Ozzy Osbourne interview: ‘I felt like a fucking laboratory rat’

As the singer in Black Sabbath he helped invent heavy metal, but reality TV nearly broke him. Now the Prince of Darkness is back, and on fighting form

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© Rob Greig

As I put down the phone after a brief but tumultuous chat with the great Ozzy Osbourne, talking to me from a tour stop in Berlin, I’m shocked to find myself blushing out of genuine embarrassment. I’m embarrassed because I’ve just been yelled at by one of my childhood heroes, and because I made the mistake of thinking that Ozzy is something he’s not.

I thought, at 65, he’d be a gentle, bumbling soul; I thought he was the bloke from pioneering reality TV show ‘The Osbournes’: some old fella who likes to sit around and paint and tell stories about the old days. But he’s not some old fella. He’s Ozzy Osbourne, the singer of the untouchable, multimillion-selling Black Sabbath, now back with all the original members (except drummer Bill Ward) after decades of partial reunions and line-up changes. He’s the man whose voice wailed over the greatest riffs of all time.

And as he raises that iconic voice at me and loses his temper because I’ve asked the wrong questions, I realise that I have angered a very special kind of god. A rock god. Maybe the greatest of them all.

© Facundo Gaisler

How does it feel to be back with Black Sabbath and playing Hyde Park?
‘It’s the cherry on the cake for me. I’ve been bowled over by the success of the last record [‘13’, released in 2013], we’re touring all over the world and now we’re playing Hyde Park. It’s been a remarkable couple of years.’

Does it feel like an opportunity to look back and think about how far you’ve come? The whole ‘not bad for a boy from Aston’ thing?
‘I don’t do that, but I guess I should a bit more. Because I know when I had my first successful album with Sabbath I thought: Oh, this is great, this will last a couple of years. I’ll just get drunk every night and have a few chicks in my room. And here I am, 45 years down the road and I’m doing better than ever. I haven’t always been on top of the world, there have been bad times as well, but you don’t just give up at the first sign of choppy waters, you carry on rowing.’

Have you seen that there’s a petition going around to get you a knighthood?
‘I’ve heard about that. Getting knighted? I can’t imagine anything better. And my wife would become a Lady, which would be pretty cool. 
But I’m not gonna get upset if it doesn’t happen. 
I never thought I’d get further than Aston.’

Heavy metal is an underground movement, but Black Sabbath were playing huge shows alongside bands like the Eagles in the ’70s. Did you feel like you were part of the mainstream?
‘Sabbath never thought about the mainstream or the underground. Our success came from word of mouth: no critic wrote anything nice about us. In those days, if your parents didn’t like it, the kids would. Now we do gigs and there are fathers and sons, and I think to myself that if my dad had said to me, “Oh there’s this great band you’ve got to see,” just the fact that my dad liked it, I would’ve said “Fuck off”. Now we get [different] generations coming to see us.’

How responsible do you feel for the huge number of heavy metal bands that have come 
in the wake of Sabbath?
‘Some of them I look at and think: Yeah, I can see Sabbath in them, but then others I look at and think: Where the fuck are we in that lot? All these breakaway things like death metal, or satan metal, or industrial metal.’

Let me ask you about ‘The Osbournes’. Are you happy you did it?
‘It was an experiment. Looking back, I’m glad we did it but I’m glad we jumped off when we did after three years of feeling like a fucking laboratory rat. We went from being a relatively normal family to this fucking family that was just blown apart. It has taken us a long time to get back together. The only good thing about it is that Sharon got a career out of it.’

Your son Jack made a documentary because he wanted to highlight that you were unfairly portrayed in the show, that they made you look cartoonish. Was that a fair point?
‘I never watched an episode of “The Osbournes”; I don’t like to see myself on TV. That’s why when Sharon says so-and-so want to do a pilot for another TV show, I say, “Sharon, I’m a rock ’n’ roller. I didn’t join a band in 1968 to be a fucking weather reporter on the fucking six o’clock news. I don’t want to know. Leave me out of it.”’

Was it hard having your personal life splashed all over the place?
‘I didn’t give a shit. I just did what I do. Sharon would say, “Do you want to do another season?” and I’d go along with it because they’re family. But at the end of it, I was fucking wiped out, my whole family was disintegrating. My wife was in bed for nine months battling colon cancer, my kids were all in rehab, I was fucking dying. I just wanted to get my rock ’n’ roll life back.’

But having the Daily Mail write about your illnesses and your relapse had to be an odd feeling though, no?
‘They can do whatever the fuck they like, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter what the fucking Daily Mail write about me. I don’t give a shit.

Okay, let’s talk about something else. There are all these stories about you, like when you bit the head off a bat, and I want to know…
‘No, no, no! That was 500 fucking years ago!’

I know, that’s why I’m trying to ask if you feel like those stories overshadow your music?
‘That fucking thing with the bat: if that’s all 
you’ve got to ask me, you haven’t done your fucking homework.’

I’m not asking about the bat, I’m asking if you wish people would talk about your music more.
‘They can talk about me however the fuck they want. All that bat shit and bird shit happened in 1982. It’s 30 years [since] that happened, is it that important these days?’

I don’t think so, but…
‘Well fucking move on, then.’

Ozzy, I’m just asking if you get annoyed with having those stories hanging over you.
‘The answer’s yes.’

Okay. I’ve heard a rumour that these might be the last Black Sabbath gigs, is that true?
‘No. The rumours are all bullshit. It’s going to be the last show [of this tour], but now we’ve bonded again. We’ve left it open. We’ll have a few weeks off and think about what we want to do in the future. Because we’re all getting a bit older: 
we’re the best part of fucking 70 now.’


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