Neil Diamond is set to wed his much younger girlfriend – and no she’s not called Sweet Caroline
Friday September 9,2011
By Anna Pukas Have your say(0)
THE other day two young people of my acquaintance called Amy and Joel were pestering their father to change radio stations.

They didn’t want to listen to ”grandad radio” (ie Radio 2), they said. Just as their father went to switch over, Sweet Caroline came on. ”No, don’t!” they yelled and started dancing and singing along.

How could this be? Amy and Joel are 13 and 11. Neil Diamond recorded Sweet Caroline in 1969 – 30 years before they were born. Come to think of it, their dad was only just born when the song came out so by rights it shouldn’t even resonate with him all that much, never mind his kids. Yet they know the tune and all the words. Somehow it has seeped into their consciousness and taken root there.

This inconsequential little vignette is as good a way as any of illustrating the impact of a great song. More than a hummable tune and memorable words, a truly great track has the power to reach out down the years to those as yet unborn. And Neil Diamond has written a ton of them.

Neil Diamond has cut a melancholy figure, the composer of paeans to love who remained alone

In a career spanning more than 50 years the man once known as the Jewish Elvis has sold more than 125 million records. His last two albums, 12 Songs and Home Before Dark (featuring all new material, not lazy “best of” compilations) topped the charts here and in the US. In the Nineties he was the most profitable live act in the world. He still tours constantly and his concerts still sell out.

He has had his wilderness years when he was considered so cheesy that to admit to being a Neil Diamond fan was to invite unrelenting mockery. Then the pendulum swung right back and he became so cool again that he was invited to perform at Glastonbury in 2008. Afterwards YouTube was awash with video clips and people posted comments such as: ”Not the biggest Neil Diamond fan in the world but by **** he was brilliant at Glastonbury. 10 out of 10.”

He described Gastonbury as “in the top five performing experiences of my life.” He has been the subject of one of those An Evening withSLps TV shows which are essentially the ultimate fawn fest and in March he was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame – an honour that had inexplicably eluded him despite the longevity of his career.

Yesterday it was announced that he is to receive the Kennedy Centre award for his contribution to culture. So as far as his professional life is concerned, things could hardly be better.

However until recently his personal life has been another story. His relationship with his long-term girlfriend Rachel (known as Rae) Farley ended three years ago, apparently more at her instigation than his, leaving him bereft and reduced to seeking out ”a friendly face” to play poker or go for walks with.

So it was with undisguised delight that the man who had his first hit with Solitary Man revealed yesterday that he is solitary no more. He announced his engagement on his Twitter page in rhyme: ”Good news coming from sunny LA and you’re the first I want to tell, Katie and I just got engaged and I hope you wish us well.” An hour later he posted a photograph he took in London last month of his new fiancée along with the message: ”I’d like you to meet Katie. I’m love struck.”

And no wonder. His intended is Katie McNeil, a striking California blonde. Little is known about her besides the fact that she has produced videos for bands including The Bangles and Motley Crue and was the executive producer on the 2009 documentary Neil Diamond: Hot August Night NYC. She is Diamond’s business manager and at 40, she is 30 years his junior. In fact several of his big hits, including Sweet Caroline, pre-date her too.

So a very wealthy 70-year-old man is to marry a beautiful but much younger (and presumably less wealthy) woman. So far, so rock ‘n’ roll. But the sad fact is that for all his success and with two marriages behind him, Neil Diamond has cut a melancholy figure, the composer of paeans to love who remained alone.

His first marriage lasted just six years. Jaye Posner, a teacher, was his teenage sweetheart in Brooklyn, New York, and they married in 1963 when Diamond was 22. They had two daughters, Marjorie and Elyn but divorced in 1969, just as he was making it big after years of grafting on the road.

L ater that year he married Marcia Murphey, a television production assistant. They had two sons, Jesse and Micah, and Diamond gave up touring to be at home with them.

”I decided this time I would be a proper family man,” he said. ”I did not want to put my second family in the same situation that I put my first family in.”

But the couple still divorced in 1995 with Diamond giving Marcia half his fortune – around £75million. At the time it was one of the biggest financial settlements ever but he insisted it was no more than her due. They worked the sums out together over the phone without lawyers.

Diamond readily acknowledges that both his marriages were casualties of his devotion to his art. ”Although I tried to compensate for it by making my wives feel like the centrepiece of my life they knew instinctively that it was the music that came first and they couldn’t compete,” he said earlier this year. ”My dedication to my work has never wavered and really, I don’t see that chemistry changing. I need to be with a woman who understands my work ethic and is secure enough not to be threatened by it.”

For more than a decade that woman was Rae Farley, an Australian 31 years his junior whom he met when he did a concert in Brisbane in 1996. She was working on a promotions stand. The relationship appears to have foundered in 2008 after she had unsuccessful surgery for a painful back injury. For a year Diamond says he was never more than 20ft from her side. But eventually he retreated to the studio and touring.

At the time he said: ”I am doing the best I can but she is notSLps she feels this is something she has to deal with herself which is unfortunate because I want to be there. I want to help her. It has been a very, very difficult time but I am an optimist and I think she will make it and get her life back.”

They split up soon after. The Home After Dark album which he wrote during her illness refers to ”one more bite of the apple”. Still guilt-ridden by the marriage failures, he says that Rae was ”another chance to do it right and have the opportunity to have a loving companion at this point in my life again. Which I need. I cannot survive without it.”

Now it seems he won’t have to. And who could begrudge that for a man whose songs can captivate those who weren’t even born when he wrote them?

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