Rod Stewart exclusive: ‘Football stopped me doing drugs’

Rod reflects on wine, women and saying no to anything harder.

Rod Stewart, accused of being tight by The Last Shadow Puppets
Do ya think I'm stingy? Rod Stewart, wearing one of the many suits he's refused to pass on to other singers. Image Picture Penny Lancaster

Rod Stewart really, really misses his shin pads.

OK, he has considerable compensations in his life, including a whopping nine-figure fortune, almost half a century as one of the world’s most celebrated and successful singers, eight kids by five mothers and personal collections of Ferraris and pre-Raphaelite art. But even a household name can miss the reassuring ritual of getting ready to play football.

A remarkably nimble 70, he only hung up his boots a year and a half ago. “Aw man, I miss it so much,” he sighs, affable and at ease in a suite at London’s celeb-haven Langham Hotel. He’s understatedly “money” in smart black leather jacket, white shirt and black tie. His hair still sticks up proudly like an inflated rubber glove on an egg.

“The preparation; a good night’s sleep on Saturday nights before kick-off Sunday mornings. Getting my kit all ready….oh, my shin pads… .” His naturally mischievous eyes all but mist over as he recalls his pads with reverence. “I am a genuine fitness fanatic. I’ve had a full-time trainer for fifteen years. I take it seriously!”

“We did some coke in The Faces, but it was never important to me”

“Towards the end I could only play 35 minutes a game, because I’ve had knee operations, and it was painful. So if I had to do a concert in the evening, in Las Vegas, I’d literally limp onto the stage. Couldn’t get out of the dressing room. So, the football had to go. It’s been a good innings though.”

As a consolation goal, Stewart still likes to watch. He’s good friends with Scotland manager Gordon Strachan and famously cheers on the national team and Celtic. (Rarely has a man born in Highgate, North London, supported the Scots so vigorously and with such frequent use of loud tartan. When his dad passed away, he got tattoos of a Scottish lion and thistle in his memory). 

Now that his shin pads are retired however, watching his mates in his own old Los Angeles team – The Exiles, a pool of ex-pats drawn from all walks of life (“electricians, salesmen, no stars”) – is trickier. “Sometimes I can’t even be bothered. They’re all in the dressing room afterwards, shouting at each other what they should or shouldn’t have done…and I feel totally out of it. The beers come out but I don’t fancy one ’cos I haven’t earned it, y’know?”

The man who once asked the world if it thought he was sexy (“It wasn’t me – it was a character in a story!” he protests), Stewart reckons the music business keeps him young too.

Rod Stewart Another Country Loaded
Just say No He only dabbled very lightly in hard drugs during his pomp.

His latest album, Another Country, the 29th in a stellar career, recently went to No 2, blocked from the top spot only by Elvis. He may seem a cosy staple of the Strictly/Loose Women/Children In Need middle of the road now, but in his hedonistic heyday he was the clown prince of the great rock‘n’roll roosters. His soulful, gloriously weathered voice was the clown’s tears.

“It’s a great business to be in – it occupies you, engages the mind. Even doing interviews is good – it helps me remember stuff, like when I wrote my autobiography, Rod. And writing songs too. I think it’s when you close down the mind that the ageing process bashes you around the head.”

“We had no confidence, so we’d get routinely drunk or we wouldn’t have been able to play otherwise”

The thing with Stewart, now a sentimental family man (and grandad: his second eldest, Kimberley, has a child with movie star Benicio Del Toro), is that he looked after himself even when he wasn’t looking after himself. Relatively. Contrary to popular belief that all A-list rock legends spend their lives neck-deep in toot, Rod has never been very interested in drugs. Booze, yes. Women, oh yes. Drugs, not so much.

“I never bought any drugs,” he tells me. “Never. We did some coke sometimes in The Faces, but it was never important to me. The main reason again being I was playing football, and you can’t go on the field after a skin-full of that. Well, I couldn’t. I’ve just never been a real druggie person.”

“But I still like my wine every night. Two glasses with my food, maybe three.” With a smile he remembers a vintage classic. “Back in The Faces days we all used to drink Mateus Rose, with that funny-shaped bottle… I think we put it on the map.  We had no confidence, so we’d get routinely drunk or we wouldn’t have been able to play otherwise.”

Rod Stewart Interview New Album Loaded
Wine, women and song Rod still loves vino, but has moved on from the Mateus Rose he favoured in his Faces days.

The Faces enjoyed “five hilarious years” before Stewart’s solo career soared after his solo breakthrough “Maggie May”. They left us hot-legged humdingers such as Cindy Incidentally, Stay With Me and You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything. A recent one-off reunion show by the surviving members for charity drew roars of applause, and now there are rumours of and requests for a Glastonbury headline slot. Stewart doesn’t rule anything out.

“It was great”, he says. “There’s something about The Faces – even though there’s only three of us left, it still exists. It floats along. Might sink, might swim. We started one number and it was all out of time, so I stopped it because, y’know, people have paid good money here. Ronnie Wood says, ‘OK we’ll start it again, but we all know it’ll sound exactly the same’ and that was the spirit of The Faces.”

“I’ve done pretty well with women. I haven’t made too many enemies”

Is it mythology or truth that your favourite “vice” was women, predominantly blonde?

“Oh, y’know, I’ve done pretty well with women. Basically I like to think I’m an old softie romantic. I haven’t made too many enemies along the road.” If the singer has well and truly settled down with third wife Penny Lancaster now, he’s still allowed to pine for the shin pads of youth.

Reminiscing about the late George Best, a fellow ’70s/’80s playboy and football maverick, he says, “Ah, George, what a sweetheart, what a player. Found some great pictures of him the other day, as I’m moving house… y’know how you find stuff that’s been in drawers for years? Some wonderful pictures of me and him, kicking a ball around together when I first moved to LA in the mid-’70s.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the two louche legends of people’s culture weren’t prone to partying together. “Any time I was with George I was never in a pub with him, no no,” says Stewart. “He came to concerts. I went to games. I think I was always more in control of my life than he was of his. Sadly as an athlete you’re only as good as your body is. Whereas as a singer I can keep going and going and going, as long as I look after my voice. Which I do.”

Rod Stewart’s career seems indestructible. What he’d give to be able to strap on those shin pads one more time though.

Never too late for a comeback Rod Stewart in The Late Late Show’s Carpool Karaoke spot.
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