Il Divo

Il Divo

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent in January 2005

With his hand on the doorknob to Il Divo’s vast suite, their publicist whispers one last instruction before I go weak in the presence of hunkiness. ‘The guys won’t be doing photos’ he tells me earnestly. ‘We didn’t have two hours for hair and makeup’. I take a deep don’t-be-a-dippy-teenager breath and we go in. Inside the four lads are sprawled across the sofa like big cats in repose. Would that we could all ‘just wake up’ looking like this. Even without touch ups they all looks unnaturally handsome. It’s a sea of biceps, blinding smiles and perfect tans, a bit like a porn movie before the clothes come off.

Sadly, no one whips his todger out. Il Divo’s casting couch days are long behind them. They were formed after an international talent safari by Simon Cowell, who snared them in opera houses across Europe and then brought them to his own pop zoo. So is he as big a bitch in real life? The room booms with tenor laughter. ‘No, we had no idea who he was – he’s not famous in continental Europe – so he couldn’t be like that with us,’ says Sebastian, the French (and, wouldn’t you know it, cutest) one. ‘It was an experimentation process where we were working together to develop the sound, so really it wouldn’t have been too productive for him to say ‘oh, that’s sh*t’’ says Urs, the Swiss one with the slightly dodgy hair. ‘In real life we’re all on the same team’ David, the American one, tells me with a perky that’s-our-story-and-we’re-sticking-to-it smile.

They were as manufactured as you would expect from a Cowell product but all four wince at the term boy-band. ‘Well we’re all over thirty, so really we’re not boys any more, we all have a very large background behind us (sic)’ Sebastian tells me, as the other three nod in earnest agreement. ‘I think man-band would be more accurate.’

So is the main difference that man-bands need longer in make up? ‘That’s just a rumour started by a bitchy journalist in the British media’ Carlos, the Spaniard and oldest of the four, tells me, referring to Tony Parsons’ Daily Mirror column in which the writer said that Il Divo looked like waiters and wouldn’t come out of their dressing rooming at Gerry Kelly’s chat show because they were having their hairlines ‘touched up.’ ‘I think he was just jealous that we were getting more girls than him’ Carlos tells me. ‘And we never said we were going to get him a gin and tonic.’

They also qualify as a man-band because their fans are more likely to be flushed from the menopause than giddy with adolescence hormones. ‘I’m shocked sometimes’ Urs tells me ‘they look at us as if we were their sons. I think the oldest fan on our website is 89 years old. I’m not sure how I feel about being seen as a sexual object by an old lady,’ he adds laughing. ‘Our fans don’t throw knickers they send emails, asking if we are taking our vitamins.’

Their growing fan base might lap up Il Divo’s ultra-syrupy blend of opera and pop (think Celine Dion – in Italian) but in the week we meet critics have cast them as the crassly commercial villains in a ferocious duel for the number one spot. In the opposing corner stood Kate Bush, whose first record in twelve years, Ariel, is daringly experimental and jaw-droppingly creative. Unlike the Cowell quartet Bush had regally disdained promotional work, had not toured to support her record and yet was matching Il Divo step-for-step in the race to the top of the charts. As it turned out, commercialism won the day. Il Divo topped the chart (where they remain at time of writing). Bush was beaten into third place by Westlife. ‘She’s one of these legends whose reputation goes before her’ David admits. ‘Maybe one day we’ll be at that level but we don’t feel we need to apologise for being successful. We’re just going our own thing.’

Il Divo don’t dance as such (there is some slight swaying) but I notice immediately that every interjection is perfectly choreographed. They never cut across each other. And every utterance has the pre-prepared polish of an infomercial announcement. ‘Simon wanted to create the Lexus of bands’ Urs tells me. ‘He wanted to create the best band possible. But then you give people what they want and they’re still complaining. So it’s hard to know what to do.’

The four have been unfazed by their success because they were unaware of career milestones as they passed. Their appearance on Oprah for instance was seen as a huge coup but only David had ever even heard of her. The others were only vaguely aware of her as a subtitled satellite star. Three of them have girlfriends but they have however been thrilled at that their new found stardom has brought them closer to their collective ojets desir: the Corrs. ‘They are unbelievable’ says David, the only single one. ‘They’re sisters? I don’t care. I still want them.’ ‘Ah yeah they are so hot’ Carlos adds flashing teeth that are so white they almost glow. ‘There is a special Spanish (sexual) position I’d really like to try out on them.’

The cappuccinos have arrived and it’s time for Il Divo to get ready for another performance. They only have six hours, which given that there are four of them, might be cutting it a little fine for hair and make-up. ‘Look, fifteen minutes of make-up would be normal, even in opera,’ Urs tells me. ‘I mean, there’s nothing feminine about it, even Simon, gets made up for television. And then you need some time on the hair of course. But it’s all for professional reasons,’ he adds protesting a teensy bit too much. ‘So lets call it an even hour and a half. That’s not bad is it?’

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~ by Donal Lynch on March 31, 2008.

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