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MUSIC

"I used to be a really bad singer"

At 68, Julio Iglesias, Spain's venerable Don Juan, shows no sign of slowing down

Julio Iglesias croons during his concert in Valencia.
Julio Iglesias croons during his concert in Valencia.JUAN CARLOS CARDENAS (EFE)

The journalist Rosa Villacastín recalls an anecdote involving "The Idol", aka Julio Iglesias.

"I was at a dinner and my cellphone rang. It was an unknown number. The voice at the other end of the line asks: 'Rosa, who is the best singer in the world?' I didn't know what to say or even who was calling, and I said: 'Joan Manuel Serrat'. Suddenly I hear: 'Rosa, you're such a bitch...".

A similar scene opens ¡Oh, es él! (or, Oh, it's him!), the entertaining novel about Iglesias written by Maruja Torres in 1986: in it, the singer puts the same question to a kidney-shaped pool which craftily replies: "Frank Sinatra." The fictional Julio asks again: "Which other singer was on the verge of dying in an unfortunate car accident that changed the course of his life by forcing him to renounce a brilliant career as a goalkeeper for Real Madrid?" The "humiliated" pool remains silent and Julio adds: "You see? I'm the best."

At this point in the career of Julio Iglesias, it is hard to tell where reality ends and fiction begins, so it is just as well to stick to the immediate facts: it is 11pm on a Sunday in July, Iglesias has just finished his concert at Palau de les Arts in Valencia, and the 68-year-old singer receives me in his dressing room, wearing white linen pants and shirt.

He always says no to everything at first. That way he never makes mistakes"

-- Julio, I came to do a story about you.

-- Then you better write bad things about me or else nobody's going to pay any fucking attention to you.

The Julio Iglesias of 2012 has little in common with the Don Juan of 30 years ago. "Before, when I traveled by plane, I was more focused on flirting with the flight attendant. Now, I am more concerned about the weather: I shit my pants when there is turbulence," he explains without once losing his smile.

His relatives say that even if he is constantly traveling, he tries to spend as much time at home as possible to help raise his children (he has five from his marriage to the Dutch model Miranda Rijnsburger, whom he affectionately calls Mami). Home in this case being either his house in Miami, the one in Dominican Republic, or another in Ojén, just a few kilometers from Marbella, where Julio spends almost the entire summer.

What hasn't changed in all this time is his style: expansive, talkative, joking (he often uses swear words, which makes him more human), occasionally tough with the people around him, and always the center of attention at any social gathering.

"It is very difficult to control a controlling person," says a close aide. "He always says no to everything at first. That way he never makes mistakes. He knows that good opportunities always knock twice."

This philosophy has served him well: in a career spanning 45 years, he has sold around 300 million albums.

Before I was focused on flirting with flight attentants. Now, I worry about the weather"

He is the most international of all Spanish singers: few (or none) can boast about performing on all five continents at nearly 70 years of age. Last week, sitting in his home in Marbella, he granted nearly 100 interviews via a satellite uplink with dozens of news outlets.

But let us return to Valencia. It is finally time. The auditorium fills up with around 1,300 spectators and the two-hour concert seems taken right out of 1980. His band - bass, drums, guitar and keyboard - includes three sculptural choir girls whom Julio jokes with: "¡Guapas, guapas!"

Despite his dramatic, if well-concealed limp, Julio is a stage creature. His sound is somewhat stuck in the past (too much echo or reverb, as the experts would say), but perhaps that is what is expected of him. We hear Quijote , Un canto a Galicia , De niña a mujer , Manuela , Abrázame , Hey! La vida sigue igual , and even his lysergic version of My Sweet Lord , by George Harrison.

Julio does not boast a good voice, but he can hold his own with dignity. "I used to be a really bad singer," he admits. "It was later that I learned how to sing, how to get to know my own voice. Before that I had no fucking clue."

But his success does not lie in his voice. Rather, it is in his attitude, and perhaps also in something written years ago by the EL PAÍS journalist Juan Cueto: "Every individual lowers his guard at least once a day and gives in to his baser instincts." I might add that Julio Iglesias is the only man alive who can beg for a woman's love and not come across as a wimp.

After the concert, there is a lineup several meters long down the hallway leading to his dressing room. This summer, the ritual - concert and "royal audience" -- will be replayed over and over in several Spanish cities: Bilbao on Thursday; Barcelona on July 26; León on the 28th; Cambados on August 1; Los Alcázares (Murcia) on August 4th; Las Palmas on August 8th and Marbella on the 12th. There is no sign of Madrid on his tour.

"I'm very excited about this tour," says Julio as he mops up his sweat. "I don't know how to do anything other than sing. What do you want me to do? Stay at home all day scratching my balls? I couldn't possibly do it."

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