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Phil Collins finds some peace at last

Phil Collins finds some peace at lastSwitzerland is not the likeliest setting for a rock superstar, but sitting in a sedate hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva, Phil Collins looks absolutely content in the country he has chosen as his home for the past eight years. Calm, relaxed and quietly confident, he is a very different man from the one who arrived in the wake of a kind of emotional earthquake which had become public property.

"At the time, I just didn't want to be me any more," he tells me. "So much that was written about me was just not correct, and it seemed to be spiralling out of control."

The star, whose multi-million-selling solo career was launched with Face Value - an album that laid bare his anguish over his divorce from his first wife - was pilloried when he divorced his second wife Jill.

"I didn't run away, I didn't come here to escape, I didn't choose to live here," he says quietly. "I came here because I fell in love with my wife Orianne, who is Swiss. But when I did put down roots, it felt like sanctuary to me."

A sensitive man, he is reluctant to rake over the details of the disintegration of the life he had been living. He doesn't want to open old wounds - he moved on a long time ago. The problem is that many people have not. He says: "Even now, it's 'Phil Collins, 51, who dumped his wife by fax'."

He pauses and shakes his head ruefully.

"It's not true, but it's in the public domain. I've tried to put it to bed, but it just won't lie down. Elements are true, but it's a bunch of little stories that have been amalgamated into one. I did send a fax to Jill, because we were not communicating - the phone was being put down. One night, when I was about to go on stage, I was trying to discuss with her arrangements for seeing Lily, our daughter. It wasn't happening. She kept putting the phone down. So I sent her a fax, telling her what I was trying to tell her on the phone. That was the fax. But just to fax her telling her I wanted a divorce? How could someone do that? I couldn't. I did not do that. But you can't unwrite what's been written, and I've just got to live with it."

"But Jill doesn't deserve to have her face rubbed in it again. We get on great most of the time now, and she gets on great with Orianne. It's turned out right. Of course, she didn't deserve what I did. But I couldn't help that. I've always been faithful. I was in my first marriage, and in the second. Until things started to go wrong between us. But I did fall in love, and it was a life-changing experience. Because obviously, I mean, I'm here."

And he grins and gestures out towards the tranquillity of the lake.

He and Orianne met when Phil arrived to play here in 1994 and she was asked to chaperone him. They married five years later, and live in the hills half an hour from Geneva. Testify, the title track of his first album for several years, is a love song for her.

"It's the most personal song I've ever written," says Phil, "She's very open, great fun, one of those people who has a fresh way about her. Amazing energy, and a computer brain. She still works. How she copes with it all, and now with Nicholas, is quite amazing."

Phil is ever the doting dad. He speaks glowingly of all of his children: Joely, 30, and Simon, 26, from his first marriage, and Lily, 13, from his second. He is entranced by being a father again.

"Nicholas is 18 months," he says fondly, "A big boy, very clever, such a sweetheart. He's fantastic-looking. He's got Orianne's eyes - she's half Thai - and my hairline, unfortunately. He looks just like Simon when he was a kid. He's just starting to talk, he's got great personality, he's running about. And he loves music. I'm not going to encourage this or discourage it, but he really has a sense. As soon as he hears music he starts dancing, he plays his rattle - not shakes it. Picks out notes on the guitar." And Phil beams with pride.

Although he works constantly, he leads a quiet life in the local community. He goes to the supermarket, has learnt to get by in French.

"You have to," he says. "To cope with real life. We speak both languages to Nicholas."

He is very much a hands-on dad.

"When Simon was a baby, and Joely was five, I used to take her to school and change him. The other side was that often I wasn't there. But when I was, I did it. It's nice to do it now, knowing that I don't have to go away. I want to be at home. I don't have houses anywhere else. That's one of the reasons I'm not doing any crying about not touring."

A viral infection two years ago in his left ear, which led to what a doctor in Los Angeles described as "the equivalent of a stroke in the ear", has left Phil with impaired hearing. Constant loud noise puts pressure on the ear, and he will no longer be touring. "It's just not worth it," he says. "But I'll still do the odd show."

The release of his new single, Can't Stop Loving You, means that he will be more visible, however. A documentary, Phil Collins, A Life Less Ordinary, was screened on BBC1 on Monday. The old Leo Sayer hit has been transformed, Phil's distinctive, haunting voice giving the song a plaintive edge. The new album is a return to form. It will become a Collins classic.

"I'm pleased with it," he says. "But it's not the be-all and end all for me these days. The work I do for Disney is grown-up stuff."

You'll Be In My Heart, the song he wrote for the film Tarzan, won him a Grammy, a Golden Globe and an Oscar - something he had never expected.

"But Elton John said: 'You're going to get it.' And I said: 'No, Randy Newman's been nominated 13 times. And who cares?' And Elton - who won for his Lion King song - said: 'When you get it, it's f***ing great!' And it was. For a start, Joely and Lily and Orianne were in the audience. Such a day leading up to it. All the girls loved it - getting ready and the hairdressers and stuff - but all I wanted was to get it over and done with. You know how you feel, when you've got nothing to lose? I thought: 'It'll go to a serious composer.' So I had a great time, then they took me away to get ready to sing. They put all the songs together, and then they did the awards. So I wasn't sitting next to the girls, I was standing next to Randy Newman when Cher opened the envelope. I just couldn't believe it. That it was a 'Phhh' instead of an 'Rrr' I thought: 'F***! It's me!' You only get 45 seconds, and by the time it actually dawns on you, well" He laughs out loud.

"When you see these people do these speeches, you sit at home and say: 'For God's sake, get on with it. Stop crying!'But it is a big moment. I had a tear in my eye, I can tell you. It was just a shame I couldn't be with the girls to celebrate, I was taken off for interviews. But after 10 minutes, someone at Disney brought them in and we just hugged. And that's when I broke down."

His voice cracks as he recalls the emotion.

"They never had any doubt that I was going to get it. No doubt at all."

Phil is currently working on songs for a musical theatre version of Tarzan and the score for the second Tarzan film. Always a workaholic, he nevertheless seems to have found a balance, living a simple life.

"I love Lily and see her whenever possible," he says, "And I'm getting on better with Simon and Joely than I ever have done. They have been through an awful lot. I can't really have regrets. One thing led to another, to another, and here we are. But my one wish would be to have gone through what I went through, but to have had Simon and Joely living with me. That would have been the best scenario."

He sighs, and then smiles and says: "But I'm really quite content. I've got nothing to complain about at all. I love the person I'm with, I love my little boy. My children all love Orianne. Considering the horror stories that you hear, we all get on very well. It's not all a bed of roses, but 99 per cent of the time it is."

There is just one thing that would make his life complete. Another Oscar? Another No 1? "Another child," he says, straight out. And then he grins, and adds: "In fact we're decorating a bedroom specially. Yes, we're practising, certainly. We're definitely trying."

He positively twinkles, and adds: "I've never been happier."

© The Daily Mirror, by Nina Myscow

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