TO HEAR HIS BOOSTERS TELL IT, SEAL, THE LONDON-BORN SINGER, songwriter, composer, leather clotheshorse and lady-killer is the greatest thing to hit pop music since the stretch limo. Ever since his first-and-only album—the rapturously reviewed Seal, an impressive mix of dance, soul, new age, R&B and country—debuted at No. 1 in England in May, the British pop press has compared him with Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and Peter Gabriel, among others. The album is approaching gold status in the U.S., thanks to the hit single "Crazy," and MTV's Abbey Konowitch calls him video's "next big star." Garlands have been tossed by everyone from Gabriel—"he's got a wonderful voice. It's got a smoky quality I like"—to Madonna, who gushed about Seal's "chocolaty brown goodness."

So delicious is the 28-year-old Seal right now that even his prominent facial scars, the result of a severe skin allergy, are considered video-genie exotica. "Marked for Greatness," one British headline punned. Says Konowitch: "Those scars really give a sense of mystery to his life."

Taken together, that's a whole lotta hype for a singer who is still rehearsing for his first-ever tour—he'll come to the U.S. early next year—and who has just one album to his credit. "Melody Maker " says Seal of the Brit rock mag, "was calling me everything short of God. That's not really healthy for me at all."

To be fair, not all who encounter the 6'4", 200-lb. baritone are so enraptured. "When I first saw him I thought he looked a bit frightening," says his producer, Trevor Horn. "He made me feel incredibly white." And a tad jealous. "All his girlfriends have been beautiful," says Horn. "Very tall, with very long legs."

The list includes Amanda Cazalet, infamous as the topless dominatrix whom Madonna French-kissed in her "Justify My Love" video. As for prying scribes, Seal, who is currently dating model Sasha Parsons, says: "I don't mind what people write about me. They can say I'm sleeping with the Queen Mother herself. I do mind if the people I'm with get hurt. They don't bargain for their lace across newspapers. She's into me. She's not into that."

Where did this performing Seal come from? His name inspired by a Brazilian grandfather, Sealhenry Olumide Samuel was born in London, where his mum, Bisi, a homemaker, and father, Francis, a plumber and interior decorator, emigrated from Nigeria in 1961. Raised by his father and stepmother, Joyce, a nurse, after his mother moved back to Africa in the late "60s. Seal enjoyed "a relatively nice childhood." As a pup, lie had a paper route, liked to sing in the loo—"bathrooms are the best place to sing," he says—and made his public debut in school, at 11. "I knew I was special inasmuch as everyone is special. I always knew I was talented and that I would be doing something like this—performing, traveling, being surrounded by lots of material things."

Seal joined his first band ("Stay Brave. They were terrible") after leaving high school at 15. In and out of various bands during the ensuing decade, he signed a production deal in 1987. But his career stalled until producer Adam "Adamski" Tinley scored a No. 1 British hit with the 1990 single "Killer." The song was cowritten and sung by Seal, whose small-print credit was ignored by the public but sparked a fierce—and expensive—competition among record labels to sign him.

Living in a slum with "a load of drunken Australians" at the time, Seal has since moved to London's tony Notting Hill section, where he's cultivated his noblesse oblige. "I enjoy giving," he says. But there are limits. "I could buy my [step] mom a car, but if I went round and gave her a hug, it would mean much more. She might not see it that way, but to me it would be worth more."

Seal is eager, obviously, to spread his good vibes. "I can give people hope," he says, "and a little optimism." But mindful, perhaps, of other megahyped pop wunder-kinds—whatever happened to Terence Trent D'Arby, anyway?—Seal is cautious about overstating his importance in the universe. "Some people," he observes, "are doing quite well without my music."

STEVE DOUGHERTY
LAURA SANDERSON HEALY in London

  • Contributors:
  • Laura Sanderson Healy.