He is the world’s most successful song writer but Sir Tim Rice is still going strong and has big plans for the future
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice – for more than 40 years this simple composers’ credit has filled the world’s stages with hit musicals.
As in any relationship, they go through rocky patches. But after several reported disagreements – and two years after Sir Tim insisted they would never work together again – peace has broken out and they are collaborating on new material.
Sir Tim is excited about a new animated version of their 1973 smash Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
“Andrew and I are like any marriage – we have our ups and downs,” he explains.
“But he came to see my show From Here To Eternity last year and was fairly polite about it. We’re actually working together at the moment on an animated treatment of Joseph and have done the deal with Rocket so I think it will happen.
“It’s put together by Elton John’s production company. They approached us, we’ve had two or three meetings, and Andrew and I have been through the score together.
Successful partnership: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
“So we’re thinking now about what we want to cut because in a show you can get away with reprises but for an animated film you have to trim it a bit. And quite possibly put in a new song somewhere.
“We’ve got to the point of, ‘This is what we think’ and now need to get it past the director, who hasn’t been picked yet.
“It is a bit strange working together again, especially going back on something we did as kids. But it’s exciting.”
The pair, who met as teenagers in 1965, originally wrote Joseph as a 20-minute pop cantata for schools before it eventually hit the West End stage in 1973, transferring to Broadway nine years later.
It became a world phenomenon, constantly revived in professional shows plus an estimated 20,000 amateur productions to date.
With their first hit Jesus Christ Superstar plus Evita in 1978, it made them musical theatre’s most successful duo ever, breaking countless global box office records.
But Evita – which became an Oscar-winning film starring Madonna in 1996 – was their last full collaboration and the years since have been filled with rumours that their friendship had become strained.
Although they got together briefly in 2010 to write a couple of new songs for Lord Webber’s Wizard of Oz (“That didn’t quite work,” admits Sir Tim) things took a turn for the worse two years later.
Sir Tim vociferously condemned his former partner’s TV talent show Superstar, which turned auditions for the lead in a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar into a televised battle.
Younger days: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
He branded it tasteless and tacky and in another interview he ruled out working together ever again, adding: “The two of us trying to write something wouldn’t work. We’re not relevant as a team any more.”
However, with or without Lord Webber, and three weeks before he turns 70, Sir Tim remains Britain’s foremost lyricist.
He’s worth around £160 million and his heavyweight awards include three Oscars, 12 Ivor Novellos, a lifetime Olivier, and a haul of Grammys, Tonys and Golden Globes. And, of course, he was knighted in 1994.
On the evening we meet he is off to collect yet another honour, a Broadcast Music Inc Icon award.
But he has used his Oscars as candlesticks and tells me: “Awards are lovely but they don’t necessarily mean anything other than you’ve been around a long time.”
Before our meeting, I feel a little intimidated. It doesn’t help when Sir Tim, all booming, 6ft 3in of him, greets me at the door of his Dorchester hotel suite with the words: “Oh God, I hate interviews.”
Criticism: Chris Moyles and Tim Minchin in Superstar
When he spots my photographer in tow, his shoulders visibly droop. “Oh no, are we doing photographs too? I’m so sorry, I’m really scruffy.” By this he means deck shoes, chinos and a jacket.
But within seconds he puts me and everyone in the room at ease. When a waiter arrives with coffee he is almost apologetically polite in his English gentlemanly way. A native of Buckinghamshire and mad-keen on cricket, he’d be perfect in a Richard Curtis film.
Though he has worked with some of the biggest names in showbusiness history Sir Tim is as unshowbizzy as they come.
When he talks of his home in Cornwall, it takes all my self-restraint not to invite myself back. I see us in matching dressing gowns and slippers, listening to Test Match Special and taking it in turns to stoke the fire.
I’d settle for an invite to his star-studded big Seven-Oh bash. Except there won’t be one.
“I know I should be having a big party, really, but literally have done nothing about it,” he says. “I might go away somewhere but I’ve not really thought about it. Well, I’ve thought about it to the extent of not doing anything!”
At this point a bleeping noise starts to emanate from Sir Tim’s pocket. We both look around, puzzled.
“Oh, sorry that’ll be my Pacemaker,” he says, nonchalantly.
As well as having a slightly dodgy cardiovascular system, he had a replacement knee operation in July. “Down to old age and wear-and-tear mainly. It was osteo-arthritis,” he explains.
Hit: The Lion King
While Tim is ridiculously nice about almost everyone, one person not on his Christmas card list is ex-heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson.
In The Hangover Part II movie recently the ear-chomping retired bruiser covered One Night In Bangkok, a song from the musical Chess ,which was written by Tim with Benny and Bjorn from Abba.
“It was really awful,” says Sir Tim with a grin. “When I first heard it I rang up Benny and said, ‘We’ve just got a new cover of One Night In Bangkok and it’s in a film. It’s the worst version of any of our songs I have ever heard.’
“He asked who did it and I told him Mike Tyson. I then added, ‘And I want you to go and tell him it’s crap!’ ”
Sir Tim will, though, happily rake in the royalties from his massacred song – a source of income increasingly hard to keep track of in the digital age.
“There are so many people making records these days,” he says. “Everybody can make an album in their bedroom of, say, theatre songs and so many CDs are just issued privately or don’t go through record labels or shops. And I’m not sure all of them are paying royalties.
“But in theory if you’re recording somebody else’s song then you a) shouldn’t muck about with it too much and b) have to pay a royalty.
“Most songs these days are played through downloading and streaming and I think the average songwriter, especially of my generation, is a bit miffed that half the time we’re not getting a bean for our stuff.
Although things like Spotify keep a record of what is being played, the amount you actually get paid is minuscule. If you’re a pure songwriter and don’t do anything else the industry is not as lucrative as it was.
Never happier: Sir Tim Rice
“Before, most of our income came from CDs and, before that, records – but they don’t sell at all now. I preferred the charts when I understood them.”
With the publicist politely tapping her watch, I ask a question I’ve been dreading. Is Tim – a man once nicknamed the Lion King thanks to his complicated love life – still in a relationship?
He has most recently been linked to PE teacher and fellow cricket nut Isabelle Duncan.
Blushing furiously, I finally stutter: “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?”
“No”, comes back the curt response.
I plough on. “Happy this way?”
There’s no comeback to that.
Sir Tim Rice: single, happy, successful and back at the top of his game. No wonder he’s smiling.