My Weekly - Issue No. 4485 - 27/11/1999 ~
Michael Ball is relishing his fans' response to his UK tour, and sell-out concert in the Royal Albert Hall. The gifted entertainer, who made his name in shows such as Aspects of Love, recently won the Theatregoers Club award for Most Popular Musical Actor of the last 21 years, setting his place firmly as one of our most loved stars....
Michael, one of your most outstanding perfomances recently was singing the Welsh National anthem in the Opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup at Cardiff in October. Have you ever sung in more arousing circumstances?
"I doubt it! There was an absolutely tremendous atmosphere in that stadium that afternoon. My dad has an events marketing company which worked on the opening and closing ceremonies, so it was great to be involved with him."
Are you actually from a Welsh family?
"Yes. My dad's English, but my mum's Welsh. My brother and sister regard themselves as English, but I've always thought of myself as Welsh - certainly when it comes to rugby and singing!"
So is singing in your blood, too, then?
"OH, yes! Music generally is a big part of my family life, just as it is part of a Welsh tradition. I love the idea that if you get three Welshmen together, you've got a male voice choir! I used to sing in a male voice choir with my uncle Tom and mum was on piano."
How did your remarkably singing voice first get spotted?
"I always used to sing along to records and the radio, and everyone used to tell me to shut up. It's amazing to think people now actually pay to listen to me! Funnily enough, I did acting rather than singing at drama school, but I sang a number at our final year show and that got me an agent, and a part in Godspell at Aberystwyth - so I even started my career in Wales, too."
When you went on to star in shows in London's West End, you looked set for a career in musical theatre ....
"I suppose so, but I was too young and far too inexperienced to know for sure. In fact, while I was in Les Misérables I became ill with glandular fever, which pogressed into what became known as ME, and I had to pull out of the show for five months. When I tried to get back in afterwards, I suffered panic attacks on stage and even on my way to work. I even told the producer, Cameron Mackintosh, that I'd given up the business - which I did for nine months. then Cameron offered me a role in The Phantom of the Opera, which helped restore my confidence, but it was a good three years before I was my good old self again."
Do you ever imagine what else you might have done if you hadn't gone into singing and acting?
"No, I've never thought I could do anything else!"
Do you still suffer from stage fright to any extent?
"I still get quite daunted, when I perform in circumstances I'm not used to, such as the Rugby World Cup. But I don't get physically sick the way I used for years before facing virtually any audience."
How did you progress from musical theatre to your solo career?
"It started when I represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1992. That changed everything. Pretty much immediately afterwards, my first solo album went to Number One and my debut tour sold out."
Would you ever do Eurovision again?
"I was asked that before on TV a while back and I replied "I would rather stick needles in my eyes!" I have to say my view hasn't changed. I love watching it, but I don't enjoy being judged with a television up my nose. Besides, I've been there, done it and really do have the T-shirt! I don't need to do it again."
You went on to land your own TV show, which ran for two series on ITV, why didn't you do more?
"It was very expensive to put on. I wasn't too keen to do more in case I came to be regarded as a light entertainment host, rather than a singer. And, if I'm honest. I don't think that I was very good. I didn't understand the medium of television and I didn't make the most of the guests who came on. I was out of my depth. But I'd welcome the chance to have another shot now in a slightly different format."
On your TV series and in your live concerts you've sung a variety of styles of music. Do you relish the variety?
"Absolutely! there is a danger in being a Jack-of-all-trades, because you might be regarded as spreading yourself too thin. But I really enjoy tackling the different musical styles. I'd love to have been a rocker, but then I'd also love to have been Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. And, of course, I adore musical theatre. So, being given the opportunity to do a bit of everything is ideal."
In the 80s, you fulfilled an ambition to appear in Coronation Street. Would you like to go back into it?
"Yeah, I'd love to! Cliff (Richard) is also a huge fan and we concocted this storyline in which we were on our way to a gig in Manchester when the car broke down. After we'd put in into Kevin's garage for repair, we popped into the Rover's for a drink. Sadly, when we put the idea to Granada TV, they said, "We don't think that's right for us." But I'm still a huge fan of Corrie and EastEnders. When I was touring Ireland recently, I missed Bianca's departure so, as soon as I got home, I put the video on!"
A few years ago you played the lead role of Henry Purcell in the film England, my England - would you like to become a movie star too?
"Sure I would. But to make movies in Hollywood, you have to up sticks and go there. My name means very little over there. And even if I was successful there, my schedule is so packed that I don't know how I'd fit everything in."
You haven't done a West End musical for many years. Does this mean you're too big to appear in one now?
"Not at all. It's just because no suitable ones have come up. I don't particularly want to do a revival, unless it's something great. I recently went to see The Lion King and it's fantastic, but there's no role for me in something like that. Besides, again I haven't got the time at the moment."
Your UK tour in April and May this year alone included 25 concerts in front of nearly 75,000 people. Why do you work so incredibly hard?
"It's partly down to that old entertainer's fear that your last gig will indeed be your last gig. But I also really enjoy new challenges. Having said that because I'm doing so much more this years as well, the tour was a real killer. I've still hardly caught up with myself."
You have a massive following, which seems to be largely female. How do you feel about your fans?
"I know many artists say this, but I do have an extraordinarily lovely following. The fans love the work and like to feel part of it. I like talking to them as well."
When you're at home, or at least away from work, what do you enjoy doing?
"I love cooking, big style. We've got a second home in the country and I love hanging around there. I also enjoy walking our dog, a Tibetan Terrier named Yogi. I'm gregarious within my circle of friends, but I'm not glitzy premiere or showbiz party material. I find that a bit naff."
You've been going out with Cathy McGowan for eight years now, and living together for seven, yet you've not married or had kids. Do you think you'll regret that if you never do?
"I don't think I'd regret not getting married. It doesn't seem to be necessary - my commitment to Cathy is obvious. We're both really comfy and happy as we are. Besides, Cathy and I have recently become grand-parents! Cathy's daughter Emma had a son, Connor, six months ago. I'm Connor's godfather and I'm besotted with him - and so is Cathy. But it really makes me aware how monumental a change it would make to my life if I were to have kids. I used to think I could handle it, but I don't now. this business is quite selfish and often unfair on children."
Is there much you crave and strive for now, because you must be extremely satisfied with your life so far?
"That's not the case. I'm delighted and slightly taken aback by all that's happened in my career, but I haven't done what I want to do yet. However, the difficulty is, I don't exactly know what I want to do. It's all about being happy with the journey you're on."
Are you confident you will fulfil your aims, whatever they may be?
"There's no point in going on, otherwise."