Exotic beaches are all very well, but for singer Michael Ball, West Wittering, wins by a mile
Harriet Perry for The Times - 23/12/2007 ~
Michael Ball, 45, is best known for his hit single Love Changes Everything. He has appeared in productions in the West End and on Broadway, including Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love and The Woman in White. He is currently starring in the hit musical Hairspray in London. His latest DVD, One Voice, One Special Night - Live, is out now. He lives in London with his girlfriend, Cathy McGowan
I WENT to St Barts in the Caribbean on the most expensive holiday in the history of mankind a couple of years ago. St Barts is a playground for the rich and idle, and I didn't fit in because I'm neither rich nor idle. It is a beautiful place, but even the local shops sell Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, which isn't my cup of tea. It was the kind of holiday where you can get away from it all, but only if you've got your own yacht. Cathy and I couldn't find a meal for less than £70 a head. We'd be eating in posh restaurants, night after night, and they'd bring out the amuse-bouche as a pre-pre-starter. We felt like saying, Oh, don't bother about the rest of the meal, we'll just have that.
Our hotel was very swanky, and Hugh Jackman was in the bungalow next to ours. I wouldn't go back there I like my holidays to be less Gucci. I can get all the glitzy shops and restaurants I need in London. When I'm on holiday, I like things to be simple and unostentatious.
The place where I feel most relaxed is at our house in West Wittering, West Sussex. All the best decisions I've made have been made there. I can drive down in a couple of hours from London, which I sometimes do on a Saturday night after a performance. The house, which is a converted old people's home, is only 100 yards from one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain it's sandy, despite all the surrounding beaches being stony, and there are dunes and incredible wildlife all around us. I'm very lucky to have it as my sanctuary.
I've never had a bad holiday in West Wittering, but I had a terrible one in Barbados six years ago. If someone had dropped a bomb on the place, the British light-entertainment industry would have been wiped out. There was a well-known comedian shouting because he couldn't get a wetbike; there were agents handing out cards over breakfast; there were people at Sandy Lane and the Lone Star dressed up for dinner in Chanel outfits and wigs in the sweltering heat. It was the sort of holiday where I had to swim out to a pontoon to avoid everyone, and I'd end up lying there all day and getting sunburnt.
There will be no dressing up and hopefully no avoiding people when I go away to the Bahamas this winter. I've booked what is my idea of the perfect holiday. I'm taking two weeks off from Hairspray and we're going to stay on the island of Eleuthera in a private villa with friends and family. I can't wait to get on that sun lounger with a good book and give my back a rest from the high heels and fake boobs. We'll have our own beachfront and be quite isolated. You can drive to some restaurants nearby, and there's a bar owned by Lenny Kravitz, which is where we'll probably end up for New Year.
When I was younger, holidays weren't quite so luxurious. In 1983, when I was at drama school, a friend and I decided to drive to Greece. It was going to take two weeks through France and Italy, and then we'd get a ferry from Brindisi to the Greek islands, where we'd meet more friends. We were in an MG Midget held together with Sellotape. We didn't get far, though, because on the first night we had a crash that wrote off the car. It was 3am and we'd pulled over to the side of the road to look at the map. A car came hurtling down the motorway and smashed straight into the back of us. Luckily, we weren't hurt and, in fact, the accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I quickly realised that I would've gone mad if I'd had to spend two weeks with that friend. We didn't know each other well it was just that he had the car. We hired another car to get back to the UK, and I caught a flight down to Greece instead.
I met 10 friends in the Greek islands and we had a brilliant time because, apart from the fact that I'd survived a car crash, it cost nothing, and if you ran out of money, you could always sleep on the beach. We'd split into smaller groups and arrange to meet in two weeks on Paxos. It was such an adventure; to us, each new island was like another country.'