Interview by Roz Lewis – The Guardian
The singer on growing up in a religious show-business family, lightening up as a dad and being married for 39 years
I am the seventh of nine children, so when I arrived, there was already Virl, 12; Tom, 10; Alan, eight; Wayne, six; Merrill, four, and Jay, two. We first lived in Ogden, Utah, in a rural area – it had plenty of fields around it and there was a cow and other animals.
Both my parents were musical and enjoyed singing. We were a close-knit family. My dad had been an army sergeant and so the house ran along a definite set of rules. My mum was the loving, nurturing parent while my dad was the disciplinarian. Both my parents belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the church’s teachings were a strong influence on all of us.
We moved to California when four of my brothers, singing together as the Osmond Brothers Quartet, got a spot on The Andy Williams Show. It was a hugely exciting time for us all. I joined the Osmonds when I was a few days short of my sixth birthday. Marie and Jimmy came along after me and were also added to the singing roster. I think my parents did an incredible job of raising such a large family in what rapidly became a hugely successful show-business family.
I grew up real fast, real young. Normality to us was rehearsing hard on new routines and performing on TV shows, plus tours and other performances, with schoolwork via home tutoring squeezed around that schedule.
At home, away from the public eye, I’d go to my room and read and build stuff with electronics. I was always curious, inquisitive, wanting to learn how things worked.
My maternal grandfather was the only grandfather I knew, as my paternal grandfather died when my dad was six months old. He was an amazing man, a college professor with a very brilliant mind, who died when I was about nine. Both my grandmothers lived until I was into my 20s.
Overall, my dad was my mentor in life, but musically, it was people like Stevie Wonder and Andy Williams. When I was nine, we opened for Nancy Sinatra, and Frank Sinatra came to the rehearsal and then to the opening night to hear me sing. Elvis Presley was a friend of the family. What I might have missed out on in terms of a “normal” childhood and schooling experiences was more than made up for by these extraordinary musical moments.
I grew up in the public eye. While the world knew me as a teen idol, and the Osmonds fame was at its height, I began secretly dating Debbie Glenn. By the time I was 19, I knew I was in love and had to do something right for me. When I told my dad, he said: “Well, there goes your career, but this is ushering in your personal life.”
My dad was right about my career after I got married. But Debbie is an amazing person to be with. If I hadn’t married her, I’d have been a mess. Now I had someone who understood me and with whom I could build a future together.
I learned a lot from my parents about loving your children, treating them with respect and allowing them a voice. Our religion teaches that we are bonded together in eternity, so relationships are very respectful. We value kindness and forgiveness. Debbie and I are religious but not over-fanatical so we have a firm respect for deity, which holds true in our home. I based my parenting style on my dad at first, whom I grew very close to over the years. I think I lightened up as a dad as time went on.
Debbie and I have been together nearly 39 years. We have this saying: whenever there is an argument she is always right! She also says that we had five boys but she raised six – and she is still raising me!
Family has always been the core of my life. Four of our sons are now grown and we have eight grandchildren. We all make an effort to have weekends together as a family as often as we can.
Donny Osmond’s The Soundtrack of My life UK Tour 2017 begins on 21 January