by Alan Pritchard for the Daily Post (21/05/2004) ~
STAGE nerves, better after a bit of Dutch courage: star singer Michael Ball is very much like the rest of us, as Alun Prichard discovers
WHEN he's on stage thousands of pairs of eyes follow his every move as they drink in his performance but there are those in the crowd he'd rather weren't watching.
Welsh musical star Michael Ball says he dreads getting up on stage if he knows his family are going to be in the audience.
"I never allow my family to sit near the front in case I see them. It's an 'orrible feelin' seein' them it really is," he says in a voice untypically South Walian. "It just makes me feel that if I saw them they'd say, 'Mike we know it's you'," he laughs then adds, "'stop showin' off.'
"If you're running around on stage and playing up to the audience, you just need to catch someone's eye and it'll destroy the magic. You know they'd never do it, but your mind is kind of going for it - it's a tricky situation.
"It's like when you're a kid and you go over the top and they say, 'stop showin' off, or there'll be slapped legs!', then it's 'ooh sorry'," he says in the very sing song South Walian accent of a child, before switching to the part of his parents with a laugh, "let the others have a go, why does it always have to be you?'."
Speaking ahead of a first time appearance at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod Gala Concert in July, Michael says he is already anxious about the show.
"I'm really quite nervous. It's serious kudos doing it, and there's real pressure on. I really want to do my best and it makes me even more nervous that most of my family are coming up from South Wales - Mountain Ash will be empty."
His worries seem strange considering the huge events he has sung at during his career including the opening of two Rugby World Cups, performing for the Queen at the VE Day 50th Anniversary Concert and dozens of massive outdoor and arena events.
"I always get more nervous if I have to sing at something important to me, close to home or a friend's wedding or a family party or something.
"They say, 'oh Mike will you go up and give us a song', then that's the worst kind of fear. Especially if it's in a church and everyone's there in their hats smiling nicely, that's when I want the ground to open up and swallow me. I hate it and hate to be asked."
But he explains that if he's not asked beforehand and has been enjoying a drink or two he doesn't object at all.
"If it's spur of the moment, it's okay," he says."I've been to dos and there's a band and you know, how much you enjoy it is in direct relation to how much you've had to drink, and I go on then and I love doing a turn.
"When it's completely off the cuff and there's somebody at the piano then it's my favourite way of singing." He explains that he and his band will often just enjoy themselves with a few songs and a bit of music in a hotel bar after a concert as a way of relaxing.
"But as soon as it's organised, it becomes a job then loses its spontaneity. You can't have a drink, you can't relax and it takes all the fun out of it."
Michael's relaxed chattiness comes as a bit of a surprise due to his reticence at the publicity game.
"I've never been one for the celebrity scene. I've never done an OK or Hello magazine article. I wouldn't do that and I am wary about talking to the press.
"I think I've earned the right to keep my private life private."
He's obviously succesful in that aim. Considering Michael's fame, the two series of chat shows he hosted, the Royal Variety Shows and numerous awards including 1998 Variety Club Best Recording Artiste and Theatregoers Club of Great Britain's award for most popular Musical Actor over the last 21 years, we know so little about his personal life.
"If I'm doing something like the Eisteddfod and I'm excited and I want people to come, then I'll talk about that and my reasons for doing the gig. But I've always found it very disconcerting when you see people selling their weddings and christenings and private family occasions.
"They're selling themselves to the devil, and that's kind of not what I do. I love my work, I love what I do, and I accept there is a necessary amount you have to do to talk about your work.
"But I also think that there's a thing that if you reveal too much of yourself then people have less of an imagination and may find it difficult to identify you with the part you're playing or the song you're singing. It's the job of an actor to be kind of enigmatic."
Perhaps he's glad he didn't do too much publicity early on or we might still think of him as our Eurovision entrant in 1992. For many, including 2003's Jemini, it can end their career but for Michael it proved a springboard. His entry One Step Out of Time came second but got to number one in the UK and helped take his debut album to number one as well. But despite this Michael say he enjoys the contest for the same reasons as most of the UK.
"I do what everyone else does, sit there and slag off the music, slag off the dresses and slag off the political voting - it's hysterical, it's so political.
"Maybe it will turn and it won't be a joke in the future. If we were to win it again and the singer has a hit with the song then maybe it would get its credibility back."
Michael's comments come on the back of Bargoed's James Fox salvaging some national pride after Jemini's nul points last year.
"We have great performers, great writ-ers, ones that haven't been discovered yet, but they're out there. We should be able to find someone decent for that."
Michael then says that he must go as he is flying to Salt Lake City for a concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and will then be given the freedom of the city.
So with such success and being in such demand does he think Michael Ball is a big star?
"Nah, he's just that fella off the telly," he says with a laugh.
* Michael Ball headlines the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod Gala Concert on Sunday, July 11 at 7.30.