'Will I retire? I’ll have to one day': Rod Stewart on his tour and love of football

The hotel suite where Rod Stewart has been installed in Dublin is the size of a small football pitch, which is probably as well as at this very moment he is kicking a ball. 

It’s what you expect of Stewart — the 1970s rock god for whom the beautiful game is almost as all consuming a passion as music.

But it soon becomes clear Stewart has things on his mind other than his beloved Glasgow Celtic and the team’s recent managerial switcheroo (he is so very cross at Brendan Rogers, who ditched the team for a more glamorous job in England).

He’s come to the Intercontinental Hotel straight from a day of sightseeing around the capital. 

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I get a kick out of this every time. ⚽️

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Stop-offs included Kilmainham Gaol and the grave in Glasnvein of Grace Gifford, widow of executed 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett.

The trek was part of Stewart’s project to educate himself about the traditional ballad ‘Grace’, a lament for Gifford which he covered, to considerable acclaim and moderate controversy, on last year’s Blood Red Roses album.

Stewart first encountered the song when it was belted from the terraces of Celtic Park. 

He became fascinated with it and with its roots in the Easter Rising. 

The huge emotional effect of the pilgrimage to Glasnevin will become obvious when Stewart subsequently breaks into tears on the Late Late Show.

But he is extremely chipper this afternoon and initially more interested in chatting about footie than delving into one of the most extraordinary careers in rock. 

However, he comes around as talk turns to Ronnie Wood, who is also currently in Ireland and sent Stewart a text to let him know he was playing golf at the K-Club in Kildare should his old pal fancy dropping by.

The two manned the barricades together in late-period British blues explosion super-group The Faces. 

Stewart went solo in 1974 after The Faces broke up. Wood, meanwhile, transferred to the The Rolling Stones. 

They remain close, with warm memories of their time on the road together.

“Woody was always a Rolling Stone, even before he joined them,” says Stewart. 

“I loved the Stones as well. I would have stayed with The Faces [had they not split]. Going solo never entered my mind. I loved those guys. I didn’t want to part from them.

“We used to share rooms,” he continues. 

We used to share other things as well. In the Holiday Inns, we’d share a room and build a barricade so we could have girlfriends over.

"If Ronnie was [with a lady] I’d be on the other side trying to sleep. I was able to put him off by making silly noises.”

AMAZING GRACE

Stewart will perform ‘Grace’, along with all his best-loved hits, when he comes to Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork on May 25 (he is back in December for dates in Dublin and Belfast). 

It will no doubt receive a warmer welcome than when Stewart attempted to play it at a BBC radio session in September.

“They said ‘it’s a rebel song’,” says Stewart, shaking his head. “Well so what? It’s a gorgeous love song, a tragic love song. The most tragic ever written.”

Stewart has gone through highs, lows and many in-betweens across his career. Success in the Seventies came at the price of his reputation among critics. 

His biggest offence, it seemed, was to enjoy the perks of success.

There were parties, endless girlfriends. 

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Getting lost in the colorful streets of Morocco.

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In his hair-raising 2012 autobiography, Rod, he recounted a debauched lost week in the south of France where he was kept busy flying various love interests in and out, taking care they never discovered he was having other lady-friends around. 

He made fast-living stardom sound like rather hard work (the book also debunked the urban myth that he signed a professional soccer contract with Brentford).

“The Seventies were great. The Sixties, I wasn’t known. But they were fantastic as well. 

"Everything was fresh and new. But the Seventies were just incredible. With Maggie May and all those songs.”

SEXY SONG

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of perhaps his most enduring smash ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’. 

Stewart continues to perform it. Yet it is fair to say he’s fallen in and out of love with it on several occasions.

“We all knew it was going to be big. That’s as opposed to ‘Maggie May’ – we didn’t even want that on the album. 

"With ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ we had the feeling. But sometimes it’s a bit of a pink toilet seat around my neck. It’s a song I don’t always enjoy singing. But the audience wants to hear it.”

After decades of romantic escapades, in his forties Stewart settled down. 

He married model Rachel Hunter in 1990. He was 45 and she was 21. 

On his wedding day his sister took him aside and asked if he was sure he was making the right decision. 

Nine years later, Hunter left and he was devastated.

But would find love again with Penny Lancaster, who he married in 2007 and with whom he has the two youngest of his eight children (the oldest, Sarah Streeter, given up for adoption when Stewart was 18, is now 55).

HAIR RAISING

Stewart is friendly and unassuming, a natural raconteur. That is also the impression created by his autobiography. 

Among other things, the book devotes an entire chapter to his hair. With age has his iconic super-mullet become easier or more challenging to maintain?

“This is how I wake up,” he says, running a hand through it. “It gets too long sometimes – won’t do as it’s told.”

Stewart has warm memories of his last visit to Cork, where he played the Live at the Marquee festival in 2009. 

And he’s looking forward to gracing Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which created history last year when it hosted a testimonial for the late former Celtic player Liam Miller.

“What a sweat box that was in Cork,” he says. “It was a very small stage and the audience were just packed in there. 

Rod Stewart with youngest son Aiden at a Glasgow Celtic game in 2017.
Rod Stewart with youngest son Aiden at a Glasgow Celtic game in 2017.

"And you’re right, more teams should do [what Ireland and Manchester United did for Liam Miller] it. That’s the positive side of the game.”

Stewart looks a good decade younger than 74. 

Since his knees started giving trouble he no longer plays soccer every week on the pitch at the back of his mansion in Essex. But he has no plans to give up singing.

“Me and Elton John had a bit of a falling-out because I slagged him off about his [retirement] tour,” he says, asked if he would ever consider hanging up his mic.

“I said it was just a money grabbing act. Will I retire? I’ll have to one day. 

"If I don’t enjoy it, I would probably stop. But I’ll always keep singing.”

Rod Stewart plays Páirc Uí Chaoimh May 25, SSE Belfast, December 2 and 3Arena, Dublin, December 4

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