How are you doing?
I'm well, considering what's happening around us. I'm very aware of how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and food, and I'm not trying to escape from my country to another place. I've been doing really well. My TV show in the States did really well, I have my new album No Armorcoming out today. I have a new Greek song coming out here in my country, I have shows coming up, I have a summer tour coming up. So lots of good stuff, I can't complain.
That's so exciting! How did you first get into music?
This is something that I'll never know. I'll never know if I chose music, or if music chose me. All I do know is that when I was four years old, three and a half actually, I announced to my mother that one day I was going to be a singer. And it's never changed. It's always been music, music, music. Music was my only escape, because my parents went through a very loud and violent divorce. There was a lot of psychological abuse towards both me and my brother. And the only way I found to cope was music. It was the only way I could stop the war that was happening around me, stop the noise, and stop all the ugliness that existed around me. So music became my best friend. It became my solace and my comfort. And through the years it gave me freedom and the chance to be who I wanted to be. So I've always known.
Were there any particular songs that really helped you get through that time in your childhood?
There were many. The first singer who influenced me a lot and who became my idol, if you will, is Nana Mouskouri. Nana was a great example to me, because she was Greek but she sang in 13 languages. She became the best selling female artist of all time, on the planet, which is not a small feat. When I was a kid her voice became this harbour of affection and tenderness. So I owe her a lot. A lot of other people influenced me too, like Charles Aznavour, Celine Dion, some Greek singers, Lara Fabian, George Michael, and Maria Callas. I think that songs have a magical power because a song allows you to reach out and see your trauma, whatever that is that you have inside of you, in a safe space. It's a three minute safe space, where you can connect with a specific song because it resonates inside you with something that you’ve been through, and I think that is just the strongest power that exists in art. I think that's why music and especially songs, have the strength to change people's lives.
When you started making your new album,No Armor, and choosing songs for it, was your ultimate goal to change people, connect with them, and help them through their traumas? How does your ethics of music, which you’ve just described, connect with this new album?
I wanted to make an album that transcends time and generation, but with my own identity. That's why I chose to have them arranged in a very distinct Greek colour. And that's why I've used all these traditional instruments and all of these songs. The concept was to figure out the songs that have shaped me today, as a 38 year old man. And with everything that I've done in the past, I wanted to take a step back and see why I am who I am today. How did I get here? What was the music that inspired me to want to be who I am? It's a mixture of pop songs and classical songs, it's a tapestry of various different genres, but the common thread is my identity and my voice. There's a very distinct colour and a way of singing that is mine. But the only reason I've ever wanted to sing was to be loved and to love back in return. And that's why through my music, the only thing I’ve ever wanted was to touch people, I wanted to awaken any emotion that I could. So my goal with this album, the only thing that I want people to take away from this, is emotion and the beauty of music - this miracle that is music. Sometimes we forget how important music is to every single human being on the planet. From the day we're born and our parents sing lullabies to us, till the day we die, music is what accompanies every single day of our existence. Sometimes we forget the importance of this. The songs in this record have been here for decades, in two cases, even centuries. So this album is a tribute to what music has been for me, and hopefully, it'll touch many people as well.
Music helped you when you were suffering as a child, and now you’re passing on that baton, but your desire to help people extends beyond your music, into your charity work and partnership with the Horatio Alger Association and UNICEF. They’re both children’s charities, and you’ve done real advocacy work for children, like volunteering in a refugee camp - you’re not just a social media celebrity advocate. Do your experiences of abuse and bullying as a child fuel this desire to help children? Why do you care?
Because of my childhood and what I've been through, I've always had a sensibility towards children. When you're in your 20s and your early 30s, you're just trying to make it and you're focused on your career and all that stuff. But over the last few years, the thought that I want to have children at some point raises questions like “Where are you bringing these children? What do you want to do? Are you ready?” And inevitably, that leads you to your sense of responsibility that you have as a human being, first of all, and then as an artist and a public figure. So what I do with the Horatio Alger Foundation and UNICEF is very important to me, because it's a way of making actual change. It's not just posting a photo on social media, it's using your effort and your voice, because my voice is my strongest asset. It's who I am. It’s my power. So using my voice as a means to change things, I think that’s a responsibility that I have to take on. Children are the only proof of real innocence on this planet, children are a white page, and that is sacred. That is, to me, the most sacred thing on this planet. And at the same time, children are the future. If you don't protect the future, if you don't protect children, then what sort of future are you going to have? In 2022, I still can't believe how we have enough money to go to wars left and right, but we don't have enough money to stop children from starving or not having shelter. I can't fathom that there's even one single child that's unprotected somewhere. It drives me crazy. It's something that I cannot accept. I just can't accept it.
Is there an experience that you've had, doing this work, that has really stuck with you?
A few years ago, we had a massive influx of refugees from Syria here in Greece, because that's where they first came before they went to go on with their journey. And along with a couple of friends of mine, I used to go to the refugee camps and bring food. One day I met this beautiful girl called Maya. Her father had died during the war, and her mum and brother had drowned on their way to Greece. So she was in Greece on her own, not speaking the language, she only spoke a few words of French. I remember they told her who I was, and she asked me to sing for her. I sang a little song and she gave me a huge, huge smile with a big hug. And I thought, “This person in front of me is the strongest person on Earth right now. She's on her own. And yet she found a way to smile at me and to give me a hug.” I swore that I was going to write a song for her, which I did. I went back a few months later to find her and to play the song for her, but I couldn't find her. She wasn’t there anymore. I don't know where they took her.
She never found out that song was written for her?
The first word of the song is her name, so if she ever hears it, she'll know that it's for her. So that's one story. But then I've heard and witnessed so many stories. I've seen children being abused. I've seen children deserted. I've seen children on the street, I've seen children beaten, I've seen or heard stories that are beyond my comprehension. I know I keep repeating myself, but it just doesn't fit in my head. I can't fathom that a child goes through things like that. Even though at the same time, I went through a lot of hardship myself. So yeah, there are many stories, but I guess that there will always be stories like that, because it's human nature. And that's why I think it's so important to do whatever we can, to change it.
I wanted to ask about the PBS concert special that you mentioned earlier,George Perris: A Concert in Greece, that took place in a 2,500 ancient Greek temple. What was it like? What were the feelings and thoughts running through your head?
It was surreal. When I first got there, and I saw the whole thing set up, I was terrified. Then when I went on stage, I started thinking, “Why me? These temples have been around for 2,500 years, and for some inexplicable reason, I am the first who gets to do this. I'm the first who gets to do a show on the grounds of a temple and have it filmed. Do I deserve it? Maybe I don't.” I was in such awe of the beauty. This beauty was beyond anything I had ever seen or felt, and I knew that my entire team felt that as well. It's a night I will never forget and I think that if we had this interview 20 years from now, most probably I would be telling you that this was the highlight of my career so far. Also, the Greek National Tourism Organization is using a segment of that performance, to promote Greece around the world. So the fact that they chose me, and I'm an ambassador of my country, showing my country around the world, that makes me very proud.
What an incredible achievement. What initially sparked the idea?
It's a very funny story. PBS, the channel in the states, asked me for a special, and I got on a phone call with my team and my sponsors. They said, “Alright, figure it out. What do you want to do? We have a board meeting in a couple of days, so we need your proposal by tomorrow.” I only had one day to come up with a concept, and I kept racking my brain because I had done my first special at the Lincoln Center in New York, and the second one at the ancient theater that's right underneath the Acropolis. So I didn’t want to do another show in a theater. I kept thinking over and over again what to do, and nothing came to mind. So I said to myself, “go to bed, go to sleep. Usually your best ideas come to you in your dreams.” That night, I dreamed that I was singing in a temple. So the next morning, I woke up and said, “That's my idea, but it's never been done before so we might not be able to do it.” Everyone was behind me, so I started knocking on doors to make this happen, and I got 18 nos. “No”, “no”, “no”, one after the other. Right at the moment when I was about to call my people and say, “We either have to come up with something new, or there's no TV special”, I met with the head of the Greek National Tourism Organization, and I told him what my vision was. Within literally five minutes, he shook my hand and told me, “We'll make it happen, I promise you, we will make it happen.” Within three days, it was a done deal.
I just got shivers. Wow. Your childhood self would be so proud if he was listening to this interview.
Thank you. Oh, you're a sweetheart. Thank you. I hope so.