August 22, 2008
True to form, Phil Collins has hardly used his recently acquired single status as an excuse to paint the town red.
Instead, once again free from the constraints of marriage, he has been indulging himself in some substantially more sedate bachelorly pursuits.
'He can come and go as he pleases now, so he's working on his model trains again,' his lifelong friend and mentor Barbara Speake said this week.
'He does the most fantastic models of villages and towns with a railway running through them. He's made little people windsurfing and rowing boats. They're absolutely wonderful. He has it all set up in the basement of his house in Switzerland. He spends all his time doing it.'
None of which is very rock 'n' roll, of course, but then the balding Collins has never exactly fallen into the category of debauched musical wild man. Neither is the 57-year-old singer's re-awakened interest in his train set having a positive effect on his work ethic.
Friends say he has been trying - and failing - to knuckle down and finish a song-and-dance stage version of his life story which he has provisionally titled, perhaps a touch unimaginatively, Phil Collins: The Musical.
Admittedly, it does not have the immediate ring of a West End smash about it. But by all accounts, after three years' work on it, the London-born singer has high hopes that he might eventually have a hit on his hands.
It hasn't been an easy process from the start. Following a particularly nasty viral infection in 2000, Collins has been left with an annoying buzzing in his left ear, which refuses to subside.
One also suspects that another reason for the delay can be laid at the door of a private life so tangled that it must have necessitated constant rewriting of the show's libretto.
Since he began work on the opus of his life story, Collins has witnessed the break-up of his third marriage and - his accounts revealed this week - shelled out an eye-popping 25million settlement, a record for a British celebrity, to ex-wife number three, Orianne Cevey.
While not exactly broke, but with his pop career on hold - and having now paid nearly a third of his dwindling 140 million fortune to his various exes - it is perhaps not surprising the one-time Genesis front man is looking at ways of replenishing his bank balance.
For once, though, work - always his abiding passion - has lost its allure. Instead, even two years on from their separation, Collins is said still to be struggling to come to terms with the failure of his most recent marriage.
It has come as a particular blow to him because for the first time he had attempted to put Swiss-born Orianne, 35, and their two boys - Nicolas, eight, and four-year- old Matthew - ahead of his previously all-consuming career.
So where did it all go wrong? 'It seems Orianne was suffering severe post-natal depression when they separated,' his friend Barbara Speake explains.
'Phil's mother, June, and I have remained very friendly with Orianne's mother, Orawan. She is convinced that Orianne got a serious case of the baby blues after Matthew was born.
'Her mother is very upset because she is very fond of Phil. She thinks it was the depression that triggered the divorce. We don't think Orianne even knew she was suffering with it.'
Reflecting sadly on this most unhappy period in her friend's life, she continued: 'Phil was desperately trying to hold everything together, but he didn't know what was wrong with Orianne at the time. It all came out of nowhere because they had seemed so happy at Matthew's christening in Switzerland the previous year.
'Phil didn't even tell his own mother they were having troubles. The first we knew about it was when they made the announcement.
'Phil was really cut up when Orianne ended it, because they had both seemed so happy together and so close. He never wanted the divorce to happen and it has hit him really hard. I always had hopes that they would get back together.'
Miss Speake, 78, who in partnership with Phil's mother started the Barbara Speake Stage School in West London, taught the young Collins from the age of nine. She is like a second mother to Phil and even shares a London house with the widowed June, 94.
The two women stay in close contact with the singer and visited him three months ago at the home near Lake Geneva where he is struggling to rebuild his life without his wife and sons.
His is a somewhat Solitary existence. Once, he was a regular sight in the town of Begnins - where Orianne and the boys still live in the 20 million former marital home - taking morning coffee at the cosy Cafe du Raisin or chatting happily with the townsfolk.
Now, locals say that although his new bachelor pad is close by, they have barely seen him in the two years since the separation was announced.
Indeed, it is the singer's reclusive tendencies that are said to have put added pressure on the marriage.
The attractive Orianne, the daughter of a well-to-do family, is something of a social butterfly. She took far more readily to the round of smart dinner parties with the elite of Swiss society than her notoriously reserved husband.
Collins, the son of an insurance salesman from Chiswick, West London, often felt out of his depth in the rarefied social world his wife inhabited.
And the problem was exacerbated by the sudden deafness he suffered in his left ear in 2000. Though his hearing improved to an extent after several months, since then he has found loud social gatherings almost impossible, and at dinner parties he would often end up sitting alone, unable to hear what was being said.
Orianne, with her love of nightlife and a taste for diamonds, took to partying with friends, leaving Collins behind at the home they bought from former motor racing driver Jackie Stewart.
Nonetheless, her announcement that she wanted a divorce came as a bolt from the blue.
The hard-hearted might say it was nothing more than his just desserts.
After meeting Orianne, who was just 22 when she was employed to work as a translator on his 1994 Two Sides tour, he famously sent a fax to his then wife of ten years, Jill Tavelman, announcing the end of their marriage.
American-born Jill, his second wife, left him and moved into their Beverly Hills home with their daughter, Lily. Collins paid 17 million in their divorce settlement.
He finally married Orianne in 1999 during three days of celebrations attended by his friends Elton John and Eric Clapton.
Collins is keen not to repeat the mistakes he made with the three children from his previous two marriages (he also has a daughter Joely, 33, and a son Simon, 28, from his first marriage to actress Andrea Bertorelli. He adopted Joely, who was Andrea's daughter from a previous relationship.)
His relationship with the older children has often come a distant second to his desire for international success, which has seen him sell more than 100 million albums.
Fed up with his constant touring Andrea, whom Collins married in 1975, had an affair with their painter and decorator and fled back to her native Canada with the children.
They divorced in 1980. She later called her famous husband a 'heartless hypocrite' who was prone to wild mood swings and shouting matches.
Collins, however, would later declare that the break-up had been a fortunate accident. How so? Because, he reasoned, if the marriage had not imploded, he would never have written his 1981 debut solo album Face Value which chronicled their bitter divorce (the record went platinum and produced the hit In The Air Tonight).
Firmly ensconced with second wife Jill and baby daughter Lily, Collins converted the bedrooms of Joely and Simon into a playroom for the new baby.
With family number two installed in his 12-bedroom Surrey mansion, the two older children were made to stay in a converted barn 500 yards away when they visited.
Simon, now a singer himself, remembers bitterly: 'It was like we were suddenly paying guests. You start to feel maybe you're in the way.'
Joely sent him a fax saying: 'Do me a favour and don't have any more kids because you can't deal with the ones you have.'
Later, both former wives would go public with claims that Collins had been too obsessed with his phenomenally successful career to find time for his family.
Collins himself has admitted: 'My children see me as a relative failure as a father in terms of being there for them. I tried my best over the years to be there, but I could have done more - should have done more.'
He has subsequently endeavoured to make it up with them. Last year he accompanied Lily, now 18 and a children's TV presenter in Los Angeles, and her mother to the exclusive Crillon Debutante Ball in Paris.
Given his efforts, it is a bitter irony that having resolved to be a proper father to his two youngest boys, he now finds himself separated from them.
'He's determined to remain close to Nicolas and Matthew,' says Barbara Speake.
'As far I know, Orianne has been quite reasonable about him seeing them. We were over at his new house in May and the boys were there. He has built them a playroom for when they visit.
'The unfortunate thing is that with his other marriages he was very, very busy, and he blamed work for the break-ups. You couldn't say that this time. He had made an effort to identify where he had made mistakes before. He didn't want to do that this time round.'
In April the star announced his decision to quit touring for good after agreeing to a reunion of Genesis for a world tour last year. He has no plans for a new album.
But Collins wasted no time in dating again. Three months after the split from Miss Cevey, he began seeing Dana Tyler, 49, a television newsreader in New York, where Collins has a 3million apartment close to Central Park.
And despite his chequered romantic history, he has even hinted he might be willing to take the plunge again, should the right woman come along.
'Marriage is a difficult proposition, but I haven't given up on it, either,' he told an American interviewer earlier this year.
But his former mentor hopes he remains single.
'His mother and I met Dana in Switzerland and she seems very nice, but I hope he doesn't get married again,' the fiercely loyal Barbara said.
'Fundamentally he is a very nice man. He is very generous and caring, but sometimes that isn't enough for some women. God knows what they want, because I don't know.'
Until the unlucky-in-love and somewhat lonely Collins finds the wife number four he claims to be looking for, it seems he will have more time on his hands to devote to his beloved train set.