I always have a ball with fans in Ireland

~ News of the World, 29/10/2000 by Vincent O'Keeffe~

Michael loves Emerald Isle

SINGING star Michael Ball reckons once he plays in front of an Irish audience he never wants the night to end.

And Michael, who shot to fame following a Eurovision hit, has paid tribute to his Irish support by recording a song for his latest CD with Belfast crooner Brian Kennedy.

Ball, 37, takes to the stage at The Point in Dublin next Saturday and is expecting it to be a night to remember.

In 1997 at The Point he sold out in less than an hour and to this day he cannot come up with a reason.

"The audience blew me away after the first song," he says. "At the end I did not want to come off the stage because I was enjoying myself so much.

"Playing to an Irish audience is unique and I know the moment I get on stage I will want to stay there for ever."

Ball last played in Dublin in September 1999. "It was one of the best gigs I did," he says. "The audience kept me on the crest of a wave from the moment I started singing until I finished. Dublin's my favourite city right now."

He adds: "I know how important it is to have a fanbase and each week we get hundreds of people who want to join up and get on the mailing list. It's great to know how many people in Ireland enjoy what I do."

The Ball CV makes interesting reading. As an actor he appeared in Coronation Street in the 1980s. As a singer-actor he played London's West End in Les Miserables and Aspects Of Love before hitting New York's Broadway with Stephen Sondheim's Passion.

And he reached 600million when he represented Britain in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest.

He hit the No1 slots with both his Eurovision entry One Step Out Of Time and his debut album Michael Ball.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber said of him: "He's top man at what he does - and he has a rather nice taste in Savile Row suits!".

'I love Cathy to bits but she won't marry me'

A song Ball wrote with Brian Kennedy, Just When, about his partner Cathy McGowan, is on his latest album. But don't expect wedding bells even though he and the former pop show queen have been together for seven years.

"Cathy wouldn't have me even if I asked," he insists. "I love her to bits and we are very happy. She has been a rock for me and is very supportive of what I do. But at times we both need a breathing space and it works out very well."

One of his favourite groups is U2.

"For me they always make great albums and give their fans value for money. It is superb that U2 are Irish and have inspired so many people from Oasis and REM to Westlife," he says.

'Quitting smoking

was so hard'

Michael has come a long way since his days in South Africa where he grew up after his dad was sent there to work for Ford cars.

While there Ball started listening to Motown music - and learned at the same time about the evils of apartheid.

He says: "I can remember being in a park with my gran. There were special benches for Europeans and for whites and none whatsoever for non-whites.

"I just could never really get my head round it and for a while it freaked me out.

"We had a barbecue at my house once and invited both black and white people to it. None of the black people turned up."

The best thing to happen to Ball this year is that he's not had a cigarette for four months.

"I used to smoke 40 a day. I was always trying to stop but this year I have cracked it and feel so much better," he says.

"My voice sounds a lot better and I also notice that I feel refreshed and fit. I've never felt better.

"I had been trying to quit for years but I just did not have the staying power. But now I have the motivation. I just look at how healthy I am."

He admits: "Trying to quit smoking is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I know a lot of my pals who are trying to give up the weed like my friend Marty Whelan from Open House whom I have known for years.

"He is trying to quit smoking. I hope he succeeds. It will give him a new lease of life.

"But it's not easy when you are in the entertainment industry because you are surrounded by bars and clubs and the first thing you do after getting a drink in is to light up."

'What I enjoy

are the parties'

If you pop into Lillie's Bordello this week you can expect to see Ball propping up the bar - but without a ciggie.

"I always end up there and even though I have only played in Dublin a few times it feels like I've been playing there for ever. But what I enjoy most is the party afterwards," he says.

"You know how to have a right good knees-up. And any time I pop in there you are guaranteed to meet someone you know.

"The last time I was at Lillie's Mick Hucknall of Simply Red was in there along with Aslan and Westlife and Ronan Keating and his manager Louis Walsh. To say we had the odd drink would be putting it mildly - in fact we had quite a few.

"Let's face it, if you want to go out for a night on the tiles it has to be in Ireland."

Michael Ball plays one night only at The Point, Dublin, on November 4 at 8pm. Tickets are on sale from Pounds 20 from the usual outlets.

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