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We lived in Leningrad. Nelly worked at Sever Café. Once she was on holiday and my friend Zhanna invited her over to Moscow.

Zhanna had met Lilia Radova who held a sort of a music saloon at her house. Lilia’s husband was an MC at Moskontsert and knew all the leading artistes. Every week there would be a soiree where friends came to gossip and watch new videos. This is where Zhanna brought Nelly one evening.

The White Sun of the Desert was on, all seats were occupied. When Nelly entered, a man got up and offered his chair to her. It was dark so she did not see who it was. Only later did she learn that it was Kobzon’s seat she had. He had seen a woman standing and given up his seat to her as a matter of course. We knew of course who Kobzon was. A singer of some standing by then, he sang Ostrovsky’s songs with Maya Kristallinskaya. But we had not met him in person. Nelly loved American music, which was popular at the time, and was not a fan of Kobzon’s. So this was how they first met.

When guests started leaving, Kobzon offered to see them home. At the door of their house, he suggested that he could show Nelly Moscow, saying: “It’s only 11, Nelly, you would not be going to bed now, would you?” Her answer was: “My mother would not allow me. I must always be at home by 11. I have been brought up strictly.” He smiled and invited her to have lunch at the Uzbekistan Restaurant the following day. A couple of days later Kobzon took her home to meet his mother. She was surprised. “Why such a hurry?” She asked. “I really want to get married and, at last, I have met a nice Jewish girl,” replied Joseph with a strong emphasis on the last three words.

Kobzon had had two failed marriages by then. His mother wanted her son to have a family like everybody else, a good wife, a lot of children. Every day for a whole week they went some place together, to a theatre or a restaurant... Then Kobzon went on a tour and Nelly returned home, to Leningrad. He called her two-three times a day and sent her postcards. He was touring in Eastern Europe and we got a postcard from every city he visited.

There was a funny episode. He came over for three days, on the first of May, to see how we lived. As he walked up the stairs, he saw “The Best-Kept Flat” plaque on our door. It was awarded for cleanliness and tidiness and everybody tried hard to have one. It stunned him. He is a Virgo, loves order and would win a tidiness contest against a 100 housewives. All his life he made his own bed in the morning, even at hotels. The plaque did it: it struck him immediately that if his future mother-in-law kept her flat as well as that, his wife would have the same quality. The reason it made such an impression on him was that he had never really had a place he could call his own home.

Nelly was working every other day. He kept missing her. So he had to talk to me on the phone instead. He pressed us to move to Moscow. I did not want to hear of it. Move where and why?! He was after all 13 years older than my daughter, a big difference. I said to him: “Joseph, to make any decision, I would like to first spend some time with you, we virtually don’t know you. All we know is that you are an artiste, but nothing about what sort of person you are.” So, what are you proposing to do? We still live in different cities…” Kobzon countered. “Well, we are planning to go on holiday in August,” I said. “Join us if you wish.”
- Where are you going for your holidays?
- To Yalta.
- Why Yalta?
- We have a place to stay there.
- I will take care of lodgings but let’s go to Sochi. It is far more interesting. What’s there to do in Yalta?

So that was that.

The proof of a man is in his deeds, not his words. Our holidays gave us many chances to see him in action. There was an unpleasant incident right at the beginning of our stay: one of our common friends had a row at the restaurant, ending up in a police station. Joseph got together a deputation of actors, right there on the beach, and took them along to rescue his friend. They told the police what a wonderful man they had in their custody and pleaded with them not to ruin his career for having, for a brief moment, lost control of himself. So the friend got away with a fine. This was a victory, which the whole gang proceeded to celebrate at a restaurant. Towards the end of August, Radov’s father was reported to be on his deathbed. It was absolutely impossible at that time to get a seat on a flight to Moscow unless you booked it a month in advance. Joseph left us on the beach and accompanied Radov to the airport. Once there, he coaxed a flight crew to take Radov on board as a “stowaway”. Wouldn’t you say it was a deed?!

All the Sochi hotel lifts in that epoch were switched off at 11pm since their clanking disturbed customers’ sleep. The Volshaninovs, the famous Gypsy couple, were celebrating an anniversary and returned to their hotel at 2 in the morning. Rada Volshaninova asked for the lift to be switched on. By and by, a barney flared up with the doorman.

Doormen in those days mostly came from the retired military and all informed regularly on the customers - who, with whom, where, what time… And the lower the rank, the higher the stink. So the doorman made a beeline for the Sochi Concert Hall the following day and dashed off a complaint against the Volshaninovs, alleging that they had kicked up a drunken row, depriving working people of their well-earned rest. This meant no more tours, prestigious venues or broadcasts for them. They were in danger of losing their livelihood. Once again, Joseph convened a deputation of actors and led it to the Concert Hall to talk the management into settling the matter peacefully.

I wondered at Kobzon’s humanity; why was he helping one and all? I could not quite see it: there were many actors holidaying in Sochi but he alone was so quick to sympathize. It did not take him long to win my affection.

While in Sochi, we went to meet his friends virtually every day. It was lovely. I became friends with Robert Rozhdestvensky’s family. Kobzon introduced us to everybody saying this is my mother-in-law and this is my bride. People would ask: “How can your mother-in-law be in your bride’s company?” “I snapped up the mother-in-law at once,” he replied, “but am still thinking the bride over.”

I was completely won over by Joseph, his personality, his attention, the way he kept bringing flowers… He had just returned from Hungary, bringing loads of presents. A suitcase for the “mother-in-law” and another for Nelly. In those days, this was a “wow!”. And he had guessed all the sizes right; “your friend’s hands won’t ever fail you”, he joked. All our friends - the Radovs, the Rozhdestvenskys – said : “This is Kobzon’s Day: everybody’s come to the beach wearing his gifts!” None were left out, everybody got a present. He is amazing.

It was my birthday the other day, and I made a confession of love to him: “You know, I have only now understood the extent of my daughter’s good luck: what a great man you are, as well as a lovely person! Every time I am at your concert, I never fail to be surprised: this little note was not there last time, or that inflection; and what a brilliant song this is!”

I never take advantage of my position but should there be a need, he will not refuse me anything. Nothing needs to be repeated twice, he will remember it all and tackle it immediately. A wonderful husband, a wonderful son-in-law, a fantastic person.

We returned from Sochi on the first of September, the 11th was Joseph’s birthday and we were invited. This was a “betrothal-birthday party”. His closest friends gathered at the Arbat Restaurant, which had just been opened and enjoyed a great popularity. There were about 50 guests; he approached each couple saying: “Please meet my bride. The wedding will be formally announced later.” The wedding was planned for the 3rd of November and we decided to hold it on our home patch, in Leningrad.

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