French pianist RICHARD CLAYDERMAN has sold 85 million albums with arrangements of classical and popular tunes. He tells Pierre de Villiers about his early musical life and why he had to change his name
Nancy Reagan, wife of US President Ronald Reagan, gave you the nickname ‘The Prince of Romance’ at a concert in New York in 1985. What are your memories of that day?
I was performing at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and Nancy Reagan was president of a charity event. She came up to me and said: ‘Oh Richard, it was a lovely concert. I have enjoyed your music so much; it is so romantic, you really are the Prince of Romance.’ The following day in the American press it was written everywhere: ‘Nancy Reagan and the Prince of Romance’. Now a lot of people want to know if I am really romantic, which I am.
Which is the most romantic part of France?
Paris has, of course, many romantic areas, with cafés, beautiful streets and the River Seine. It is a perfect place for lovers.
You live on the outskirts of Paris, near Versailles. What do you like about the area?
I live in the suburbs about 30 kilometres from the centre of Paris, so it’s less stressful and there are fewer cars. For the past few years, my wife [Typhaine] and I have had a dog called Cookie and it is easier to go for a walk.
Rather unusually for a Frenchman you don’t drink wine or champagne.
Yes, I agree it is very rare for a French person not to drink wine or champagne! But the simple fact is I was never attracted to wine and cigarettes. I had an ulcer when I was young, so I decided not to drink wine, to protect my stomach.
As someone who has had a lot of financial success would you ever follow in actor Gérard Depardieu’s footsteps and leave France to become a tax exile?
No, I would not like to live outside France, because my family is there and I would not feel good outside my own country.
Is it true that as a child growing up in Paris you could read music better than French?
Yes, that is true. There was a piano at home, so when I was four or five I was delighted to sit in front of the piano and play. That was how I started. My father was a piano teacher but he never forced me to play. He found out I was interested in the piano and coached me, and later I started my classical studies.
You studied classical music at the Conservatoire de Paris, so why did you decide to become a more mainstream pianist?
At 15 I knew I didn’t want to have a classical career. I wanted to do something different and perform popular music that I could listen to on the radio. There are many classical pianists of very high quality and maybe I would have been one of them. But I am proud of the fact that I have made piano music more accessible to people. It is very rewarding for me that kids start playing and practising the piano while listening to my music. At my concerts I often invite young pianists to perform on stage with me. It has to be said though that without my time at the Conservatoire de Paris I couldn’t do what I am doing today.
Early in your career you changed your name from Philippe Pagès to Richard Clayderman. I presume your producers were concerned that people wouldn’t be able to pronounce your French name.
When I met my producers they were not so happy with my name because it is difficult to pronounce in Spanish, German and so forth. They found that my great-grandmother was called Clayderman and they picked up that name. But they didn’t like Philippe Clayderman, so they invented Richard. My friends and my family still call me Philippe or ‘Phiphi’, but I am used to being called Richard by other people.
You turn 60 this year. What are your feelings about this milestone?
Life has been moving so fast over the past 30 years and I am lucky to have good health. You called me ‘The Prince of Romance’ earlier, but in a few years you will be calling me ‘The King of Romance’!
Richard Clayderman’s new album Romantique is available on the Decca label.