Note of discord interrupts supergroup Il Divo's classical repertoire


Last updated at 10:30 18 May 2007

An uneasy silence settles over Il Divo, following Urs Buhler's emphatic statement: "We're not best friends and we're never going to be best friends."

It's not the sort of blunt confession I expect to hear from one of the world's most successful groups.

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Il Divo

Urs, you see, is the 36-year-old Swiss bloke with the ponytail from the chiselled, sharp-suited operatic quartet.

Il Divo, which means Divine Performer, have achieved head-spinning success with 18 million album sales, 39 number ones and 133 Platinum and Gold Awards, since they were put together three years ago by The X-Factor's Simon Cowell.

I expect the lads to be cock-a-hoop, backslapping buddies. But no. They're sitting around a conference table at St David's Hotel, Cardiff, partway through their 2007 World Tour, which is almost sold out, the suits are off and they seem, well, a touch at odds with each other.

Urs ("very quiet, very reserved, into heavy metal and bikes and likes things on time", according to the others) is wearing a tight-fitting black sweater.

"The analogy of a family is very good for us. I have a very big family. I'm close to some of them and not at all close to others," he says.

"Making the transition from a solo singer to a group is a compromise. It's difficult.

"I can remember some of the financial decisions I've been quite cross about.

"Believe it or not, I would be happy to travel on a tour bus. I don't care about the glamorous lifestyle, the hotels, the private jets.

"Those things cost and everything that has the name Il Divo we pay for. These are the points where we disagree."

David Miller, 34, the American who's wearing a striped shirt and an astonishing number of wooden beads around his wrists ("talks a lot, easy to make contact with but difficult to go deeper", according to the others) shuffles in his chair.

Urs doesn't say it, but I wonder if David is the one with a taste for private jets.

The current world tour includes 76 concerts in 30 countries and David looks shattered.

"When we joined Il Divo, we made an agreement to put our egos to one side and become part of a group," he says.

"In lots of ways Il Divo is very inhuman. I don't want to use the word robotic but you wake up, you have your regime, your off time, you make the plane, you make the show, you do it every single day. There's no time to rest, no time to recuperate.

"That's just simply how it is for each one of us. We can get a little bit stroppy when we're tired, but we're not a solo act like Madonna.

"When one of us throws a strop, the other guys go: 'Whatever, go cry in the corner. We've got to go on stage'."

Carlos Marin, the Spaniard and, at 38, the oldest in the group ("very passionate, says what he thinks without thinking before he speaks"), sighs now.

"We each had a huge ego from our solo careers," he says smoothly.

"It's a difficult thing when somebody says: 'These guys are going to be your friends for the next ten years.'

"I'm Spanish and in my language you can swear a lot, but when you translate it into English it can sound very bad, so there was a lot of misunderstanding.

"But now the good thing is we're like brothers - a family. We understand each other." He smiles.

Urs stares back, not returning the smile.

Sebastien Izambard, 34, the charismatic Frenchman with the come-to-bed eyes ("arrogant but also sensitive") interjects: "You forget all of this - all of the being tired, being grumpy, having conflict with each other - when you're on stage.

"That is a magical moment."

Il Divo were put together by Cowell in 2003. He wanted to create something that would bring opera to the masses and "blow people away".

He decided to lose the fat people, the internecine plots, the classical music; draft in four classically-trained Armani-clad men to sing pop songs and, with a touch of utilitarian pop genius, to get them to sing them in Italian.

Cowell, who of the four auditioned Carlos first, has said that when he sang: "Every hair on my neck stood up.

"It helped that he was good looking."

Carlos, a classically-trained singer who'd been performing since the age of six, says it took him two weeks to make up his mind to join Il Divo. "At the beginning, I didn't believe in this music."

Indeed, it seems only Cowell had confidence in Il Divo in the beginning.

The pragmatic Urs says: "I remember in my audition Simon Cowell played a couple of demo tapes. I said: 'I'm a classically trained singer, a lyric tenor. And you want me to sing that kind of music? Are you serious?'

"He said: 'Yeah, that's exactly why I've invited people like you.' I thought: 'Well, I can try to do that, but I don't think anyone will want to listen this.'"

The four singers were put in identical apartments in Chelsea and didn't meet until two days before they were due to go into the recording studio.

Sebastien, the only one not from a classical background, says: "It was like an arranged marriage.

"We all came from solo careers and had to learn to share songs and that wasn't easy."

Their first album, Il Divo, released in October 2004, knocked Robbie Williams off the number one spot.

A year later their second album, Ancora, went straight to number one in the UK and the States.

Their debut world tour in January 2006 was a sell-out, playing to more than 500,000 fans in 18 countries.

But it wasn't until the group arrived in Japan that they began to appreciate their phenomenal success.

Carlos says: "We were at a press conference and they put up the names of every country we were No 1 in and there were 37.

"We said: 'My God, we're bigger than we think we are.' We hadn't realised, because we were always on the road."

Urs, David and Sebastien nod. The boys are in agreement on this point.

"The hardest thing for me is the travelling because we have such a lack of time," says Sebastien. "Everybody's scared to stop because you might become unfamous or earn less money.

"My best time is after the gig, when I go back to my room. I have to create my own space."

"Me too," says Carlos, the only married member of the group.

Urs cuts in: "I don't spend any time with the group than what is work time."

David interrupts: "That's not true."

You could cut the atmosphere with a knife now. "It is true," insists Urs.

David is looking very tired now. "I don't need personal time," he says defiantly. "I'm just as happy to go out with the guys. I consider them my brothers."

"We are like a family," says Sebastien, "I think the first time we went on stage as Il Divo changed a lot of things.

"Recording in a studio is impersonal. Everyone goes in one by one in a booth and just records a spot.

"It's very quick and you don't get to know each other.

"The fact that we had to go on stage and sing together was a very magical moment. That makes you like family."

Carlos and David nod and the sticky moment seems to have passed.

Urs, in his accented English, says: "When I listen to our music, I'm baffled by how much magic there is.

"But it's all empty, isn't it?

"The fans scream to an image, but they have no idea who we are. In all the interviews we've done, is there anything in there about us personally?

"There isn't and that's what they scream for."

Gosh. Urs stops. The interview is at an end. One more question? "How long do you think you'll be together?" I ask.

"Another 20 years and 40 million records," answers Carlos smoothly.

Urs is next: "I would like to see us in wheelchairs with grey hair." I know he's pulling my leg.

"As long as the music is good, people like it and we're having a good time," says David with a smile.

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