Being a widow at 50 was not something international music superstar Céline Dion ever planned for.
While she continues to grieve the death of her husband and manager — “the greatest man in this world,” she reminds me — something unexpected and inspiring has happened to the “My Heart Will Go On” singer.
She has found, as she puts it, “the wind beneath my wings” to become an unlikely fashion icon and fearless businesswoman, willing to take risks she never would have when her husband was in charge.
In an exclusive interview, as she announces plans to return to the UK for a one-off concert in Hyde Park, Céline tells The Sun: “To be honest with you, I think I’m at the best of my life right now and I really want to enjoy and embrace every moment of it.
“It’s all new. It’s like I’m having a second wind — 50 has been great for me.”
Just don’t suggest a toyboy lover has trampled all over the memory of René Angélil — who discovered Celine when she was 12 years old, became the only man she ever kissed and then left her devastated three years ago when he died of cancer, aged 73.
For the last two years, Céline has been accompanied almost everywhere by dancer Pepe Muñoz, with many hints of a new romance.
As we sit in a suite in famous Paris landmark Hotel de Crillon, overlooking the Eiffel Tower, where Céline has attended Fashion Week, she says with exasperation: “The press said, ‘Oh my God, René just passed and now there’s another man.’ Yeah, there’s another man in my life but not THE man in my life.”
There is no doubt Pepe, 34, and Céline are incredibly close — he’s traveled with her to the French capital and is in the room for our interview — and she is concerned the attention is “difficult” for him.
“It was probably overwhelming for him at the beginning when we started working together because we were dancing together,” Céline recalls in the interview, which you can hear in full by subscribing to podcast “The Dan Wootton Interview.”
“We bonded right away as friends, we had a good time. It evolved. But when people started to take pictures and it was like, ‘Who’s that guy? René?’” With the slightest hint of anger in her voice, she adds: “Let’s not mix everything.”
Pepe is with her all the time, she counters, because he helps to style and train her so she is in the best shape. She adds: “We’re friends, we’re best friends. Of course we hug and hold hands and go out, so people see that. I mean, he’s a gentleman. He’s giving me his hand to go out.”
Does it make her angry that people think she has moved on already?
She tells me: “I don’t mind because he’s handsome and he’s my best friend.”
I ask if she is single. “I am,” she says slowly and thoughtfully, before bringing out her trademark humor, and joking: “By the way, when I say, ‘I am single,’ please, leave me alone. Thanks.” When I last sat down with Céline two years ago, there was a deep sadness in her eyes, in the aftermath of René’s death.
Now she mentions her husband often, but there is a hope there too as, she says, “He’s at peace and he’s resting and he’s always within me. I see him every day through the eyes of my children. He gave me so much strength through all these years. And so much for me to explore, for me now to spread my wings. The maturity that comes with age and time.”
It is now up to Céline to make the tough decisions — for her career and, most importantly, her children.
She explains: “I feel that now I have a voice, which is kinda weird as that’s what I’ve been doing all my life — using my voice, but in singing and performing. But I use my voice as well for things that I choose I want to do and things that I say to my team I don’t want to do. I feel that I am grown up enough to say, ‘I think I would rather do this than that.’ I’m not playing 50. I’m not playing that, ‘I’m the boss now’. I don’t want to do that. I don’t necessarily want to be the boss. I just want to be the best of me and be surrounded — like my husband always surrounded me with — the best people.”
There are some things Céline is proud of changing since René’s death, especially her bold fashion choices that have seen the superstar become a favorite with top designers including Valentino.
Céline admits: “The way that we used to work before was more conservative.”
Her outrageous new looks, which go viral online, are not about “trying to take chances” but rather finding outfits that make her “feel attractive.”
She says: “I’m doing this for me. I want to feel strong, beautiful, feminine and sexy.” And as for criticism of her style and, more recently, slimmer frame, Celine doesn’t give a damn.
She says: “If I like it, I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t bother. Don’t take a picture. If you like it, I’ll be there. If you don’t, leave me alone.”
Céline’s greatest pride remains her children — 8-year-old twins Eddy and Nelson, and 18-year-old son René-Charles, who is entering the music business himself, as a DJ under the name Big Tip.
However, Céline seems to be struggling with setting boundaries for her eldest now that he is “a man.” She explains: “Any teenager, they have to try things. If you say no to so many things they will turn around and they will still do them away from you, which is even scarier. The girls are coming now — something to be stressed about. I am giving him more space. He does stuff sometimes, I have to say I don’t necessarily agree with what he chooses to try. But as long as he’s using his intelligence and his brain, I trust him.”
It is clear the trials of parenthood are where Céline misses René — who she tends to speak of in the present tense — the most.
She says of René-Charles: “I know he’s well taken care of above — his dad is sending him good energy. I told him that I will always have my heart in my hand for him to hold on to because we love him so much and we wish him the best.”
Céline has recently been dragged into the controversy surrounding sexual misconduct allegations against singer R.Kelly, because of their 1998 duet “I’m Your Angel.”
Speaking about the scandal for the first time — and confirming reports she has decided to remove the track from streaming services — Céline will only say: “It’s extremely sad and we had to do what we had to do. It’s just unfortunate. That’s all.”
There is now six months of transformation ahead for Céline after she made the “emotional” decision to end her Las Vegas residency after 15 years.
But this certainly isn’t a winding down as her long-awaited new album will follow and the chance to debut her new songs at her only European gig this year, headlining the British Summertime Music Festival at Hyde Park in London, on July 5, in front of 65,000 fans.
She says: “It’s going to be quite special, extraordinary. I’m kind of nervous a little bit — and excited.” The Sun brings Céline some bangers and mash, because she had told fans she had a “craving” for the British favorite in the video announcing her concert. And she really meant it.
As she bites into a sausage, Celine explains: “My husband won the gold medal in our family of eating this dish.”
After nearly 40 years in the music industry, this concert will mark the start of a new era for Céline — and it is one she is ready to embrace.
She explains: “I started so long ago, so far back, but I feel like I’ve been here for four lives. They say when you live your life to the fullest, one should be enough. I’m not sure I agree with that, because I think I’m having the best time of my life now.”
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