The Times - Cold Call

~ 01/12/2001, by Alan Jackson ~

Michael Ball, 37, follows the release of his new album Centre Stage with a short tour this month, starting at the Bournemouth BIC. He lives in southwest London with his partner, Sixties TV personality Cathy McGowan.

Alan Jackson: It sounds like you had a few surprises up your sleeve when you did your one-man-and-a-piano show at the Donmar Warehouse recently. Michael Ball sings Radiohead, for example.

Michael Ball: Their song Beautiful Dream, yes. And Bowie's Life on Mars. And I opened with Joni Mitchell's Blue. Two hours of material I'd never performed before. It was the most exciting thing I've done.

AJ: Speaking of the Donmar, imagine that Sam Mendes calls, wanting you for his next project. The role on offer incorporates nudity, bad language, acts that may shock and outrage your fanbase. Do you take it?

MB: In a New York minute! I'd love that. And, you know, I don't think my fanbase would be shocked and outraged. People tend to underestimate them. A lot have come to my work through a love of theatre, and they're up for a challenge.

AJ: No kit-off or swearing elements to your next theatre outing though. I hear you've signed up for the London Palladium's forthcoming staging of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

MB: That's right. For a year, starting in April, I'm going to be Caractacus Potts, the character portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in the original film. Only trouble is, I've got to dance as well as sing in it, and I've never danced before in my life.

AJ: Last time you thought, "I'm truly happy at this moment", and why?

MB: God. I dunno. I don't think I've ever been truly happy. When things are going too well, I worry that I'm being set up for a fall. And there's always some element of your life that isn't perfect, isn't there? I hope that doesn't make me sound like a miserable, ungrateful sod because I'm not.

AJ: Do you collect anything?

MB: I do. Comics and graphic novels, mainly the DC and Marvel ones. Batman, The Justice League of AmericaI I loved them as a kid, and it's stayed with me. That makes me a bit of a nerd, doesn't it? We passed this specialist shop in Richmond the other week called They Walk Among Us. I reverted to being a spotty 14-year-old in an anorak. Cathy just looked on in disbelief.

AJ: The most beautiful voice in popular music belongs to?

MB: There are so many. Ella. Aretha. Celine, when she's not screaming. My friend, the Irish singer Brian Kennedy. But out of everyone I think I would have to say Joni. Not the absolute best voice technically, but oh, the life experience it brings to a song.

AJ: Your ideal Saturday?

MB: Get up late. Cath's lot come round - I'm a common-law grandad, because her daughter Emma's got a little boy. Everyone in the kitchen eating brunch. If the weather's good, a walk on a beach. Maybe a couple of pints and a curry. And home to sneer at the rubbish on television.

AJ: We think of you as perennially nice. Do you wish we didn't?

MB: I think I'm approachable. And while I'll tend towards melancholy in my off-stage life, it's not in my nature to be miserable on stage. I'll always switch it on. Does that make me nice? Well, guilty as charged.

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