Ilya Dobronravov is a non-public person. He never gave interviews: it was not easy to persuade him to reminisce. Ilya doubted for a long time. However, on the eve of the star uncle’s big anniversary, he still made an exception for MK.
“It was customary for Uncle Kolya and Aunt Ali to celebrate birthdays,” says Ilya. — If we are talking about round dates, then large gatherings were always organized, which were attended by a lot of people. Of course, recently the situation has changed somewhat. Probably the last big holidays were the 90th anniversary of Uncle Kolya and Aunt Ali. Then all birthdays began to be celebrated at home. Nikolai Nikolaevich had problems with his leg for a long time. They began after an accident in which he and Aunt Alya got into in May 2000. After the coronavirus, which they both suffered at the end of 2020, the problems worsened. It was difficult for him to go anywhere, so they arranged gatherings at home. Naturally, couriers came throughout the day, bringing flowers and telegrams. Nikolai Nikolaevich was always congratulated by a lot of people. A year ago, on his 94th birthday, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin personally called him. I witnessed their conversation.
— Was Nikolai Nikolaevich happy about Putin’s call?
- Of course, he was very pleased. He is generally a very positive person. And he treated his family in such a way that God grant that everyone treats their loved ones this way. I was born in 1963. My conscious memories of him begin around the age of 14. I remember when I was at school, Nikolai Nikolaevich and Alexandra Nikolaevna came to us and spent their creative evening. Then their names were already thundering throughout the country. And in the 80s we began to communicate even more closely: we went on vacation together to Ruza, where the House of Composers’ Creativity was located, and subsequently often visited the dacha on Nikolina Gora. At the same time, my parents always tried not to disturb him again.
— Why did your parents build their relationship with Nikolai Nikolaevich this way?
— Alexandra Nikolaevna and Nikolai Nikolaevich were very popular and very busy with work. And my dad once again tried not to call them. I always give an example that is forever etched in my memory. In Soviet times there were no mobile phones; contact could only be made using a local number. Mom used to ask dad: “Have you talked to Kolya? How are they?" And dad answered: “Why are we going to bother him?” He didn't want to distract them from their work. My dad and Uncle Kolya always had a wonderful relationship. Their mother Elena Dmitrievna, my grandmother, lived with us. That’s why Uncle Kolya often came to us and helped. The first color TV that appeared in our family was given by him. I also remember stories about how Uncle Kolya came and took us to the dacha in his first Moskvich car.
At that time it was impossible to communicate more closely. My parents are engineers. They worked at Soviet enterprises, where the shift began at 7.30, five days a week. My father got up every day at a quarter to six in the morning. And Aunt Alya and Uncle Kolya are people of art. They could get up later and still communicate with someone until late. Difficult to cross graphs. But Uncle Kolya was always aware of everything that was happening in our family.
— You said that Nikolai Nikolaevich gave your family a TV. How did you try to surprise him?
- It was very difficult to do. Aunt Alya and Uncle Kolya were wealthy people. Therefore, our gifts have always been practical in nature. For example, one day I gave him a radio. Uncle Kolya loved listening to the radio. When his radios started to fail, I bought him a new, more modern one. He was glad. Uncle Kolya loved radio more than TV. They practically didn’t watch it in their family, unless they had to. And he listened to the radio every day. He came to the kitchen, looked at the clock, turned on the receiver and listened to the news. This was actually the case until recently.
— What else was Nikolai Nikolaevich interested in?
— We often talked about football with him. Uncle Kolya has always been a Dynamo fan. In our family, everyone supports this club: Uncle Kolya, me, and dad. And since I had more opportunity to read the Internet, I found articles there about new coaches and players and read them to him.
— You said that Nikolai Nikolaevich’s health worsened after the coronavirus, which they suffered in 2020. How did they get sick?
— Friends suggested that Uncle Kolya and Aunt Alya go to a sanatorium in Barvikha, which they had never been to before. They said it was a very good place. They got sick there. A few days later, the doctor who was treating them suspected something was wrong - she suspected coronavirus. It was the end of 2020. The doctors were called, they took a quick test, which initially confirmed only Aunt Ali had Covid. Uncle Kolya's test showed a negative result. They decided to take her to the hospital by ambulance alone. And I stayed with Uncle Kolya, not understanding what to do in this situation, because I didn’t want to separate them. Doctors, by the way, said that Uncle Kolya would most likely also develop Covid. As a result, it was decided to send him to the hospital. They were put together with Aunt Alya. And indeed: Covid also showed up in Uncle Kolya. I was in constant contact with the doctors: they fought very hard for them. Thank God we made it through.
— Did they spend a lot of time in the hospital?
- Yes, they were provided with good care there. Doctors, for example, often changed the nurses they needed. Because Aunt Alya could walk on her own, but with Uncle Kolya everything was a little more complicated. Galina Alekseevna, who is now with Alexandra Nikolaevna, just appeared at the hospital. When we checked out, we asked her to go with them. Because they are used to it. This was a very important moment for them. She still remains.
“Didn’t they have au pairs before that?”
- No never. They always managed on their own, without helpers. It was their decision: they didn’t want to let anyone into their world. Although we suggested several times: “Let’s find someone.” But they refused.
— Did you really go to the grocery store yourself?
— Previously, always on our own. Lately I have started bringing food. Knowing that I was going to see them, I called Uncle Kolya, and he dictated to me what I needed to bring. I bought it and brought it.
- They say that they were always very unpretentious in everyday life!
- Certainly. They loved really very simple things. You could order sausages, for example. Aunt Alya was always very fond of Korovka candies. I tried to buy them by weight. These candies are delicious when fresh. Now they are hard to find...
— Did you visit them every day?
“This wasn’t required before Covid.” As I already said, they tried to do everything themselves. And then, of course, they had to be constantly supported. Accompany you to the clinic, for example. Help with everyday issues.
- As I understand it, Nikolai Nikolaevich trusted you with all his secrets?
“That’s probably not entirely correct to say.” Of course, he trusted only Aunt Alya with all his most secret things. This is definitely true. It was impossible to separate them. They were always together. They often recalled the story of how they met. Uncle Kolya worked on the radio, and at some point he was offered to meet a young composer to write a song. They met and actually never parted.
— Did Nikolai Nikolaevich understand during his lifetime that he was a genius?
“He never raised such a topic at all.” In any case, I have not heard anything like that from him. But all people saw their size, which is natural. Of course, I was also always proud of my uncle. I was always amazed, for example, by the song “How Young We Were.” How could you write it at 47 years old? How was it possible to feel everything so accurately while still a very young man? What else always amazed me was his amazing memory. He also remembered other people's poems by heart. “Woe from Wit”, “Dead Souls” I could read.
— Did he work at home?
“The notebook was always next to him, pens... He tried to write as much as possible. But my hands haven’t been working well lately, of course. Uncle Kolya also loved to swim. They often went to Sochi with Aunt Alya. Uncle Kolya was already with a cane - after the accident, as I already said, his leg hurt a lot. But he swam anyway.
- How did it happen that they got into an accident?
— They were going to a concert in Yaroslavl. A car flew towards them... We were all scared when we found out that she and Aunt Alya had been in an accident. There were no mobile phones then. We constantly called Aunt Lyusya, this is Alexandra Nikolaevna’s sister, and learned news from each other. Then Roshal got involved. He was always there for them. I remember him when I was very little. Uncle Kolya once brought him to us so that he could see his grandmother. They carried their friendship with Roshal throughout their lives.
- And they say that celebrities have no friends...
— Alexandra Nikolaevna and Nikolai Nikolaevich had a lot of them. They were generally non-conflict, sympathetic people, and knew how to be friends. We were friends with Roshal, and with Feltsman, and with Magomayev. With Kobzon - to the last. Aunt Alya still communicates with Leshchenko to this day. He's a great guy. He often comes to Alexandra Nikolaevna and supports her. They were friends with Gradsky. They always considered him a close person: he participated in all their concerts, was present at all holidays. They were on very good terms with Renat Ibragimov: he also performed their songs. They always communicated well with young artists. With Julian, for example, they were very close.
— Alexandra Nikolaevna and Nikolai Nikolaevich, it seems, were always somewhat embarrassed about their popularity. Why?
- Yes, they avoided fame. They didn't need it. The two of them were enough for them.
— Did you like to listen to your songs?
- It's true. Previously, concerts were shown only on central television. And now there are a lot of recordings on the Internet where people sing their songs. If something caught my eye or my sister’s eye, we saved this recording and showed it to them. They were interested. Uncle Kolya and Aunt Alya always listened very carefully, then discussed what they liked and what they didn’t.
- Ilya, Nikolai Nikolaevich had a premonition that he was leaving?
- No, absolutely. Of course, from time to time he felt weak. You understand that the last few years have been difficult for him. So sometimes it would come up. But there was no such feeling.
— How is Alexandra Nikolaevna now?
- She's holding on. Aunt Alya is a very strong and courageous person. Of course she's worried. We are all worried about Uncle Kolya leaving. My dad takes it to heart, his blood pressure goes up because of this. By the way, we didn’t immediately tell them that Uncle Kolya was no more.
- Why did they hide this bitter information?
— We were afraid of the reaction. The doctor called me from the hospital in the evening. There was a bad connection: he called back several times. When it became known that Uncle Kolya had left, they began to decide: to tell dad and aunt Alya before going to bed. We decided that we would not do this until the morning. And they probably did the right thing.