Richard Clayderman

'The Prince of Romance', Richard Clayderman, woos Andrew Johnston

Music legend Richard Clayderman leads a charmed life. The 70 million-selling man they call ‘the Prince of Romance’ has a mansion’s worth of pianos and a top drawer full of fan mail. ‘I have received many letters with a link to sexuality,’ smiles the ivory-tinkler. ‘With your permission, I’ll keep them hidden. Let’s keep the mystery on this!’

Clayderman is chatting to CultureNorthernIreland ahead of a show at the Belfast Waterfront on April 16 (2010). It is the balladeer’s third visit to the venue. ‘It is my pleasure to be back again in this beautiful hall,’ he says. An eight-piece string section from Belfast will join him on the night. ‘I have been certified that they are of the highest quality,’ Clayderman says. ‘Sometimes, I’m stressed to work with musicians of a not-too-high quality, but in Ireland I know that the level is extremely high.’

The 56-year-old Frenchman has recorded more than 1,200 melodies across some 150 albums in a 34-year career. Yet, he is happy to look beyond his back catalogue for the set list. ‘Among the pieces of music I will perform in Belfast are two which were originally performed by the Corrs,’ he reveals. ‘I am very fond of the Corrs, and I have adapted these two very Irish compositions to my piano.’ The evening will also feature original work, movie themes and a medley of Stevie Wonder hits. ‘I’m a fan of his way to play the keyboards,’ coos Clayderman.

After listing the musical instruments cluttering his Normandy home – a grand piano here, an electric keyboard there – Clayderman swells with pride as he discusses the impact of his most popular recording, 1976’s ‘Ballade pour Adeline’. ‘I assume that thousands of women aged today less than 35 years old have been named “Adeline” because of the song,’ he purrs. ‘I have received many letters from married couples who have named their little girl “Adeline” because of making love while listening to it.’ This writer’s girlfriend and her mother are both called Adeline, but they were named after a nun. I don’t tell Clayderman. It might burst his bubble.

‘To be romantic is to be concerned with the beauty of the sky, of the sea and of nature,’ he continues. ‘It is to feel love while being surrounded by beauty. I am trying to transmit through the piano all my feelings.’

He might be a dreamer and an eternal romantic, but one thing Clayderman isn’t is an evangelist. An ongoing misconception is that the musician is a Jehovah’s Witness. ‘I have had many letters requesting me to join a group of other Witnesses on a specific date,’ the pianist groans. ‘I have also received letters advising me to immediately leave the European territories as they are damned and malefic for me.’

Understandably, then, Clayderman guards his privacy, preferring the company of his family to the celebrity circuit. ‘I am rather calm, shy and reserved,’ he says. ‘I don’t like going out to discos, clubs or bars. I need to be in a quiet environment to reload my batteries and get some energy in order to use it on my piano. I don’t speak loud and rarely get irritated. I keep everything inside.’

Clayderman, whose father was a piano teacher, began learning to play at a young age. ‘I was born with music around me,’ he says. ‘There was not one day without music at home. I went to the keyboard quite naturally when I was three or four. I can truly say that music has always been part of my life.’ At 12, he was enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire of Music, where he won acclaim in his teenage years.

Following stints as a bank clerk and as an accompanist to contemporary French artists, such as Johnny Hallyday and Michel Sardou, Clayderman – then still known by his birth name of Philippe Pagès – met producers Olivier Toussaint and Paul de Senneville. De Senneville had composed a ballad in tribute to his new daughter, Adeline, and 23-year-old Pagès was recruited to perform it.

Clayderman earned his famous nickname in 1984, when he appeared at a charity concert in New York City hosted by the then First Lady of the United States, Nancy Reagan. Says Clayderman: ‘After the concert, she thanked me, and said, “You know, Richard, you’re really a prince of romance.” She meant that my style of music is romantic – soft, evoking love, emotions, feelings…’

Clayderman ponders the upcoming Belfast gig. He describes his fan base as ‘very eclectic’, yet still worries about the reaction from the audience. ‘I would not like to perform for people who would not like what I do,’ frets the maestro. ‘That would be hateful for me and for them.’