His difficult childhood long behind him, Seal works hard to balance career and family life. As his aptly named new album, Commitment, is released, he tells Rachel Corcoran why his glamorous model wife, four children and mega-success are more a result of his self-belief than good luck.
How does Seal pull it off? With commitment
Sitting in an exclusive hotel in West Hollywood, having just returned home to Los Angeles from a holiday on the Amalfi coast with his supermodel wife, Heidi Klum, and their four children, Seal looks like one of the luckiest men on the planet.
The singer has enjoyed a successful career for two decades with hits such as Crazy, Kiss From A Rose and Killer, and has made a happy home with a woman most men would die to be with. But when Seal was a child, the odds were stacked against him. And even though he's thankful to be sitting here today, he believes it's been down to sheer hard work more than good fortune. "The harder you visualise and work for something, the luckier you get," says Seal, whose 1.93m frame is decked out in an old favourite Carol Christian Poell leather jacket combined with scarf and jeans and three necklaces given to him by his wife. His nails are painted brown.
"I was homeless at 17 and hid and slept in the underground, as well as homeless shelters," he says. "So it's not like I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I know what it feels like to be so poor that you can't even pay attention. I was the kid at the back of the classroom visualising the perfect life I'd see on TV because my real life was horrible. It was my refuge because I had an abusive father and a dysfunctional family. And I visualised it so much that it became my reality."
Born Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel in London to Nigerian parents, he was transferred to a white foster family in Romford, Essex, aged two when his mother and father split up. Seal stayed with the family for five years until his mother reclaimed him, only for her to be deported back to Nigeria two years later. He then had to go and live with his father in north London. Money was tight and Seal's unhappy home life drove him to leave when he was 15, despite having no job or anywhere to live.
He dreamed of being a "designer and an architect" but instead found himself in dead-end jobs. It was only when he was 23 that he realised that singing was his calling. He has never had formal training but had been singing since he was a child: "I always loved music, always. It was an integral part of my life. I had this teacher that I admired called Mr Wren and he was a singer - or used to be before he got a real job and became a teacher - and he would always inspire me. I think that certain people come into your life at certain times who make a real difference, and Mr Wren was certainly one of them."
So Seal started singing in pubs, toured Japan as a lead singer of a funk band called Push, then met Adam "Adamski" Tinley when he returned to the UK. Their collaboration led to the No 1 hit Killer in 1990. Seal's following track, Crazy, was similarly well received, his distinctive voice and looks (the scars on his face are the result of a disease called lupus) winning fans worldwide. "I think there is an element of luck and I do pinch myself every day," he says. "You can't control things like health, and - touch wood - Heidi and I have been lucky in that we have healthy children and that we are relatively healthy ourselves. But in terms of the good fortune of being able to do a job that gives me incredible joy, happiness and satisfaction; in terms of having a lifestyle that I aspired to as a kid in that we're able to afford small luxuries like sending our kids to good schools; in terms of not having to worry about how I'm going to put food on the table, I don't feel guilty about any of those things because I've been on the other side of the tracks and I know what it's like. "
it seems apt, then, that his new album, which was released on September 20, is called Commitment. It's certainly appropriate in describing his dedication to both his music and family. It comes off the back of the surprise success last year of his fifth album, Soul, a collection of covers that was produced by close friend David Foster and sold almost three million copies. It was a welcome resurgence to Seal's career, which had gone into the doldrums after he won three Grammys in the 1990s. Also produced by Foster, Commitment is a selection of original material, which Seal was nervous but also excited about tackling.
"Recording a new album of original material has to have the same fearlessness that your first record had," he says. "That's why you find that quite often with recording artists they make a fantastic first album but the second doesn't meet expectations. They've become fearful because they have more to lose. "But I love a challenge, and making Commitment has been the greatest challenge of my career: to write an album that exceeds all my expectations. When all things in your life begin to align in the way they have for me over the past few years, you become incredibly focused.
"Everything about my life is fully committed. I've never felt more focused on the matter at hand: my wife, my children, the family in general, my own well-being and of course music and my career. Each one of the songs on my album has personal meaning for me and all I can hope for is that the music strikes a chord with people." One of the tracks is a ballad, Secret, which ranks among his finest love songs. Seal says it's about his first meeting his wife seven years ago - the immaculate timing and how they were drawn to one another.
Klum was 30, a successful supermodel, just out of a relationship with the Formula One boss Flavio Briatore. Unbeknown to her, she was three weeks pregnant with his child. Seal, meanwhile, was 40, about to go on a tour for his fourth album and returning to his New York hotel room sweaty from a gym session. Neither was looking for a relationship - but when they were introduced by a mutual friend, there was an instant connection. Seal says he experienced a clarity he'd never had before.
"Heidi didn't know she was pregnant when we met," he says of his wife, whom he married five years ago on the beach by their home in Costa Careyes, Mexico. "Then after about six weeks she found out, and she was quite worried about telling me because it wasn't planned. "But my initial reaction was that it didn't change anything. I thought, she's found out she's pregnant and she's spending time with me, so she must really like me. I was pretty bowled over by it, because she's an intelligent, responsible woman of high principles and was saying she wanted to be with me. For the first time in my life, I was never more clear that I felt the same. Secret is the story of when you find each other and having the wherewithal and the courage to go: 'Yep, this is it. OK let's go.'
"Timing is everything," he continues. "Heidi and I talk about it a lot. I'm a real believer in timing and I think if it's right, then it's unstoppable. I don't know if I'd have been a particularly good husband or parent in my 30s." Heidi and Seal have brought up Leni, now six, as their own and he treats her no differently from the three children they've gone on to have together: Henry, five; Johan, four; and Lou, one.
"Of course I don't," he says. "The first thing you realise when you have children is that they're not really yours, you don't own them, whether they're biologically yours or not. They're a divine little miracle that's uncorrupted, innocent and all-loving. So whether they're biologically yours or not is completely irrelevant." Seal adopted Leni last year, but says it hasn't made any difference to their relationship.
"It doesn't make her any more or less my daughter. All it means is that both Heidi and I wanted her to have the same last name as the rest of us. I don't want her to feel different because I know what that's like, being a kind of stepson. Heidi has adopted my surname, and now legally Leni's name is Leni Samuel as opposed to Leni Klum, because all our other kids are called Samuel." So did he have to meet Briatore to make that happen?
"No, I've never met him," he says. "Heidi was the one who made the phone calls and handled everything. And from what I understand Flavio was a gentleman about the whole thing. He's more than welcome to see Leni any time that she or he wants to." However as much as Seal and Klum enjoy being parents, they're going to settle at four, even if he does think his wife is at her most attractive when she's pregnant.
"Four kids is enough and it was really emotional going into hospital for Lou, because we knew this was the last time we were going to do it. We were very calm and there was none of the frantic neuroses we had when Leni or Henry were born. We savoured every last bit of it." seal and Klum still factor in time to be together, despite juggling their work schedules with raising four children. That now includes a TV show they're planning called Love's Divine, on which they'll help people have the weddings they never had because of difficult circumstances. It stems from the fact they renew their marriage vows every year in their Mexican holiday home, and they wanted to do the same for other people.
"You would not believe the whole concept of renewing your vows and what it does to you," Seal says. 'It's so special, not least because it reminds you of the person you married, as well as the person she married. We toyed with the concept of giving couples with extraordinary stories a chance to have the wedding of their dreams - whether they'd like their favourite band to play or for it to be in a particular location.
"It's not like we're marriage counsellors, in fact we won't be in it that much at all - we'll make things happen. It'll be everything from the soldier in Iraq who's missing his wife and newborn son he hasn't met, or the couple who got married 30 years ago under difficult circumstances because they're an interracial couple, so never had the big wedding - or just people who feel themselves growing apart through lack of effort and they need to rekindle their love."
With so much going on in their lives, how do he and Klum fit in time to rekindle their own love? "You have to," he says. "Heidi's German so she's really good at schedules and she's dragged me kicking and screaming to be organised, too. We have date nights and go away on holiday together, like our trip to Italy, and then we had a week in London after that without the kids. It's hard to just get up and leave them, especially when you have an 11-month-old, but you have to do it. Your wife is still the most important person in your life.
"We've both turned things down because we're committed to each other and the family. My career has had ebbs and flows, and right now it seems to be going up again and that's great. But the one thing the ebbs and flows teach you is that you cannot take it too seriously. My family is my priority and by virtue of the fact that I'm older now, I just look at things differently."
Commitment is out now. Rachel Corcoran stayed at the Petit Ermitage in West Hollywood. To book, visit www.hotels.com