Thursday, 20 October 2016

INTERVIEW Priscilla Presley

BY any stretch of the imagination, Priscilla Presley has led an extraordinary life. She was of course wife to the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Presley, moving in to his Graceland home in her teens and marrying him at 21, and has been responsible for maintaining, developing and promoting his legacy ever since.
That in itself is quite something but she was also Michael Jackson’s mother in law, is a charity ambassador and in her professional life she is both a businesswoman and an actress - most notable for her roles in the Naked Gun films and as Jenna Wade in Dallas - and has even conquered the British tradition of panto, not once but twice.
Her life is clearly the stuff of legend.
But it’s as being the wife of Elvis that she is most well known for and it is about the great man himself that I find myself chatting to her last week.
She is in London to promote his new album The Wonder Of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and an arena tour that goes with it and which takes in the 02 on Wednesday, November 23.
This album follows on from the hugely successful If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which was released last year for the anniversary of what would have been his 80th birthday.
It topped the charts both in the UK and across the world selling more than 1.5million copies.
Like its predecessor, this new album takes 14 of his songs and gives them an orchestral twist thanks to the wizardry of the Abbey Road studios and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).
It spans a variety of musical styles that Elvis embraced during his career including rock, gospel, country and ballads and features classics such as Let It Be, The Wonder Of You and Suspicious Minds. It is a stunner and it’s clear when I tell Priscilla that she’s delighted.
“I’m so glad you like it,” she says warmly in her soft American voice. “I’m very pleased with it. I was shocked but pleased and just absolutely thrilled with the response to the first album. It was almost hard to believe. 
“Dan the producer of this album asked me three years ago about making the first one. I was stunned because Elvis always wanted to sing with an orchestra to give that full blown effect to the songs but was never able to - back in the day it just wasn’t the thing to do, it wasn’t rock n roll! 
“But that was him, always wanting to push himself and do different things rather than stay in one style.
“He did have a small orchestra with him on the Vegas shows but it was only a 23 piece as there wasn’t room for more what with his equipment and his band and so on.
“However he always said there were certain songs that would have really suited having an orchestral arrangement, so after I agreed to do it we chose those that he loved, songs such as American Trilogy and Bridge Over Troubled Water. They were the personal songs that he loved and ones he would have loved to have put with an orchestra.
“When we put the album out it went triple platinum - I was really proud of what we’d achieved, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so accepted and yet here we are again by popular demand!” she adds warmly.
Indeed this second album came about as a result of the success of the first - the validation that his fans wanted more - and even though it’s only been out a week, Priscilla tells me it’s already had a “wonderful response”.
“It’s just amazing and rewarding to have this accepted,” she tells me. “This country has always been so supportive of him in so many ways - I wish he was here to see it and to entertain people still.
“What I love is that it really makes a statement and shows off his music right from the early days with songs like Don’t and Big Hunk O’ Love through to songs from later on in his career and from just before he passed.
“There is also such a mix of styles to show how diverse his musical range was.
“And the RPO was amazing - they took his lead and made it all come alive. It was as if he was there …. it was stunning to listen to them enhance his songs. It’s like hearing a new song in many ways.
“I’m so proud of this record and I know Elvis would have been ecstatic about it. He would have loved putting it all together.”
Although Priscilla loves them all, her personal favourites she says are Don’t and Kentucky Rain.
“With Don’t he was only 21 years old when he sang it and when you hear his voice it’s as if he’s talking just to this one person. 
“I hadn’t listened to it in so long and when I heard it I was like ‘oh my God how did he do it’. There is such heart and feeling, it’s such an intimate song and to have done it at such a young age, he really pulled it off.
“Kentucky Rain was always one of my favourites and with the orchestra it comes alive so well.”
And she says that their daughter Lisa Marie is equally supportive and proud of the result of both this and the last album. 
‘At first she didn’t know that he had wanted to play alongside a big orchestra,” says Priscilla. “So she didn’t quite know if she would like it but she thought it was just beautiful.”
Throughout our chat Priscilla is both charming and friendly and speaks warmly of the man who was her husband for six years until they split and got divorced in 1973. 
But rather than talk about their life together - which she admits in her autobiography was not all roses - she much prefers to dwell on his music and introducing it to new and younger audiences.
And to this end she hopes the six-date tour which accompanies the launch of the album will not only appeal to die hard fans but also encourage younger people to come and find out about the man who wowed the world.
“We have a 73-piece orchestra that will fill the stage for each venue, it’s so exciting!” she says. “There will be visuals of him above the stage singing the songs from both albums, videos of him as well as a few other surprises - the audiences are in for a real treat and I hope they will enjoy it.
“What I love is that I am meeting young kids that have this whole interest in him. It’s wonderful.”
She then tells me about the first time she herself saw him play live - perhaps surprisingly it was in 1969 at his show in Vegas just after she had had their daughter Lisa Marie.
“I had never seen him play before as at the time he was doing three movies a year so it wasn’t until he was in Vegas that I actually saw him,” she says.
“I went into the audience and then it hit me. I was like, ‘oh my God!’ I had no idea it was like this,” she laughs at the memory. 
“He was wearing a black leather suit and I was like, so this is what they are all talking about! 
“I remember watching him on stage after that - he was like a tiger, a panther, prowling around the stage back and forth. 
“Everyone was captivated - you couldn’t not be. It was the magnetism, electricity, charisma and energy. It was incredible.
“It’s that that attracts people to him then and still. His story and the diversity of his music, the good looks, the charisma - he seemed to be the ideal vision - he also had the vocal chords to deliver the songs. It was the complete package,” she laughs.
“Being with him was incredible, an amazing time. He was quite something!”

Elvis With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – The Wonder Of You is available from October 21 on Sony. Elvis In Concert with The RPO at The O2 Arena is on Wednesday, November 23. Visit or for full listings.

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