Michael Ball leading Musical Star comes to Chichester
~ Chichester Observer - 01/10/09 ~
In all the years Michael Ball has been closely associated with the Chichester area, surprisingly he has never once performed at Chichester Festival Theatre. It's an omission Britain's leading musical star has every intention of correcting within the next couple of years.
Plans are afoot – though it is far too early to say just what.
"If I tell you, I will have to kill you," he laughs. And he laughs a lot.
Michael, who's just about to go on a tour marking 25 years in music and theatre, is the perfect interviewee – chatty, genuinely charming and effortlessly interesting.
And with plenty to say about his beloved Chichester.
"On and off I have been coming down to Chichester or to the south coast for most of my life. We lived in Farnham when I was growing up. I went to Guildford sixth form and Guildford drama school.
"And then when I first got together with my partner, Cathy, we thought we would get a little bolthole. First of all we lived in Bosham, and then Itchnenor and now West Wittering. My mum lives down there, too.
She lives in Singleton."
The attraction, as Michael says, is that it is 'proper England'.
"I love it. It's not far from London. I suppose it just feels like home to me.
"All my best ideas or any problems I ever have are all worked out on Wittering beach."
It's a real sense of getting away: "And when people do recognise me, they are very, very nice. I think people have just got used to me being there.
"In Chichester they are used to people from television or the theatre walking around."
And it's that relaxed attitude to life that Michael has taken with him on to his Sunday morning Radio 2 show – a key reason for its success.
"Radio is the easiest of everything. It is just me chatting away."
Michael had stood in on radio a few times – and he realised there was only
one job on radio he wanted, Michael Parkinson's Sunday morning slot: "And then Parky went and retired."
Which suited Michael B perfectly. And no, he wouldn't rather be having his own family time on a Sunday morning. The point is that his is a different kind of life.
"Working at night, I have the days free. When everybody has a bank holiday or whatever, it's when I am working hardest – Christmas, New Year and so on."
And so he takes it in his stride: "I never sit and plan. When we have a guest, I don't have a list of questions written out. You just have a conversation.
"You learn that from being on the other end, from being interviewed so much.
The best interviews are the ones where the interviewer isn't working from a list of questions, doesn't have an agenda.
"And on radio it is much easier anyway. On TV people are always worrying about performing and looking right and making the studio audience laugh. On the radio, you just have two people having a chat.
"And I think that people relax with me.
I am not a journalist. I am not Jonathan Ross. I am just interested in people."
It's all yet another string to Michael's bow. This autumn he'll be returning to concert performance on tour for the first time in two-and-a-half years. He was in Hairspray for two years and it was six months before that when he last toured.
"It seems like ages!"
But it's the best way to mark his 25 years in the business – though it is not a retrospective, Michael is quick to add: "I will do a lot of the songs people will be expecting, but people who come to my shows regularly are used to being surprised. I always put in a few things people won't be expecting me to do."
As for Hairspray in which he played Edna, it was pure pleasure to do.
"It's actually quite subversive. You think you are having frothy fun, but there is a really serious, important message being sent out. There is a positive message and there are positive role models.
"There are characters in there for everybody to identify with. People want to succeed and they do.
"It's great music and a funny script. When I saw it on Broadway, it was just one of the greatest nights in the theatre. Everybody just came out feeling better than they did when they went in.
"And that's what it is all about. Whatever I do, I want people to come out feeling better."
Where to see him
Named after his current Universal Music CD, Past and Present – The Very Best of Michael Ball, Michael's tour brings him to the Brighton Centre on October 6 www.brightoncentre.co.uk