Sailing back into Essex

Home comforts don't come much more homely than Epping for music legend Rod Stewart, who's back with new material and a busy festive schedule

Home comforts don’t come much more homely than Epping for music legend Rod Stewart, who’s back with new material and a busy festive schedule 

Words by Frank Grice

Rod Stewart has already lined up Christmas plans at his Wood House home in his sprawling Essex estate – football, and lots of it. the devoted Celtic fan – a legacy passed down from his father, Bob – Rod takes full advantage of the festive season to catch up on his life-long passion.

‘It’s the one time of the year I really get to put the feet up and watch hour after hour of footie on the box,’ explains Rod, who was moved to tears in November when his beloved Hoops defeated the mighty Barcelona.

‘And then, of course, we’ll arrange a game of some sort on my pitch in the back garden. It might be freezing, but after being away for so long in the States, you relish the rain and the cold weather.’

However, there is more than just sport on the list of activities this Christmas for the legendary singer. ‘Our Christmas in Essex is pretty typical, much like everyone else,’ Rod continues. 

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 ‘Our Christmas in Essex is pretty typical, much like everyone else’ 

 

Rod fell in love with the open spaces,the horse paddocks, the stunning lake and the privacy offered by the estate. But there was one feature in particular that sealed the deal. ‘Crucially, there waa flat area off to one side of the house that I knew could hold a full-sized football pitch. that was always a dream of mine and finally I was going to be able to realise it.’

Hosting a string of celebrity tournaments, the pitch was once the training ground for the singer’s beloved Celtic. ‘Gordon strachan [the then manager] rang me to ask if my pitch was ready. I said it was cut but not marked out, and asked why. He told me he wanted to bring the lads down for training for a game in London.

'We'll have the traditional dinner, watch some old movies, all that. I am rather looking forward to decorating the tree and we’ll play my new Christmas album to the boys [Alastair, six, and 18-month-old Aiden] as they’ve never heard it before. Although they’ll probably hate it and demand I turn it off.’

Christmas will certainly be a busy time for Rod, now 67. He’s currently promoting his autobiography, aptly titled Rod, while preparing for a festive TV special filming in Stirling Castle in support of the new album Merry Christmas, Baby. ‘I can’t imagine you’ll even see me sitting still; it’s not in my nature. I’m not designed that way!’

‘It’s the one time of the year I really get to put the feet up and watch hour after hour of footie on the box’

Rod’s autobiography is an extensive documentation of his life from modest beginnings in North London’s archway, through his early success with The Faces towards his immense chart-topping achievement in his solo career. He also gives a frank account of his intricate personal affairs, charting the highs and lows with ex-wives and partners – Alana Hamilton, Kelly Emberg and Rachel Hunter – up to his current domestic bliss with Penny Lancaster and their two sons.

However, Rod was careful to run the book past his friends and family before giving the okay to publishers. 'By and large it’s gone down really well with all my family, particularly my kids. I did the decent thing and ran it past them. I’m just really happy I did it.’

The task of remembering a lifetime of memories is not an easy one, so how did the singer find that process?

‘Once you start, it gets easier and I’ve got pretty good recall, but I needed a lot of help, particularly with the early chapters dealing with my life, from birth up to my teenage years. But even now the book is out on the shops, I realise I’ve left out so many stories. I mean, the book could have been twice as thick. the wonderful thing about bringing an autobiography together is putting right the half-myths and half-truths out there about yourself. I got great pleasure in that.’

Going into detail about his several homes, including his estate in Beverly Hills, Wood House in Epping seems to edge forward as his residence of choice. Bought in 1986, it’s rumoured the 19th century manor was a bolt hole for Sir Winston Churchill during the Blitz – he watched from the upstairs windows as German bombs rained down on the capital.

‘Apparently the last time Celtic came down to train in London, they had to use some community training field in Fulham, which was covered in all sorts of stuff. and Gordon thought they would get a kick out of playing on my pitch. so the day they arrived, I was like a simpering school girl with a crush. Penny, who was heavily pregnant with our first son Alastair, had to calm me down! who else in the world has his favourite football team train in his back garden? what kind of schoolboy dream was that?’

While spending most of his time in the warmth of LA, Stewart is a regular face at several of his favourite haunts in the Epping area and surrounds.

‘Well my local is Theydon Oak, where they have treated me so well all these years. I can’t remember the last time I paid for a drink there. the place has so many memories for me and when I’m back in Epping, it won’t be long before I call in for a few beverages. It will be great fun there around Christmas time; they always put on a great spread.

‘And I love this restaurant, Neals, in Loughton. It has a fantastic menu and it was also where I met Penny, so of course it will always hold special memories for me there too. while I’m based in the states most of the year, I love coming back to this part of the world; it’s where I can breathe easy and relax. I don’t  want to spend Christmas anywhere else.’

Find out more

Rod Stewart’s autobiography, Rod, is now available in all good book shops.