Title: The hit man & her
Author: Craig McLean
Source: The Mail On Sunday
Publish date: October 28 2007
The hit man & her
Superstar, supercars, supermodel… Where did it go wrong for Seal and Heidi Klum?
Portraits by Gilles Toucas
Interview by Craig McLean
Born into poverty, scarred by illness, taken from his family… and when he wrote the most-played song on US radio, he didn’t get a penny.
Then again, he is married to Heidi Klum, has a garage full of supercars and sold 15 million albums.
Now that’s what we call a comeback…
Studio 4, somewhere in the middle of West Hollywood, California, and things are getting somewhat fraught. Heidi Klum - supermodel, Victoria’s Secret mannequin and buxom blonde extraordinaire - is all ready to go. The hair is tousled, the famous body - which shows no sign, by the way, of having popped out three kids in the past four years - is swathed in a fetching white mini dress and Ms Klum is clearly itching to get the shoot started.
When nothing happens for the next five minutes, Heidi, railing at the woeful lack of efficiency, declares: ‘This is not very German - come on!’ only to locate the source of the hold-up as none other than her own husband, the singer Seal, standing at the opposite end of the studio looking somewhat glum. He has just taken delivery of a rough cut of the video for Amazing - the first release from his much-anticipated new album, System - and one can only feel grateful not to be on the receiving end of Mr Seal Henry Samuel’s controlled displeasure.
‘No, no, no,’ he says, shaking his head at the images flickering on the hapless young man’s laptop. ‘I hate it. I hate it!’
Heidi: ‘Schatzi… come on.’ (‘Schatzi’ is a German term of endearment along the lines of ‘sweetie’ and both Seal and Heidi ‘schatzi’ each other relentlessly over the next five hours.)
Seal: ‘Two minutes.’
He turns his attentions back to the laptop and to the hapless young man, who, one is almost certain, will not be schatzi-ed any time in the near future. ‘Now, see, I like that,’ says Seal and he proceeds to outline exactly how he wants the video to look.
Our photographer, Gilles, sensing that time is slipping away, quietly enquires whether the shoot might actually begin, only for a slightly perturbed Seal to reply, ‘I’ve got no time. Right now, this video is the most important thing. Tomorrow I’m leaving town with my wife and I’ve got to get this done. We’ve got the whole evening to shoot this thing.’
Heidi goes over to join her husband, offers a few suggestions for the video (which Seal agrees with) and generally provides a soothing influence on her man. Although when one looks like Heidi Klum, a soothing influence can probably be achieved with minimal exertion. Good humour is restored the young man slinks off to work on his laptop and Heidi and Seal switch to photo-shoot mode, with Heidi slipping into the Victoria’s Secret pouty, sultry, tousled thing with such ease and agility, one immediately realises how she came to earn £4 million last year.
Seal’s new album flicks on, Heidi slithers up and down her husband’s leg in time to the music, shaking her hair in his face, and for the first time during the afternoon, Seal has the broadest of grins. His new video, one imagines, is now all but forgotten.
If one were of a cynical disposition, the couple’s openly affectionate nature could be slightly irksome - and even though they’re quite capable of hamming it up for the camera, it’s clear too that they can’t keep their mitts off one another. There is a barrage of bottom-grabbing and nuzzling. At one point, Heidi grabs Seal’s hands and places them over her breasts with an assertive, ‘I think you should be like this’.
It has long been an industry joke that the redoubtable Ms Klum had chosen to nickname her breasts Hans and Franz (‘Hans is the right one’) and by the looks of it, Seal appears to get along famously with both guys.
‘I can’t remember how they got named but I do know the photographer Rankin was the one who spilled the beans,’ says Heidi. ‘Hans has always been perkier than Franz though, but ever since I’ve had children, they’ve been much better behaved.’
Seal adds, ‘Our youngest child is now 11 months old, so I’ve told Heidi we’re booting him out of the bedroom. I’m not having it any more. This is the longest time I’ve known Heidi without her being pregnant. She’s got her body back and it’s real good fun!’
Seal and Heidi make a striking pair. He is the precisely spoken, imposingly handsome, 44-year-old British singer-songwriter, famous for hits such as Crazy and Kiss From A Rose (both of which feature on the free CD given away with today’s Mail On Sunday). He has sold more than 15 million albums, and won five Brits and four Grammys. She is the 34-year-old star of reality-TV shows Project Runway and Germany’s Next Top Model and the industry’s third-highest-earning model according to Forbes magazine. They appear to have it sussed domestically and, of course, financially. Together they are the face of VW in the US and as part of the deal they were each gifted a new Audi R8. Seal is a renowned car freak with ‘eight or nine cars’.
‘He’s got a Volkswagen Tiguan, a Volkswagen Beetle, a T5, an R8, a Spider, another Audi and some others,’ says Heidi. ‘He also wants a Bentley convertible. Our garage looks like a car park.’
That a model and a music star should get together isn’t headline news. What makes this union so unusual is how they came to find one another, given the vast differences in their backgrounds and the manner of their meeting.
When they met, Heidi was pregnant with Formula One tycoon Flavio Briatore’s child - Briatore having already left the scene. At the age of 40, Seal found himself embarking on a new relationship and fatherhood almost simultaneously. ‘I just launched myself into it,’ he says. ‘When I told my [step]mother I’d met Heidi, she said to me, “That’s so strange, because I was just about to talk to you about adopting a child.” It was obviously meant to be.’
Seal first saw Heidi at the 2003 GQ Awards in London, where she was collecting her award for Woman Of The Year. ‘She had this amazing dress on, this black, almost see-through dress, and this huge smile on her face,’ he says. ‘I remember thinking, “Wow, whoever goes out with that girl is one lucky guy…”’
Seal left the awards without having plucked up the courage to talk to her. Three weeks later he was in New York, staying at The Mercer hotel. Following a heavy night out he headed to the gym. As he staggered back to The Mercer, he bumped into Heidi. ‘I was trying to get away from her because I was all sweaty and not feeling well at all,’ he recalls. But Heidi wouldn’t let him go. She asked him to join her for a pizza - but Seal didn’t realise she was interested in more than just friendship. ‘I had no idea she liked me,’ he says. ‘And I’m usually quite good with that sort of thing.’
‘I actually thought I was giving out pretty big signals,’ says Heidi. ‘Maybe not. Anyway, he came for a pizza so I thought he must have liked me a little.’
The couple’s courtship was complicated by the fact that Heidi had just discovered she was pregnant. ‘That wasn’t something that was planned,’ says Seal. ‘I guess she must have been in some kind of relationship with Flavio but they were not in love at all.’
The couple kept their relationship low-key for a while but after five months Heidi’s bump started to show. ‘We couldn’t do the casual dating thing any more because in four months there was going be a baby,’ says Seal. ‘I hadn’t seen her for a bit because we were both working and the next time I saw her, she had a bump. I was like, “Wow! You really are pregnant.”
‘That was the moment I really fell in love - and I fell in love with both Heidi and the baby. Up until that point, the baby hadn’t been a reality but seeing Heidi like that brought everything into focus. It wasn’t a big step to make; it was more a case of, “My number’s being called and I’d better be worthy of this.” I certainly didn’t look upon it as though I was riding to Heidi’s rescue.’
Heidi’s daughter Leni was born in May 2004 and, says Seal, he felt no anxiety about raising a child fathered by another man. ‘To me, it’s irrelevant. Anyone can father a child. Big deal. Raising the child is the key.’ Briatore has, he says, ‘no contact with Leni. That’s not because he’s a bad person. I actually think he’s great in many ways because a selfish man might want to disrupt the child’s set-up, and he’s clearly not a selfish man. He obviously sees the set-up and leaves it alone.’
Seal raises Leni, now three, as his own, along with the couple’s two sons: Henry, two, and Johan. ‘I suddenly started to realise that all the mistakes I said I wasn’t going to make, the whole dysfunctional aspect of family… my chance [to fix that] was right now.’
Dysfunctional doesn’t even begin to describe Seal’s upbringing. Born in west London to Nigerian parents who split when he was little more than a baby, he was sent to live with white foster parents, Barbara and Frank, in Essex.
‘They had four kids already and I was treated like one of their own,’ he says. ‘I was very loved and secure and it was a harmonious time in my life.’ As a birthday present to Seal earlier this year, Heidi hired a detective to track them down. When she found them, astonishingly the family had no idea that the little boy they’d known as ‘Henry’ was the international superstar Seal. They emailed a photo they had of him when he was two-and-a-half.
‘I was looking at this photo and all of a sudden I just started flooding with tears,’ Seal recalls. ‘Because it was like I was looking at my son Henry. There’s Barbara and Frank’s four girls, all older than me, and this little black kid sitting on the floor, legs straight out - and my son sits exactly like that. Same build, but I’m just a lot darker than he is. I’m wearing this orange plastic jacket with strawberries on it - I so remember that jacket. It was amazing; it all came flooding back. I’ve got no pictures, nothing from that time.’
When Seal was four, ‘things started to go terribly wrong. His biological mother reclaimed him from his foster family and took him to live with her and her boyfriend in Brixton.
‘I remember that day so clearly,’ he says. ‘My mother took me and we sat on the bus. I was on the seat next to the conductor in one of those old-style double-decker buses and my mother was sitting on my right. I was screaming the whole time I was on that bus - and we never saw eye to eye from that day on. I have very strong views on fostering and I believe that once you give your child up to be fostered, that’s effectively an adoption situation and you shouldn’t be allowed to reclaim your child.’
Two years later, his mother was deported to Nigeria (‘or at least, that’s what I was told - I never really did get the truth’) and Seal then went to live with his father and stepmother.
‘That was the most tumultuous time of my childhood. In a word, it was horrific. There’s poor and there was us: we were poorer than poor. We always had food, but we were too poor to pay attention let alone the electricity bill,’ he jokes half-heartedly. Even worse, his father was brutally violent, not averse to using a whip and fists on his young son.
‘My dad was a troubled soul, but I understand why he was like that. He couldn’t break out of a vicious cycle: his father, my grandad, was also a nasty piece of work. And maybe my dad hated the fact that I was a newer, younger version of him. Maybe he was also trying to make sure I didn’t blow the opportunities that he blew. I still describe my father as a great man, because he gave me the gift of seeing everything I shouldn’t do as a father and I guess in a distorted way he loved me. But the day I stood up to my father was the day I left home.’
Despite the grimness of Seal’s formative years, he never had any doubt music was his true calling. After leaving home at 16, he had a succession of uninspiring jobs. In the meantime, he managed to get a few pub gigs until a funk group invited him to tour Japan as its lead singer. On his return to London he bumped into Adam Tinley, ‘a guy I’d met at a rave somewhere during the Summer of Love. He said, “I’ve written an instrumental song called The Killer” and I said, “That’s funny because I’ve written a song called Killer too.”’ As the vocalist on Adamski’s 1990 single Killer, Seal had his first taste of chart success. That same year, Seal’s follow-up hit Crazy became a worldwide hit.
Heidi’s upbringing couldn’t have been more different. ‘I had a very normal childhood with my brother and my parents, who are still together. We were always very close and would talk to each other about what we did during the day.’
For his part, Seal believes that if his parents were still alive ‘we could have resolved our differences. I’d be a fool to believe that I don’t have a lot of my father’s traits - but I’d cut off my own hands before I raised them to my kids. Because I remember the pain it caused me. It was awful. There are certain anxieties and baggage that to this day I know are still a part of my gene pool.
‘And that’s a lot of what my new album is about - it’s about breaking that cycle, taking control of our own emotional system. It’s definitely inspired by my family and is an audio-biography of my life at the moment.’
System sees a welcome return to Seal’s dance roots, with the inordinately catchy Amazing as the album’s first single. Produced by Stuart Price, who worked similar magic on Madonna’s Confessions On A Dancefloor, System also features Seal duetting with Heidi on the song Wedding Day. She sounds impressively breathy on it, but admits to being intimidated working with her husband.
‘Of course I was intimidated,’ she says. ‘He’s such a professional that he was very different towards me in the studio. I was a bit stiff and nervous and he was just going, “Sing low and strong”, even though my natural singing voice is quite high. But he wrote the song on our wedding day [May 10, 2005] and asked me to sing it with him, so I did.’
Seal grins and turns towards Heidi. ‘And to this day, I still have to pinch myself to believe that she married me…’
And with that, he picks up his missus, apologises to the photographer for the delays on the shoot and saunters out, a happy man. Yes, when you have Seal’s life, magnanimity is no problem at all.
‘System’ is out on Nov 12 on Warner Bros
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