Gavin Rossdale on the lessons he’s learnt in love and life
Gavin Rossdale would, on paper, make a pretty lousy rock star – if he wasn’t one already. For starters, save for the odd shot of tequila (‘for a laugh’), he doesn’t touch spirits. And Bush’s lead singer arrives at our photo studio exuding the kind of mellow allure more commonly associated with an attentive (and very attractive) doctor.
The 51-year-old could easily pass for a man in his mid-30s – especially with his clothes off; a fact we discover at the end of our shoot when he sashays on to set displaying a superbly ripped, tanned and tattoo-free torso. Given it’s 21 years since he posed shirtless on the cover of Rolling Stone, does Gavin, like so many women in his industry, feel under pressure to hold back the years?
‘I’m really vain in that I like to maintain and look good,’ he concedes, crediting his good fortune to genes passed down from his ‘very beautiful’ mum Barbara. But there was no mid-life meltdown when he turned 50, certainly no rushing out to buy a red Ferrari. ‘I didn’t even think about it. I’m an artist. I don’t follow rules,’ says Gavin. ‘It’s exactly why I have this life. I don’t have these parameters that are placed on society. I shun society.’
When it comes to fitness, Gavin’s no slave to the gym. On a good week, he crams in three to four games of tennis and one bikram yoga session. ‘I’m basically a wolf. I need to sweat and run or else I don’t function well,’ he says, sipping a herbal tea. ‘When I don’t exercise I feel like my body is in atrophy.’ Having three sons – Kingston James McGregor, 10, eight-year-old Zuma Nesta Rock and Apollo Bowie Flynn, three – definitely helps.
‘I’m all about being really physical with them,’ says Gavin. ‘I want my house to be the fun house. I just bought a bike, a treadmill and a rowing machine for my kids. I’ve got a table tennis table and a little area in the garden for putting, but none of us like golf so it’s a bit of a waste of time!’
Gavin, who is also the father of model and Strictly Come Dancing star Daisy Lowe, 28, now shares custody of his boys with their mum, US pop queen Gwen Stefani, whom he met in 1995 when her band No Doubt were supporting Bush on tour.
They married in 2002 and had been together for 20 years – an eternity in rock star terms – when they split in August 2015 amid allegations that Gavin had cheated with the children’s nanny. Gwen, 47, subsequently filed for divorce on the grounds of ‘irreconcilable differences’ and while neither have publicly confirmed or denied the allegations, Gavin has been tried by the court of public opinion.
‘We’re in a world where there are suicide bombings and refugees who don’t make land like Alan Kurdi (the three-year-old boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach), it’s so ridiculous the emphasis put on celebrities’ personal lives… it’s a reflection of other people, less of me,’ says Gavin, before adding: ‘Obviously I’m a million miles from perfect and I’m trying to get on the road there.’
His journey towards self-improvement began shortly after the divorce, on a psychiatrist’s sofa. ‘I always thought [therapy] was a bit…’ He pauses to find the right word. Er, American? ‘Right. I was more like “stiff upper lip, just get on with it”.’ So what changed?
‘I have a punitive super-ego, so whatever anyone’s said about me, I’ve said worse about myself. I decided to do a lot of work these last two years just to find ways to improve and I found that it was quite beautiful to hear a perspective about how, maybe, there are many sides to look at one thing. It was really helpful. It’s not like I’m done with it.’
Does Gavin, who doesn’t deny that he’s had a colourful life (‘I know all the details. There’s no need to share unless I write a book’), regret anything about his past? ‘It’s impossible not to have regrets but at the same time, there’s that old saying “whatever you regret, you wanted to do at the time”.’
Today Gavin can look inward to explain, for the first time, why his marriage disintegrated. ‘It just got a bit distanced because it was two workaholics working in opposite directions,’ he reveals, adding that touring too much was one of his ‘many mistakes’.
‘I was trying to be valiant and the “hunter gatherer”,’ he says. ‘It was a misplaced concept because my family needed me more at home and I really wasn’t getting anywhere. I couldn’t play arenas any more. I needed a big hit and so I was always working on writing it.
‘She [Gwen] is an icon and I’m a working musician, there’s a big difference. Even other working musicians like me normally have a partner who can be with them and travel with them, who isn’t committed to another bigger, longer tour. We couldn’t be there enough to support one another’s endeavours.
‘I know it didn’t end well but I’m not sure that any divorces end well unless the people don’t like each other. They end badly when people really love each other.’
Gavin shifts his position when he recounts the day that he broke the sad news to his young sons. ‘It was all going to go public. We had to sit and explain it,’ he says, releasing a sigh. How did he do that, exactly? ‘By being truthful. Er, I…’ Gavin catches himself.
Although a relatively open book in celebrity terms, at times he edits himself, perhaps to protect his children from one day reading details that might hurt.
In the past, Gavin has described the ‘chaos’ of his own childhood but although he says that being raised by his doctor dad from the age of 11 was ‘unusual’ and refers to his mum’s absence as ‘an interesting lesson’ (she moved first to Belgium and then to Tampa, Florida), he refuses to dwell on the negatives.
‘It was life. I was pretty self-sufficient. I grew up with a single father who was a workaholic. ‘He worked five days a week, 8am to 8pm, and he would visit patients on Saturdays. My version of spending time with him was sitting in the back of the car going to see patients.’
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
The image is heartbreaking, as is the one of teenager Gavin – ‘a bit of a loner’ who struggled to belong. Schooled at London’s prestigious Westminster School he was ‘troubled’, ‘hated everyone’ and regularly bunked off lessons.
Back in his local area of Swiss Cottage, north London, where he played football, he was ‘teased and slapped around’ for not studying at the local state school. Then at 16, ‘I became an intellectual. I was all about Jean-Paul Sartre, I smoked red Marlboro, I wanted to read books and be smart,’ recalls Gavin, who ploughed his creativity into song writing. And with lyrics came career goals. Three decades on, he is certainly rich (worth an estimated £28million) and popular with the ladies, but what of fame? Plenty didn’t have a clue who he was when he joined ITV singing talent show The Voice UK as a mentor because, although Gavin has shifted 20 million albums in the US, he’s never achieved the same level of success back home. Would he prefer to be known for his music or his TV appeal? ‘I love it all,’ he says. ‘I’m so grateful.’
By the time the show finishes next month, Gavin will have spent a total of nine days in the sky jetting to and from LA weekly to care for his boys. He’s sworn to never be apart from them for longer than a fortnight.
On top of his ‘main job’ as dad, Gavin has six ‘side dishes’ – The Voice UK, fronting his new cooking TV show, running his fashion line Sea of Sound, promoting Bush’s new album Black And White Rainbows, a forthcoming tour, plus writing songs for other artists through Jay Z’s label Roc Nation.
‘I sometimes think that I’d be the worst boyfriend in the world,’ he laughs. ‘[It would be like] “Sweetheart, how are you? It’s 11.45pm and I’ve got to be up at 6am. Let’s have a drink. I’ve got 20 minutes”. Kingston says to me, “Dad, you have to get a girlfriend” and I’m like “When?”.’
Lack of time also impacts Gavin’s efforts with transcendental meditation – 20 minutes of chanting ‘ola’ in the morning and at night.
As our time together draws to a close, Gavin turns his attention to home. He gets his boys back on Saturday for 10 days and will ferry them to two birthday parties over the weekend.
‘It’s weird the way it’s worked out, because when they’re with Gwen, she has a huge team of people so the kids are always entertained,’ he says. ‘Then with me, it’s just me.’
That sounds like enough and deep down, Gavin knows it. Staunch single dad, musician and mentor. There’s no doubt, Gavin’s rocking it.
Bush’s album ‘Black And White Rainbows’ is out now. They play Shepherd’s Bush Empire 14 March.
GAVIN’S HIGH POINTS
ROCK STAR STATUS
Bush shot to fame in the US during the 1990s.
Gwen and Gavin were together for 20 years.
On The Voice UK as coach and music mentor.