If you have never seen a performance of Andre Rieu, the world's best-selling classical musician, there's no need to worry.

Rieu, you see, is 69 but hopes to live to 1000. He follows the work of Professor Aubrey de Grey, a British scientist who believes the secret to living forever is within our grasp.

He announces this shortly after I arrive at his mini-castle in Maastricht in the Netherlands — said to have belonged to Charles de Batz-Castelmore, the 17th century musketeer on whom Alexandre Dumas loosely based the character of d'Artagnan and who perhaps provided the inspiration for Rieu's magnificent hair.

Maastricht is the location of the open-air concerts he has staged in the city square for the past 15 years. The rest of the time he tours the globe playing arenas, and he has sold 40 million CDs and DVDs. His concerts are a phenomenon. Audiences laugh and cry and dance in the aisles.


With his Johann Strauss Orchestra, the biggest privately owned orchestra in the world, he conducts and plays the violin in a show that is pure entertainment. The music is a draw but the key is Rieu, radiating charm and bonhomie in his white tie and tails, setting female hearts aflutter.

There are some who think this party atmosphere and Rieu's popular repertoire — The Blue Danube, Lara's Theme from Dr Zhivago, a version of the Macarena in which a member of the orchestra whips off her ball gown and tap dances on a piano — are an affront to classical music. He thinks such opinions are sad.

"Classical music is music that touches your heart. Bohemian Rhapsody is classical music for me."

He has no truck with stuffy concerts where audience participation is frowned upon.

The son of a conductor, Rieu began violin lessons aged 5 and formed his first orchestra in his 20s, playing weddings and retirement homes.

His professional breakthrough came when a Belgian radio DJ remixed one of his tracks and it was an unexpected hit.

Next month, he will perform his 100th Maastricht concert, welcoming his millionth visitor, which is all good news for his bank balance, because he also owns the production company that beams the concerts into cinemas, and the travel agency that organises the package deals.