Dream Duet of Michael

~ for Herald Express (13/11/ 2004) ~

Michael Ball's dream duet partner is powerhouse songstress Aretha Franklin backed by accomplished pianist Burt Bacharach, the vocal maestro has revealed in an exclusive interview with the Herald Express.

Brought up on the edge of Dartmoor in the tiny village of Crapstone for the first 16 years of his life, the 42-year-old described his childhood as idyllic.

"I really love the West Country, it's gorgeous with a great way of life, friendly people and fantastic audiences," he said.

"We try and get down to visit friends in Exeter when we can, and last year we took some friends to the Two Bridges Hotel and showed them places on Dartmoor like Yelverton Rock and Burra Tor."

Michael's road to success started at drama school after leaving Plymouth College - where he said he was "failing A Levels abysmally".

Britain's leading musical theatre star discovered he "had a voice" while appearing in Godspell at Aberystwith, his first professional stage role on leaving the Guildford School of Acting in 1984.

A few months later he was talent spotted in The Pirates of Penzance at Manchester's Opera House by Royal Shakespeare Company director Trevor Nunn and world famous musical producer Cameron MacIntosh. Bowled over by what they saw, the pair instantly cast the young singer in Les Miserables in London's West End and the rest, as they say, is history.

Michael's prolific career spans 20 years and has seen him conquer the musical stage, hit the jackpot as a solo recording artist and undertake seven hugely successful UK tours, host his own TV and radio shows and star in a made-for-TV movie as well as win a clutch of coveted showbiz awards, including the Theatregoer's Club of Great Britain award for most popular musical stage actor.

He explained: "I have always tried not to be pigeon-holed and take the time to do projects that really interest me.

"When I came back from Broadway there were mountains of offers from musical theatre. I had a hit with Love Changes Everything and a chance to do an album and some concerts came up so I decided to go for it to see if it would work for me, and I was really lucky because it did.

"It was a conscious choice to turn my back on musicals for a while, although I do choose musical songs that can stand alone in concert. I have tried to be really choosey about when I go back to theatre, when I go on tour and when I do recordings.

Even though he has spent half his life singing and acting in front of thousands of fans, the dynamic performer sometimes still gets twitchy before a show.

"People think that the bigger the audience the more nervous the performer would be but the most nerve wracking thing I have ever done is when I performed in front of just 250 people at the Donmare Warehouse in London. A smaller audience makes you more exposed and vulnerable, but when it goes right it's the best feeling in the world. It's the biggest adrenaline rush, it's so satisfying in every way and that's why I continue to do it because I like the buzz."

Devon's homespun celebrity last experienced that buzz when he performed live in front of a full house at London's Carling Apollo Hammersmith earlier this year. The show was recorded for a new video and DVD, Michael Ball Live in London, released on November 8.

"For the video and DVD I wanted to record one show only. Sometimes after a show your never entirely sure how it went, but for this one everything just worked.

"The audience were so into the performance, the guy filming it had just one chance to catch it and really understood what it was about, the band played at the top of their game and I was on good form. When I went into the editing suite afterwards I felt like I was a member of the audience, I really enjoyed myself and it gave me such a great sense of what it's like to be at a live show.

"I was chuffed with it, I think it's one of the best crafted and best constructed tours I have done."

Michael has sung with a host of major stars on his TV shows, including Shirley Bassey, Ronan Keating and Martine McCutcheon, but he would love to take to the stage alongside soul diva Aretha Franklin.

"I used to want to do a duet with Barbara Streisand because she puts the emotional actor's integrity into the song as well as have an incredible instrument in her voice, but I would also love to sing with Aretha Franklin.

"My favourite current band is the Scissor Sisters but I think today's pop music is like it's always been, there's some really good stuff and some absolute rubbish. Record companies make it far more difficult for new artists to sustain a career nowadays. As soon as an artist has a flop song the record companies drop them, there's no support there. A lot of the time it's all about celebrity and marketing as opposed to the quality of the music and the artist. It's really, really tough.

"My advice to anyone starting out on this road is to develop a thick skin and never, ever give up."

In his precious spare time Michael said he loves watching TV, especially Come Dancing. "We have a little house, a bolt hole by the sea and I love being there with friends and family," he said.

"I like walking, cooking and just chilling out and I love watching TV. I'm hooked on the X Factor and I really like Strictly Come Dancing and Coronation Street."

Michael said he couldn't imagine doing anything else, but that if he wasn't in showbiz he would like to have done something in the medical profession.

"It sounds silly but I would have liked to be involved in making people well and doing something where you come into contact with people. I hope I can keep doing what I do, that the parts will come along, people will still want to see me performing and there will be new challenges."

On Christmas Eve, tune into Radio 2 to hear a recording of his concert at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Next year, Michael plans to go into the studio to make a new album and announced a new tour in June.

"I really love acting and singing, someone only has to open a fridge door and shine the light and I would do 20 minutes," he joked.

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