later married and had two sons with, Nicholas and Matthew.
He devotes a whole chapter to what he refers to as 'Faxgate'.
It happened in 1994 when he was on tour and having an affair with Orianne, although technically still married to Jill.
He couldn't get through to her because of poor phone connections so sent faxes instead.
One of them found its way to The Sun's news desk, which led to the headline 'I'm faxing furious' above a story featuring angry excerpts from the fax which, he tells me, "had certain parts that could have been taken out of context".
"It wasn't a fax asking for divorce, we'd already gone past that. I was actually just asking to see Lily but the phone kept going down," explains Collins, who agrees the whole debacle damaged his reputation hugely.
"I certainly didn't like being Mr Nice Guy, the Housewives' Pal. But as soon as I wasn't that guy any more, I missed it," he writes.
"The divorce affected us all, but this random event affected my life. It happened just at the start of an English tour, when I was public enemy number one. It was very difficult.
"I'm prepared to be called an a***hole because of some of the things I've done, but not for that fax."
Today, he understands the nature of fractured families. His first wife took their two children to live in Vancouver when they split up. Jill went to live in Los Angeles with Lily when they divorced, and Orianne moved to Miami with their sons when they parted.
"I carry guilt over each of my kids," he says.
"All the times I was away, all the moments I missed, all the periods when a tour or an album got in the way of a happy home life, or repairs to that home life.
"Music made me but it also unmade me. I won't do it again."
Retirement and loss of his family resulted in Collins turning to the bottle.
"It took me 'til the age of 55 to become an alcoholic," he writes.
"I got through the heady 60s, the trippy 70s, the imperial 80s, the emotional 90s. I was retired, content, and then I fell.
"Because, suddenly, I had too much time on my hands."
However, while today he tells me that "I don't believe I was an alcoholic", the drinking led to acute pancreatitis: at one point, the pop star was at death's door.
"I was rushed to this university hospital in Lausanne by helicopter and taken to intensive care," remembers Collins.
"I had a wad of cables coming out of my neck, bad dreams and couldn't wait to get out of there. But still I went back and drank vodka and whisky."
He went into rehab - just for a week. "I couldn't stand it."
"For three years, I didn't drink. Now, I can have a couple of glasses of wine but that's where I stop," he continues.
"My doctor in New York, who was worried that I wasn't going to make it, put me in touch with a therapist and an addiction specialist. I see him every now and again for a chat."
Orianne went on to marry again, but she and Collins remained close and she wasn't very happy in her new marriage.
"We often tell each other that we shouldn't have divorced, how much we miss each other and how much we miss being a family," he writes.
In 2014, she had spinal surgery in Switzerland to release trapped nerves, but had a spasm while under the knife and was left paralysed down her right side.
Collins looked after their children during her recuperation, and it was then they decided to reconcile.
"I've said I don't want to get remarried, and frankly, she's not divorced yet. We've been together a year and a half and her divorce is still trundling on."
He bought Jennifer Lopez's old house in Miami Beach, where he now lives with Orianne and their two boys, and also has an apartment in New York, a house in Switzerland and a family chalet in the mountains.
"It's about three front door keys more than I ever wanted," he says with a smile.
The body may be weaker but the musical mind is still sharp, as he prepares for his tour next year (which will feature his 15-year-old son Nicholas on drums) and dismisses further talk about retirement.
"I will never say that word again," he tells me.
:: Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins is published by Century, priced £20.