~ December 1994 ~
,With Cathy, it was interest at first sight'
He sings, dances, acts ... In fact,, the phrase "all-around entertainer" could have been coined especially for him. And that's how Michael Ball likes it, writes Peter Robertson
Ask Michael Ball about the highlight of his career and you might expect him to mention his hit single, Love Changes Everything, his starring role in the musical Aspects of Love or, perhaps, his TV series. They're all impressive but, nevertheless, the accolade, might well go to a two-week acting job - in Coronation Street!
"Ever since I left drama school, appearing in the Street was one of my ambitions," he explains. "I'd have been pleased even to be throwing darts in the background at The Rovers!" In fact he landed a speaking part, albeit short-lived, as a tennis coach. "I was so chuffed!"
Michael's been a fan of the Street for years, and putting his feet up to watch the antics at The Rovers is still a favourite pastime, along with the "spending time in the countryside, reading listening to music - REM, Michael Bolton and Barbra Streisand - and cooking. My idea of heaven is having friends round on a Sunday and cooking up a storm."
For the past two years, Michael and his girlfriend Cathy McGowan - the icon of the Sixties pop show Ready, Steady, Go! - have shared a cottage in Barnes, South-West London. Recently they've also bought a country retreat on the Sussex coast, where they spend as much time as possible together, with their dog Yogi, a Tibetan terrier.
Michael, who's 32, met Cathy in April 1980, when she interviewed him for TV (obviously this is wrong. Cathy McGowan first interviewed Michael for TV at the early days of Aspects. Should have been around January 1989!). It wasn't love at first sight, says Michael, "but definitely interest at first sight".
Ever since, there have been rumours that the couple's romance is not genuine. "That's total rubbish!" is Michael's reaction. "I could have let the rumours under my skin but, no, it doesn't worry me. I'm in a secure relationship and very happy."
That sense of security means Michael doesn't feel he has to share his relationship with the rest of the world, and he resolutely refuses to answer questions about it.
"I'm normally quite fortright and able to talk about things," he says. "But I feel very protective about my private life, I really do.
"All I do is provide entertainment, a bit of light relief in troublesome times. That's what I give and I don't think it means everybody then has an automatic right to pry into things that I'm not giving away to the public."
What Michael will happily talk about is his work, and his family, who live in the Midlands, where Michael grew up. "My Dad and my brother Kevin, 34, own a marketing consultancy, and my little sister Catherine, 23, works there as a secretary.
"I have a very special relationship with them all. They make the point that I'm much the same as I've always been. I don't know if I've changed or not, but then it's not for me to say.
"My dad wanted to be an actor, but his parents wouldn't let him - he had to get at trade. So when I told my parents I wanted to go to drama school and be an actor, they were thrilled.
"In the beginning I was hopeless at business and my family advised me until I got savvy enough. I'm a lot more canny now - I'm not the wide-eyed innocent who got the lucky break."
He works on his image, as well as his singing and acting because these days, a good voice just isn't enough. "I know that for maximum effect you need to look good while you're doing it. If you're dressed in the right gear and your face looks fin you have more impact."
For Aspects of Love, in which Michael appeared semi-naked at one point, that meant a rigorous fitness programme.
"Otherwise, the fat would wobble out of rhythm with the band.... not attractive!" he says, giving a typically long, loud laugh.
More recently, a shaggy mob of corkshrew curls ahs transformed his image, making him look less clean-cut and more raffish. It's a big change, but perhaps not a surprising one, given that he's living with someone who set a fair number of trends herself in the Sixties.
"Cathy has a great eye for fashion and knows immediately what won't work," he admits. "she has the best instincts of anyone I know."
As far as his work's concerned, there may be new directions, too.
"I've always said I'll consider anything that comes through my letterbox."
That currently includes two new musicals, another album and TV series,, and a major open-air for 1995. All of which confirm Michael's determination to keep doing as many different projects as possible.
"The artists I really admire - Streisand, and all those great old performers, such as Sinatra, Sammy Davis and Garland - juggled different talents. I think there's a different set-up in America, there isn't the pigeon-holing. "
"If you can act, terrific. If you can sing as well, that's even better, and if you want to write, brilliant!"
Having starred in Aspects of Love on Broadway, and recorded some of the tracks of his latest album in Los Angeles, Michael doesn't rule out the possibility of spending more time in the States.
"New York is completely exhilarating but, at the same time, so exhausting. If I'd spent any longer than nine months there, I would have gone barmy!
"But there's such a big market in the US and I want to explore that. Then there's Europe, Australia, the Far East - the big world!"
Despite such broad horizons, it seems there's little danger of success going to Michael's head. Always a victim of pre-performance nerves, he says they're getting worse, not better.
"I get so nervous I've no control over my bodily functions," he confesses. "And I really don't like listening to myself. I always think 'OH, for god's sake, you could have done that properly...'
"Partly because I'm so keyed up, my concentration is total and I never go on stage thinking, "This is easy, I'm going to slay 'em with this!'"
Perhaps that's why an ever-growing army of fans enjoys his work so much. "I do have the most loyal fans - they've been absolutely great." he enthuses. Doesn't he mind being mobbed by thousands of women? He raises his eyebrows and grins. "Would you hate it?"