Childhood & Early Life
Billy Ocean was born as Leslie Sebastian Charles on January 21, 1950 in Fyzabad, Trinidad and Tobago to Grenadian musician Hainsley Charles and Violet. In 1960, he relocated with his family to Romford, London, England.
He got exposed to music while growing up, thanks to his musician father. Eventually Billy forayed into music and regularly sang in London clubs while simultaneously doing tailoring work in Savile Row in central London.
He was first spotted by John Morphew, who became his manager. Morphew aided in recording a double A-side single at Pye Studios in London, however unable to garner any major label, the single could not be released.
After Morphew released Billy from contract on request of his father, the young talent became member of local band ‘The Shades of Midnight’ in 1969.
In 1971, Billy, as Les Charles, released his first single ‘Nashville Rain’ through Spark Records backed with ‘Sun In The Morning’ on the flip side.
He fronted the studio band ‘Scorched Earth’ for two years and released ‘On The Run’ backed with ‘Let's Put Our Emotions in Motion’ with them in 1974. He adopted stage name Billy Ocean from the Ocean Estate situated in Stepney district in London, his then residence.
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Rise to International Fame
Billy released his eponymous debut studio album through GTO Records in 1976. The album consisted of hit singles ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, ‘Stop Me (If You've Heard it All Before)’ and ‘L.O.D. (Love on Delivery)’, all of which made it to the UK Singles Chart in 1976 with the former charting at #2. The former single also reached #22 in the US Billboard Hot 100 giving Billy early international recognition.
In 1980, he released his second studio album ‘City Limit’. Songs ‘Are You Ready’ and ‘Stay The Night’ from the album earned him club success. His third studio album ‘Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)’ (1981) made it to the US Billboard 200 chart.
Meanwhile he contributed as song-writer and composer for singles of other artists.
The most thriving period of Billy’s career started after he released his fifth and breakthrough studio album ‘Suddenly’ on September 12, 1984. The album was a considerable success peaking at #9 in the UK Albums Chart, US Billboard 200, and US Billboard Top Black Albums charts and garnered gold, double-Platinum and triple-Platinum certifications from BPI, RIAA and Music Canada respectively.
‘Suddenly’ included the song ‘Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)’ that climbed atop the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard Black Singles chart and at #6 in the UK Singles Chart. Co-written by Billy and Keith Diamond, the song won Billy the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, marking him the first British artist to earn an award in that category. The lyrics and title of the song were altered for different parts of the world and include versions like ‘African Queen’ and ‘European Queen’.
The title track of ‘Suddenly peaked at #4 in both the US and the UK, while another song from the album titled ‘Loverboy’ peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and its extended version reached atop the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the U.S.
His sixth studio album ‘Love Zone’ released in April 1986 was both a critical and commercial success. It peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard R&B Albums and was certified double platinum by the RIAA. It included hit chart topping songs ‘Love Zone’, ‘There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)’ and ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’. The album fetched Billy a Grammy award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in February 1987.
‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’, recorded in 1985, was originally featured as theme song for the Michael Douglas film, ‘The Jewel of the Nile’(1985). It became a major international hit staying atop the UK Singles Chart for four weeks in February 1986, and reaching #2 on Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Its video featuring Douglas and other stars of the film, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, miming to the backing vocals, was banned by the BBC in February 1986.
Billy earned a nomination for the Brit Award for Best British Male in 1987.
He furthered his fame with ‘Tear Down These Walls’ (1988), his seventh studio album that went on to earn gold certifications from ARIA and BPI, and Platinum certification from Music Canada and RIAA. One of its singles ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car’ peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Black Singles charts and reached at #3 on the UK Singles Chart.
Billy thereafter spawned studio albums ‘Time to Move On’ (1993), ‘Because I Love You’ (2009) and ‘Here You Are’ (2013) which however failed to garner much success. He also released several compilation albums among which ‘Greatest Hits’ (1989) earned Platinum certification from BPI, Music Canada and RIAA; ‘L.I.F.E. — Love Is For Ever’ (1997) earned Gold certification from BPI; and ‘Here You Are: The Best of Billy Ocean’ (2016) received Silver certification from BPI.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate of music by the University of Westminster in London in 2002. Other honours received by Billy include earning the Lifetime Achievement Award at the MOBO Awards on October 20, 2010, in London; and the title of Companion of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts on July 29, 2011 that was presented by former Beatle Paul McCartney. Presently he is a patron for Tech Music Schools in London where he holds regular clinics and seminars for the students.
He made a cameo feature in the 2012 British comedy film ‘Keith Lemon: The Film’ and also appeared in the American late-night talk show ‘The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’ in January 2016, where he performed some of his hit classic numbers. Billy has toured several places in his career including in the UK, Australia and the Far East and continues to travel across Europe for his tours and recordings.
Family & Personal Life
Since 1978, Billy and his wife Judy reside in Sunningdale, Berkshire. Together they have three children, Cherie, Anthony and Rachel, of whom Anthony played rugby sevens for Barbados during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Billy turned into a vegetarian in 1992.