Very few world careers begin with a farewell. Or a defeat. And certainly not with farewell and defeat at the same time and with half the nation sitting sobbing in front of the television. But that’s how it was in Germany on November 23, 1996. That Saturday evening, boxing world champion Henry Maske lost his last fight, apologized to the fans and then cried to himself. A song was played that hardly anyone knew until then: “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli. Today the Italian, now a world star, turns 65.

To be honest: It wasn’t a real farewell after all. The “gentleman boxer” from East Germany later got back into the ring against the same opponent, Virgil Hill from the USA, and won. Bocelli sang the song not alone, but with the Englishwoman Sarah Brightman. And with the original “Con te partirò” (“I will go with you”) he had already taken fourth place at the Sanremo Festival in his home country the year before.

But the song, retitled for Maske, was the breakthrough. First of all, the Germans ran into the record stores, which is what they still did back then. “Time to Say Goodbye” became the best-selling single of all time. Things continued in a similar way in other countries. The critics criticized the tearjerker, but the masses bought it: Kitsch perhaps, but it’s pretty damn good. The Canadian singer Céline Dion, who is definitely a competitor in this field, said: “If God had a voice, it would sound like Andrea Bocelli.”

Likes to perform in Germany

Today, the exceptional tenor is part of the regular cast at the really big international events: he sang at Christmas with the Pope, at the World Cup, at receptions for various US presidents, and at celebrity weddings. And also when the Queen celebrated 70 years on the throne and a few months later when Charles became king after his mother’s death. “But Germany is still special to me with all the memories,” said Bocelli. In October he comes to Oberhausen, Mannheim, Leipzig and Berlin.

Most people have gotten used to his blindness. The days of him lamenting “The tragedy is that people won’t stop to make a fuss about something they find tragic – but I don’t” are over. When Bocelli was born, his eyesight was already impaired by congenital glaucoma. When he was twelve, the boy from Tuscany was hit in the face by a soccer ball. A little later he was blind. Nevertheless, to this day he still rides, skis and – with help – also rides a motorcycle.

Almost at the same time as he became blind, Bocelli won his first singing competition. He also learned piano, flute, clarinet and saxophone. “My heart has always beated for music. I sang after the master tenors as a child.” His idols at the time were Mario Lanza and Franco Corelli. After graduating from high school, he studied law and worked as a lawyer.

Until he was discovered in 1992 by the Italian soft rocker Zucchero, who had been rejected by Luciano Pavarotti and was now looking for another tenor. In the early years of Bocelli’s career, he sang mostly pop. He later shifted his focus to classical music, appearing in well-known opera houses and also with Pavarotti

More than a hit

All in all, Bocelli has sold more than 85 million records to date. I also remember a performance during the Corona period, all alone in the Milan Cathedral. The 25-minute video “Music for Hope” has now been viewed more than 40 million times on YouTube. The Great Comforter: “Time to Say Goodbye” is also standard at funerals. He doesn’t care what will be played one day. “Once I’m dead, those who survive me can do whatever they want.”

Bocelli lives with his second wife Veronica Berti in the posh seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast. The two have a daughter. Bocelli now sometimes performs together with the youngest of his two sons from his first marriage, Matteo. His first album is released just in time for his father’s 65th birthday. Andrea Bocelli herself spends the day after two concerts in Madrid without much celebration – still no time to say goodbye.