28th March 2002 ~
Michael was interviewed by Michael Parkinson due to the Opening of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The show was recorded on 28th March 2002 and should be aired on 30th March. Due to Queen Mum's and Dudley Moore's death the airing was delayed until 14h April 2002!
P: My first guest tonight is THE superstar of the West End. After an absence of five years, he is making his return in the spectacular stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium. Here is singing "The boy from Nowhere" from his latest album, Ladies and Gentlemen: Michael Ball!
Michael comes on stage and sings "The Boy from Nowhere". Afterwards goes over to Michael Parkinson
P: Not bad for someone who's never had a singing lesson in his life!
M: I thank you. Yeah, true.
P: But eleven albums - and that's of your 11th album?
P: All gold?
M: Yeah, the one before that went Platinum, which is nice.
P: Never had a lesson and....?
M: Never had a lesson, still haven't. I think the way I sing, the way I like to sing, the songs I like to sing are about emotion and about performing and about the heart. So, if you worry too much, I think, about the sound, hitting the note, you kind of loose the intensity of what you're trying to sing. And the best singers - I am sure you agree - the Ella Fitzgeralds, the Billy Holidays. the people who live what they're singing about.
P: Absolute right. Now let's - thank you for taking time off from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
M: Yeah, I'm in trouble. (laughing)
P: Well, you're working. It's an extroardinary day now, cause you're rehearsing during the day and performing at night.
M: Yeah, we are in previews and they going amazingly well. But with a show of this size - it's the biggest musical that's ever been put on.
P: Nine million quid, did I see...
M: No I think it cost about six and a half to put it on, but we taken 8 at the box office.
P: Have you?
P: Oh that is fantastic!
M: Which is fantastic. This whole preview section - which is unfair in a way, because previews are our way of trying to get it right before the official opening.
M: And all the previews have sold out apart from one, which is a special one for UNICEF and SOS which is on the ninth.
P: It's a bit of Roger Moore....
M: Roger Moore is doing that!
P: How is Roger?
M: Roger is well, yeah. I've worked with Roger years back in Aspects of Love Cause he was going to be uncle George in it.
P: That's right.
M: And - did the whole of the rehearsal period and then just before we got to opening he thought: No, not for me. But with Roger a funny story. We were working on Aspects with Gillian Lynne - who is doing Chitty, great choreographer - and Roger and I said. Right we'll be really dedicated, we'll turn up every morning for this warm up rehearsals for all the proper dancers, which they were. And Roger turned up in his tracks he'd obviously not worn before. (Imitating Mr. Moore now) They're marvelous. Let's got down stand at the front. Gillian is making stretch, going down (imitating the exercises). Finally he is on the floor and he looks across at me: (again imitating him) Is this woman mad? I'm James bloody Bond! (laugher all around) And was gone, we never did that again.
P: Cause you got the dancing to do in this for the first time.
M: Yeah, first time ever. I was really bad... When I went to drama school, I did not study singing, I did not do Musical theatre, I did the Acting Course. And again in the mornings, early mornings they do their dance classes. so I invented a heart condition to get - it was really early. And I'm regretting it now. I love the dancing.
P: Discovered any secrets about dancing? About dancers?
M: Uhm, yes (laughing) . There's a thing called a dance-belt, which they.... I was doing this training just wearing boxers and the ...... my .... sweat pants over it and I was getting a bit soar (smiling cheekily) 'cause everything's jiggling around (imitating dance on the chair, audience laughing) . And I thought about this and you see all these dancers and you know you see them when they're wearing their tights and they got all the.... (LOL, sorry, but I completely failed to explain what Michael tried to show with his hand on hip level without sounding... you know like what ;)) kind of action happening. This isn't right, surely? And I thought about it.... Hullo? What is this? So they said: Oh you gotta get a dance-belt. And I said: All right! so I went to this shop. "Got Gamber" I think it's called, some dance-shop. and it's like going into buying a dirty mag. (Bowing down, feeling strange. Audience laughing. then he speaks quietly through his teeth looking up) You got any dance-belts? (audience laughing). And they got these things up and it's like flossing your bum. And it's all (showing at his trousers) padded and fabulous here (showing the front) , but then this thing goes right up the ... back. (audience and Michael laughing) And I tried these things on. I wore it once. Couldn't be doing with it... now a pair of Speedos is what I .... (everyone laughing).
P: They are fashion jock-strap is not it?
M: Yeah, yeah they'll be, but they only have the jock-strap, where you put a box in as well so it's tented (laughing naughtily)
P: There are lots of kids in the show and animals.
M. Yes there's 30 kids, there's 15 dogs. That's kinda part of the joy... You know I've never been so popular in my life. When I came in and we were rehearsing and Jools Holland came up to me, Dave Gillmore came up to me, Michelle Paris, all saying: Listen, we're bringing our kids to see the show and that's the joy about it, because there are kids in it. Kids wanting to come and see it . All of us lot who are 30 something. older grew up listening to it and kids now because of video and so on know it really well. So it' s a, it truly is a fantastic, fantastic..
P: And a flying car, too. All this and a flying car.
M: And it does work.
P: What about first night nerves? Because I mean you suffered badly from them. I I remember there was one point of your career it looked like you couldn´t continue because of nerves.
M: Yeah, I got erm..I never used to suffer form nerves at all. I was very cavalier about the whole thing until I got into Les Miserables and I got glandular fever, this virus and that laid me low and for the first time I was unable to perform properly. And then that developed into ME, which at the time was called yuppie flu and nobody knew what it was and they thought it was malingering basically
P: They were off in turmoil, wasn't it?
M: Yeah and I got to the state where I started - because I was so tired and feeling so ill - that I took time off the show to get over, you know, a mild dose of glendular fever went back into the show and started having a panic attack, anxiety attacks on stage I.you probably never experienced these, but for those people who have - and you know it ´s quite common, - you suddenly for no reason can 't breath, you get a cold sweat come over you and you truly think you´re going to die. And you can rationalise yourself, you know, this is not real, everything` s fine, but at that moment, when you got a couple of thousand people out there watching, people on the stage looking at you, you lose control. And that was, what was happening to me, but not just once a night, you know before the show, it was happening throughout the whole show. It then started so that I was getting them as I was on the way to the theatre. And I'd be in the tube and I go: 'I can't go on.' and I get off the tube and go home and phone in sick. Finally thought I can't leave my flat. I was just.I kind of.I found a weakness in myself and just played on my mind and just got worse and worse.
P: And how did you, did you do these shrink?
M: No, no. I , I initially just said, I left Les Miserables and said that´s it, I can never perform and just went and sat in my flat, like a complete agrophobic. And eventually a call came. This is bizarre! A call came to do a TV show - A live TV show - to sing on there. And just as sort of a fill in cabaret thing, and I thought I´m gonna do this, because I have convinced myself that I was gonna have a heart-attack and die on screen or on stage. But if I don't, then I know I'm never gonna get any worse than this! I can only get better. I went on, I did the show, absolutely terrified. Pins and needles down my arms from the tension. Got through the show didn't die, did an alright job.I thought I´ll be ok. And it coincided with Cameron Macintosh - who I thank to this day for this - was recasting Phantom of the Opera. Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton were leaving. And phoned up and said_ would I be interested in doing Raoul. Knew about the problems I´ ve had in Les Mis. And said 'I think this'll be good for you, because it's the biggest show, it's a real hit, but the pressure isn't on you. Come and see if you can.' And I sort of did....
P: What's the situation now?
M: Yeah, I get very nervous before a show. If I could click my fingers before going on the stage and not have to come on, I would! I really, really would. But then you get on there...and the secret really is concentration, you get on and you see a crowd. Funny enough, it doesn´ t happen when I do concerts. Concerts are absolutely fine. It's when I'm acting, when I'm performing on the stage with other actors and so on.
P: Now what about, let' go back to the opening night which is coming up shortly. You're a very superstitious chap, are you?
P: I mean given your terrain, no wonder you are superstitious! What kind of superstitions do you observe? Do they change with whatever show you're in?
M: Yeah, with whatever show... I haven't set my routine yet. It happens on the opening night. The opening night, whatever happens that night. Who I say hello to, whose hands I shake, when I go to the loo, what shoe I put, it's pathetic, I know. But there are some superstitions that are sacred. You cannot whistle backstage.
P: Is there a reason?
M: (to follow the two superstition stories following, best take a look at the photo collection below!) Yeah, there is. The reason was in the olden days, the flies up in the theatre, the people on the pullies, were all done by merchant seaman and their cues were whistling, so if you whistle backstage someone would bring in a piece of scenery and if it was the wrong place they kill someone. So that's the thing behind it. Try stopping people whistling in a musical. You know, they are whistling away backstage. And you have to kick people out of the theatre, turn around three times, spit, swear, knock, say your name and ask to be let back in. It ´s like a queue outside of the Palladium.
P: It´ s very strange.
M: Is it?
P: What about magpies?
(The Whistling and Magpie routines ;-))
M: Oh yeah one, you see them, one magpie you have to salute. Kept just say Good morning Mr Magpie. Kept then to spit over each. Still, when you´ re driving. It´ s like.
P: You ´re the Messiah!
M: I am actually. Do you think I need therapy?
P: I think so, I think so.
M: I` ve never one for that kind of sort.
P: No, no. But they are important aren't they, these kind of things, because they get you into routine.
M: They do, the little safety nets, they are fun.
P: They are little triggers too, to get adrenaline flow you need to perform.
P: Now, just finally. A couple of final questions: You done what four Royal Variety Shows?
M: Yes, the last one I did it was for the Queen and Prince Phillip's Golden Wedding Anniversary. And producers phone me up and say, we got a lovely idea. Because, when the Queen and Prince Phillip were courting their show was Oklahoma and their song was 'People will say we´ re in love'. And we got Barbara Cook, who is the original star - Fantastic performer! She was recently in the West End - to come along and sing. Would you come and do the other part of the duet with her, would you play Curley? And I said I'd be thrilled. Lovely, lovely thing. So we came along and we rehearsed it and it was great and we performed it, went really well. And you know and you do the line up at the end. I really love those sort of things, they're nice. And all go: ' Oh that ´s marvellous' and you're looking at all the flashing jewellery going: 'Oh that´ s my mortgage!' You know. The Queen came up and was (muttering compliments in the Queen ´s voice)... Sorry? You know, off she goes. And Prince Phillipp came up, he was (in his voice) : 'What exactly was that you sang?' I said 'Well, from uhm Oklahoma People will say we´re in love.' 'Don `t do it!' 'Excuse me, it´ s your song, yours and the Queen ´s song.' 'Never heard of all my bloody life!' It`s satirical.
P: So big day is when?
M: Big day is 16th of April. And the reactions at the moment from audiences have been extraordinary. I think we pulled of something that . There are the people doubting it! Can we make a car fly? Can you bring something like that, that is so much part of people's psyche to life on the stage? But what it's got is huge heart. It's got the love of the audience. The audience came in already loving it, they've never seen it, but they love the songs, they love the story. And from that moment . and the people on the stage, all of us who been entrusted to bring this onto the stage love it as well. And it's . it's a big old lov-in, Mike. It really is, it's gorgeous.
P: And there ´s nothing better ,is there, when it works in a spectecular theatre..
M: No, it´s true, absolutely true.
P: Michael Ball, thank you very much.
Transcribed by Julia Sedat and Kerstin Wohlgemuth!