Tom Jones remembers the London Olympics of 1948 as a moment when Britain began to get its groove back after the darkness and deprivation of World War II. “Things started to brighten up,” the singer told TIME during an interview on the eve of the London Olympics of 2012 (available to subscribers here). He believes in the power of the Olympics to sow good cheer. “Like music, sport is something that brings people together. You can all rejoice, you can all think about what that sport is, rather than politics, and languages, and other things that other countries do. The Olympic Games I think are very important.” But he has a confession. As a child in Wales he was less excited by the peace dividend of Britain hosting the Olympics than by the peace dividend that saw Britain beginning to phase out of food rationing. “One day they said ‘no more ration books, you can go buy as many sweets as you want,” he says and for a moment the clear eyes of the 72-year-old look a little rheumy.
His life has never since lacked for candy—chart success spanning almost five decades, public and critical recognition, a knighthood, a rich personal life, devoted fans (he confesses he eventually tired of being showered with knickers during his sets and so now discourages the practice) and enduring health, that has permitted him to keep doing the thing he loves most: making music. And on July 28 he will indulge that passion in front of crowds in London’s Hyde Park where he’s headlining the first in a series of free concerts to celebrate the 2012 Olympics.
Here he talks to TIME about his Olympics soundtrack, his famous friends and why a small woman wielding a big sword held no terrors for him.