Oh what a fright! Jimmy Osmond suddenly looms from the gloom of a London hotel, where he has been sitting in a dark corner, drinking hot chocolate.
With his rich waves of hair and his family heirloom teeth, he looks instantly familiar, yet wildly different.
For millions of us, he will be forever frozen in time as Little Jimmy Osmond, the chubby-cheeked moppet who sang Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool with uncanny brio when he was only nine years old.
Now here he is, 42 years later, weathered by age, thickened by time, not quite so little any more, but still clambering onto a stage somewhere in the world most weeks of the year.
‘People still call me Little Jimmy,’ says Osmond, now a happily married father-of-four. ‘It is a bit annoying, but I am OK with it.’
With his soft, fleshy hands and butterball face, he has something of the country pastor about him; a manner that is somehow sweet and affable, yet also bland and obdurate.
I have to salute him.
It is the supremely professional carapace of a man who has been famous since he was four years old, someone who has been regularly appearing on television and being asked to account for himself since for ever.
Delving into his psyche? It’s like trying to conquer the north face of a marshmallow.
‘My childhood might seem freakish to you but it was perfectly normal to me,’ he says mildly, settling into his banquette seat.
But it really was odd. Jimmy, 51, is the youngest member of the devoutly Mormon Osmonds, the American family music group who went from singing barbershop on The Andy Williams Show to teen-music idols and having hit TV shows of their own.
At their peak, in their various permutations, the Osmonds sold more than 102 million records and were absurdly famous.
Jimmy grew up with his five performing older brothers as his ‘best friends’. He never really attended school. ‘I went once, and a kid came at me with a switch-blade because I was on TV every week. After that, my school was literally me and a teacher on the road.’
Security was tight. The Symbionese Liberation Army, the revolutionary group that kidnapped Patty Hearst in 1974, once threatened to bomb the Osmonds’ concerts. (‘Everyone’s a critic,’ said one brother.) Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, heartthrob Donny, sister Marie and Jimmy had to have Secret Service protection.
If Jimmy played baseball, he had to wear a panic button around his neck. He was smuggled in and out of concerts inside a trunk, and at night the Osmonds would be locked into their hotel bedrooms by their bodyguards.
‘Kind of alarming. As a kid, you feel like you did something wrong, almost. All these people, trying to hurt or get to you or your siblings.’
The miracle is that Jimmy didn’t turn into a gibbering wreck, with assorted substance problems and multiple issues. Certainly, he regards the florid travails of today’s grown-up child stars, such as twerking Miley Cyrus and beleaguered Justin Bieber, with wry detachment.
‘I suspect that with Miley, a lot of it is just marketing — dreaming up ways to get noticed. With Justin, millions of kids follow him: he has an obligation to make better decisions about himself.
‘The problem with celebrity now is that we reward bad behaviour. It wasn’t like that when I was growing up.’
What has gone wrong? ‘People love a train wreck,’ he sighs.
Jimmy has just flown in from Provo, Utah, where he lives just down the street from Donny, with all the other brothers living nearby.
Marie is the only one who has broken ranks, by relocating to Las Vegas. Between the seven of them, they have 39 children (Alan alone had eight sons) and almost as many grandchildren. The Osmonds just keep on coming, wave after wave, like a swarm of toothy bees.
Along with Jay and Merrill, Jimmy is here to buzz around and headline the latest Once In A Lifetime, The Final tour. This finds them playing eight dates in the UK, alongside other popular Seventies acts, including David Essex, Showaddywaddy and the Bay City Rollers. The tours have proved popular with diehard fans keen to cling onto a piece of their Seventies heritage that has remained untainted by major scandal or sleaze.
Indeed, Osmond was great friends with Michael Jackson — ‘he was slightly older than me, but we had that child-star bond’ — and was one of the few to speak up for him following the 2005 court trial in which Jackson was acquitted of various child sex abuse allegations.
He never believed his friend could be guilty of molesting children. ‘We would often go to his house, to pool parties. We were all in our trunks and nothing bad happened.’
Jackson died in 2009, after overdosing on pain relief drugs. Was Jimmy surprised?
‘I know he had issues that way. I knew he was in a lot of pain and I was super-sad for him in many ways.’ Once, on a flight — one of the last times they were together — Michael asked Jimmy wistfully how the Osmonds had managed to keep their family together.
Good question. How do they?
‘I just don’t know. How many families do you know could lose $100 million and still be friends?’
At one time, the Osmonds were so rich they had their own studios, film division and Osmond airline. Yet bad investments and naivety meant they lost much of their fortune. They have been ripped off, and had their money embezzled, but somehow have managed not to be bitter. Yet footage for a documentary shot a few years ago shows the brothers didn’t escape unscathed. They all sit around in plumpish splendour — except for whippet-thin Donny, a nipped and tucked dandelion amongst the puffballs. (‘He works really hard at looking good,’ says Jimmy.)
They talk of their two older brothers, Virl and Tom, who were born deaf and did not perform with the family group. There are health problems with Alan, who has MS, and with Wayne, who had a brain tumour. At one point, Jimmy cries.
Later, the brothers manage to laugh about the loss of their millions.
Nowadays, their money is made from live shows, television producing and assorted business interests, including merchandising, toys and a Utah-based estate agency.
Clearly, the Osmonds still make a fortune — and dutifully donate 10 per cent of all their earnings to the Mormon church.
Jimmy takes a slug of his hot chocolate. Being the good Mormon he is, he avoids stimulants such as coffee, tea and alcohol. ‘Not such a big deal,’ he shrugs. When he married his wife, Michelle, in 1992, after a three-year courtship, he was a 29-year-old virgin.
‘My wedding night was a wonderful night. When it is right, it is the way it is supposed to be,’ he says. ‘Oh, I had plenty of opportunities [for sex], but I tell you, I am so glad I am a one-woman man.
‘I have a beautiful wife, and the fact we have shared our life that way is really special. I have found great happiness.’
They met when Michelle baby-sat for brother Wayne’s children — and Jimmy was glad he saved himself for her, despite the temptations that came with being a huge star.
‘There was a lot of really crazy stuff that happened. I don’t know how I made it, because I am a red-blooded guy and I think women are beautiful. But I always knew I didn’t want to make a mistake.’
It wasn’t always easy. Once, while on tour in South Korea, he opened his hotel room to find two scantily-clad women waiting for him.
‘It was kind of the custom over there — they provide people to show you a good time. I went straight down to reception and rented another room.’
This month, the depleted Osmonds will be back in town, but they don’t wear fancy stage outfits any more, and they don’t even rehearse.
‘After all these years, we don’t need to,’ says Jimmy, who estimates that he has sung Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool onstage ‘over 1,000 times’ — and not always through gritted teeth.
He has never done fewer than 50 shows a year for 47 years, and this Christmas he is even appearing as Baron Hardup in panto at Llandudno.
‘I just love being on stage,’ says the man who has been on one since he was four. He gives me a big marshmallow hug, drains his chocolate and goes off to prepare for his fans.
‘Yes, they still scream,’ he says. ‘Only it’s in a much lower register now.’