Big Interview - Rick Guard

Singer Rick Guard can clearly remember the day he first realised his mother was ill.

"It was when I met my now-wife, about nine years ago. When we went to meet her parents, my mum is normally so chatty – and she just went really quiet.

"That was the start of her beginning to withdraw from things."

Chorley-born Rick is one of England's finest performers of "smooth swing," performing for celebrities from Wayne and Colleen Rooney to Shirley Bassey.

He has toured Europe, Australia and South America and played to TV audiences of up to four million and stadiums holding 65,000.

His first single was one of the top 75 highest radio played records in the world and his celebrity fans include Barbra Streisand - who dedicated the song You Don't Bring Me Flowers to Rick at a recent UK show he attended at her personal invitation - and the BeeGees.

And he has played by request for Princess Anne and even the Queen herself. Rick, who recently became a father to baby son, Cosmo, says: "Unbelievably, it's all true!

"I got to meet the Queen and it was marvellous. She shook my hand, but I made a faux pas because I went for her hand - you're supposed to wait."

Rick's parents, who had their son late in life, helped form his musical passions.

"I grew up listening to stuff like Sinatra and Shirley Bassey and Nat King Cole.

"That was always on in my house. A lot of my peers, their parents were of the 1960s so they were listening to Beatles and that sort of thing. I was weaned on Sinatra.

"I didn't realise how much I loved that music until I decided I wanted to do music as a career and that was the obvious reference for me."

His parents always supported his music – although it didn't always work out!

"Once I went to my dad and said, 'Right Dad, I want to learn to tap dance.'

"He took me to this dance class in Chorley and I saved up all my money for tap shoes, eight years old.

"And I walked in and there were 30 girls in tutus. I started crying and ran out and that was the end of my tapdancing career unfortunately!"

He spent eight years trying to get a recording deal, moving South to chase his dream.

"Virtually every other weekend, I was driving down to be on somebody's doorstep Monday morning.

"Eventually I got someone at Decca to listen to it. Then I wrote some new stuff and they said, 'Yeah, you're ready,' and signed me up."

But after six years he left.

"You spend so many years desperate to get a record company to listen to you.

"And then you soon realise after a couple of years when you're signed up with them that it's a bad move because you lose all control.

"Ever since then, I've been on independent labels but it's been so much better. I wouldn't go back with a major for any amount of money now."

But as his mother's condition worsened, Rick, who grew up on Euxton Lane and discovered music at St Michaels School, made the decision to walk away from performing.

Instead, he concentrated on his platinum-selling songwriting partnership with long-time writing partner Phil Rice, who he met at Runshaw College in Leyland.

Rick recalls: "I'd seen him playing a bass guitar in the hallway and thought, 'Oooh, a musician.'

"We sat next to each other in the lecture, exchanged pleasantries and we were in a studio within a couple of weeks."

He moved back to Lancashire, settling in Ribchester, to be near his ailing mother.

"It was my Dad that did most of the work because he was there with her all the time but I would just try and support him. It's almost like a network of support. He holds her up, I hold him up.

"By the end of my mother's life, before she went into a home, Dad was just looking after her full time.

"He had no life of his own. It does just completely take over your whole life - and the whole family's life.

"But he's an incredible man. He's 87 now and still going strong even though he's lost the love of his life."

Rick now passionately supports the Alzheimers Society and a donation from each sale of his album goes to them - although the family did not use their support.

He says thoughtfully: "We were a proud family and wanted to keep everything, if you like, private and internal and try and deal with it ourselves.

"But if I go through the experience again, I think we'd do our very best to get as much support as possible from every direction because you try and almost hide it away as though it's something to be ashamed of.

"My mum was a really gregarious outgoing strong woman, did everything, brought up four kids. And to go from this strong gregarious woman to someone who sits in the corner and doesn't want to say a word... it's shocking. You can't get your head round it."

She died in January last year and, as Rick grieved for her, he finally felt able to write about the terrible impact of her illness.

The result was the poignant Missing Person, the closing track on his new album, out this week. He says: "I still well up even now when I'm singing it, it's a bit too raw.

"I was sat in the house and the phrase came into my head. I think I even said it aloud to myself, she's a missing person, she's here but she's not there.

"The initial lyric idea was probably written within a couple of months of her dying but it wasn't recorded until the end. That was the one I had to leave to the end."

Anyone But Me was released this week

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