When I awoke to the email from our features editor Laura Snapes asking if I fancied interviewing Ozzy Osbourne at his home in Buckinghamshire for NME’s Christmas cover, it was already thirty-three minutes old. The twenty minutes it took Laura to get back to my one-word reply (‘YES!!!!!’) were horrible: I felt sure my Friday-morning lie-in had robbed me of the chance to sit down with one of rock ’n’ roll’s most enduring icons. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and so it came to pass that on a wintry Sunday afternoon a little less than two weeks ago, I found myself being driven up a winding country lane in Chalfont St. Peter, on my way to meet the Prince of Darkness himself.
In case you’re wondering, it’s relatively rare to interview a musician – especially one of Ozzy’s standing – at their home. Usually, interviews take place in a bar, cafe, dressing room or hotel suite: neutral ground, sterile environments, whatever you want to call them. This one, however, was a little different – not only is Ozzy hardly the sort of guy who could sit unnoticed in the corner of his local Costa, but I’d been told he had a few things he wanted to get off his chest about what has been – to say the least – an eventful year. We were going to be talking about some very personal stuff, and where better to do that than in the company of his wife, his children and – of course – his dogs?
So, what’s Ozzy’s house like? Well, it’s exactly the sort of house you’d imagine a man who’s sold over 100m albums would live in: a Victorian mansion set in its own sprawling and immaculately-kept grounds, so large it probably costs the equivalent of a small African nation’s GDP to heat, with its own gymnasium, multi-car garage and herd of deer. After I’m buzzed through the gates – both sets of them – I’m driven down a long driveway, lined with perfectly-manicured trees, each one covered from root to branch in Christmas lights (kudos to whoever is responsible for unravelling them all when they come down from the loft every December), with a life-sized fibreglass cow inexplicably peering out from between them. At the front door, there sits a small boulder with the words ‘Osbourne Institute of Rock’ chiselled into it. Upon entering the house itself, however, perhaps the most striking thing is that, for all its size and splendour, it’s still just a family home. You have a preconception of what walking into Ozzy’s house will be like – the air thick with profanity, the incessant yapping of small dogs, the immortal call of “Shaaaaaron!” emanating from upstairs – but these days, it’s more ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ than ‘The Osbournes’.
When we arrive, Sharon’s in her dressing gown, drinking tea with her eldest daughter Aimee in the kitchen. Sure enough, there’s no shortage of dogs, but they’re all very docile and well-behaved. The house is full of people – employees and lesser-known family members, mostly – but Ozzy is conspicuous by his absence: he’s elsewhere, readying himself for our photo-shoot. When he does arrive, slightly later than planned, he’s a total pro, accommodating and game for anything. I’ve heard stories about artists far less successful than he who’ll give a photographer just 30 seconds to get the shots they need, and refuse to do anything other than look into the camera. Not Ozzy; within seconds and without prompting, he’s pulling faces and striking poses, and seems to know what the photographer is looking for even before he asks for it.
After we go outside to do a few shots in front of the giant fountain that sits at the bottom of the garden, he and I retire to his den, which, unlike the rest of the house, is free from Christmas decorations: the most prominent feature is a large bronze bust of John Lennon sitting atop the fireplace. There, I find him to be forthright and frequently hilarious, even when he’s talking about some seriously dark stuff. I’d been briefed beforehand that Ozzy was happy to discuss the relapse and subsequent separation from Sharon that made headlines earlier this year, but to handle it “gently” and to ensure it didn’t become the focus of the entire interview. As it happens, he brings it up before I do: clearly, having not really spoken about it in depth in the other interviews he’s done this year, he’s keen to set the record straight.
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You can read about that in this week’s NME, but it’s far from the only subject we cover. One thing I was interested to hear was Ozzy’s perspective on becoming a TV personality with ‘The Osbournes’, which elevated him to an entirely new level of fame. Interestingly, it’s something he now seems to regret, even though the show has provided his family with careers: “I didn’t become a rock star to read the fucking news,” he fumes, even though Ozzy reading the news is patently an incredible idea. “You think the music industry’s bad? Television is worse, by far. Once you’re in and you’re a hit, you measure your career by the amount of invites you don’t get. It’s just so fickle. Some days I’d go, ‘Hang on, where’s my wife?’ ‘She’s gone to a party.’ ‘Why wasn’t I invited?’ ‘Because they didn’t want you.’ I was the last fucking person they’d invite.”
Later, when I ask if he felt slightly shunned by the fact that heavy metal – the genre he all-but invented – wasn’t represented at last year’s Olympics opening ceremony (seriously, how do you make space for Fuck Buttons and not Black Sabbath?), I’m surprised to discover that, even as he gets older, the question of legacy is not something he dwells on. “It doesn’t mean anything to me,” he shrugs. “I couldn’t give a shit! People ask me, ‘I bet you’re really happy with the resurgence of heavy metal’, but I’ve never known it to be anything different from what it is. I’ve never been playing to an empty hall. I’ve never gone from playing Wembley to playing in a bar. It’s never affected me in any way, shape or form.”
What does affect him – and what he talks about with unreserved enthusiasm – is Black Sabbath. That their reunion has been such a success is an obvious source of pride for Ozzy, and even though their future beyond next summer remains uncertain, “if it ended now, I could say, ‘Yeah, I’m happy.’ I said to the guys, ‘You know, we’ve not done bad for four kids from Aston.’ Me and Tony [Iommi] went to the same school and we were the two who were always getting told, ‘You’ll never make anything of yourself.’ And all the fucking kids who were the teachers pets never did fuck all! I’m proud that we were all backstreet kids who did what we did without any hype or bullshit. We had a dream and it came true, bigger than our wildest expectations.” As I admire the opulence of our surroundings, I’d say that’s understating things somewhat.