The singer and Burnaby, B.C., native travels the world with his music, but when it comes to Christmastime, he always makes his way back home.
“We’ve had the same woman run her hands through our hair.”
Since I’ve mentioned this quite casually to Michael Bublé, it’s hardly a surprise that the response is, well, silence. You can almost hear the gears grinding while he inventories his romantic past, searching through long-ago trysts as if he were a home cook perusing a box of recipe cards. Finally, he gives up.
“Ah…which one?” he asks, very tentatively.
When I tell him, Bublé laughs out loud. “I think the only difference between you and me is that she didn’t change your diapers.”
Lest you think this conversation has veered into the lewd and distasteful, Charlene Santaga, the woman in question, is, to Bublé, “Auntie Charlene”—and the owner of Bambu, a False Creek hairdressing studio. All quite innocent, of course. But in a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way, it’s also telling.
Bublé, now 40, is irrefutably one of us. Born in Burnaby, B.C., he got his start in Vancouver crooning to the martini-drinking crowd at Granville Street’s long-defunct BaBalu nightclub, then the nexus of a fledgling cocktail-lounge scene that has since exploded. His management team, led by the rarely boring Bruce Allen, guides his career from the Lower Mainland. Even his closest friends are the same ten guys he’s hung out with since kindergarten.
But these ties, while strong, have been stretched of late. Since 2011 he’s been married to Argentinian actor and model Luisana Lopilato, with whom he has a two-year-old son—and as a result, he now spends much of his time living in Buenos Aires, where Lopilato’s family is based. Nevertheless, every year Bublé makes it home for the holidays. Which is what you’d expect from a guy who, through the popularity of his multi-platinum-selling Christmas album and holiday television specials, has essentially staked out an ownership claim to the festive season over the past few years.
Today, you could make the case that Michael Bublé is the closest thing to Bing “White Christmas” Crosby since, well, Bing Crosby. If so, he comes by it honestly. “I’ve always been very sentimental about it,” he says of the holiday season. “It was just such an exciting time for us, and for all the kids that lived on our street. You could smell it in the air; from Halloween on, you knew it was coming. People were acting a little more tenderly with each other. And there was something really magical about that.”
His childhood Christmas memories still resonate, of course. “It’s the little things I remember that mean a lot,” he says. Watching A Christmas Carol. Climbing a ladder to the cold, musty attic to retrieve the artificial Christmas tree and decorations. Or putting up the exterior lights with his dad—the results of which were spectacular. Sort of. “At the time, I imagined they looked like the Chevy Chase movie. You know: just thousands of lights,” he says. The reality was slightly different. “We did a pretty crappy job,” he laughs. “Some were strewn kind of tongue-in-cheek across the lawn. But to me it was huge, you know?”
Design failures aside, it’s clear Bublé wears his holiday heart on his sleeve. “Dude, there’s nothing fake about it. I really love it, man,” he says. As for being typecast as his generation’s Andy Williams or Perry Como? Sure, he’s thought about that. “There’s a part of me that people would call me ‘the Christmas guy.’ But there’s this other part of me that thinks, ‘Listen, if that’s your big worry, there’s a lot worse things.’”
For the past six years, Bublé’s West Vancouver home has been the headquarters of holiday celebrations for his new, extended Argentinian family, as well as his local one. Traditions—or tastes, at least—have merged. “The downstairs turns into a nightclub. So for my Spanish contingent, there’s a disco ball and a DJ, and that becomes a club where they can dance. Upstairs is a piano, a microphone and an amp,” he says. “And we drink way too much and eat way too much, and we all sing Christmas carols.”
Soon enough, the party will grow a little larger: Bublé and Lopilato are expecting their second child in January. An expanding family means his career will take a back seat, but he’s fine with that. “There’s always something that has to suffer. And the decision I’ve made is that if anything is going to suffer, it will be my career—not my family life. I don’t want to be that story,” he says, citing Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin as examples of artists who sacrificed their home life on the altar of ambition. “I need to have a healthy balance. And if that means that I can’t be on the road as much, then guess what? I can’t be on the road as much. While I know that the people who make money from me don’t like that, that’s their problem.”
As he enters his fifth decade, Bublé has perspective. It comes with age, but also from experience—both good, and difficult. Last Christmas was the first without his grandmother. For the holiday, Bublé wanted to mark her absence in a profound way. “I bought construction paper and some scissors and glue and some felt markers. And I cut out little pieces of construction paper, and everyone who came in the house, I had them write down what their favourite thing about my grandma was,” he says.
In the end, he made a huge chain from all the sentiments. “I think it’s a beautiful tribute to the matriarch of our family, who we miss big time,” he reflects. “And you know, that’s what this holiday is about. Being surrounded by the people that you love, and remembering the ones that can’t be there.”