Tom Jones confessed near-death experience was key to becoming superstar
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The legendary singer, 80, has savoured an illustrious five-and-a-half-decade career and received scores of accolades, most notably including a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In recent years, Sir Tom has been a permanent fixture on the ITV talent contest The Voice, where he has mentored a new generation of musical talent. But unearthed accounts reveal the ‘It’s Not Unusual’ crooner’s determination to become an international hit was influenced by nearly dying when he was younger.
Sir Tom grew-up in Pontypridd, in a Welsh mining town, and recalled being obsessed with performing from as early as five or six years old.
One of the star’s earliest memories was tugging at his mother’s sleeve during a family wedding to ask her when he could sing.
Even from an early age, he claimed to remember being “aware of the effect” his voice and personality “had on the little girls”.
Sir Tom recalled them “making eyes” at him and then asking “what school” he went to.
Despite his vocal talent earning him fame and fortune in his later life, he did not believe his voice was anything exceptional as a child.
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Sir Tom said: “Some kids, they sing very high and then they go through puberty and their voice drops.
“I can’t remember that ever happening to me. My voice didn’t change dramatically.”
Aside from his passion for music, Sir Tom claimed he was “useless at school” and admitted that he struggled to concentrate even on the sports field.
During the school day, he would regularly count down the hours until he could be singing at home or go to buy himself an airgun at the shop.
At 13 years old, his ordinary school life was derailed when he contracted tuberculosis (TB).
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The bacterial infection mainly affects the lungs and is often detected when a sufferer coughs-up blood.
While the UK introduced a vaccination programme that helped to reduce rates here, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that it is a top 10 cause of death.
In a 2020 report WHO estimated that 1.4 million people died from tuberculosis in the previous year.
The most-affected country was India, followed by Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa.
While Sir Tom was battling tuberculosis he spent two years away from the classroom and the majority of his time in bed.
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Despite the hardship and difficulty faced by Sir Tom while he battled tuberculosis, he tried to draw a positive from the experience.
In 2008, Sir Tom told the Daily Mail that he would never have pursued music had it not been for his illness, adding: “Thank God for TB.
“The doctor said to my parents, ‘Whatever you do, you can’t put this boy in a coal mine, because he has weak lungs’.
“And the weird thing is, with weak lungs I’ve become a singer.”
During Sir Tom’s battle with tuberculosis, he was “so weak” that he “couldn’t get out the door” or play with his friends.
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He recalled: “When I used to get up for an hour a day, I would stand at the front door and see my mates playing, going up the hills.
“They’d shout, ‘All right, Tom.’”
Being unable to have fun with his childhood friends made him determined to overcome the issues he faced because of his illness.
Sir Tom said: “There was a lamppost at the end of our street.
“I’d look at it and think, ‘Once I can walk from this door to that lamppost, I will never complain about another thing in my life.’
“And that was it. And if I do, if the thought ever enters my mind I see that lamp-post.”
Sir Tom returned to school for a year before leaving at the age of 15 to work as a labourer’s mate.
Two years later, Sir Tom was working on building sites during the day and singing at working men’s clubs at night.
He claimed that “women loved him” but the men who came to watch were his toughest critics.
Sir Tom said: “On Sunday nights it was men-only.
“You’d have to make sure you put a bunch of ballads in there – the men loved them, especially in Wales.”
After performing with a band for some time, Sir Tom travelled to London in 1964 when he was in his mid-twenties in a bid to become famous.
Sir Tom, then known as Tom Woodward, was determined that with his vocal talent and the dance moves he had learned, the star would ensure his family would never have to work.
He went on to release It’s Not Unusual in January 1965 and by St David’s Day, March 1, it was number one.
Now, the singer has sold over 100 million records and achieved 36 Top 40 hits in the UK.
Despite being described as a “full-throated, robust baritone”, Sir Tom considered himself to be a tenor when he was younger.
In 2012, he told BBC News that he had a higher-pitched singing voice during his earlier years but that his ability to reach high-notes had diminished with age.
Sir Tom said: “What you lose on the top end, you gain on the bottom end. I used to be able to hit a top C when I was young – now it’s a B flat.”
Last year, the singer told the Daily Mirror that he had no plan to retire from performances or his role as a judge on The Voice.
Sir Tom said: “I don’t want to stop as God has been good to me and my voice is still there. I want to do it as long as there is a breath in my body.”
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The music legend left audiences “in tears” last weekend after an emotional performance of Eddie Fisher’s 1953 hit With These Hands.
Sir Tom was prompted by Olly Murs to perform the song, which Elvis Presley sang when the two performers first met in 1965.
On Twitter, fans of The Voice gushed with emotion over Sir Tom’s rendition of the song.
One user wrote: “Anyone else cry when Tom Jones sings[?] Gets me every time.”
Another added: “Here I am gushing over Tom Jones again. King Tom.”
A third tweeted: “Tom Jones singing on [The Voice] has me absolutely bawling, what an amazing voice he has and such a beautiful song.”
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