Exclusive: Susan Boyle couldn't cut it singing on stage, says West End veteran Michael Ball

~ by Rick Fulton, Daily Record - 03/09/09 ~

The 46EEE boobs, the high heels and the gaudy dresses have been Michael Ball's life for the past two years.

But just over a month ago, he hung up his larger than life character from Hairspray, Edna Turnblad, to be himself again.

Next week, Michael starts a nationwide tour celebrating his 25th anniversary in showbiz with dates later in the month in Scotland and he can't wait.

"It'll be nice to perform in trousers," the curly-haired 47-year old laughs.

"It'll certainly make a change from the past two years."

Still laughing, he adds: "The show is strictly suited. There's no high heels or dresses."

But will he not miss his drag queen role? "Well Edna hasn't made me a cross dresser, in public anyway.

But what I do on the coach between shows is my own business."

A low-budget film originally starring drag star Divine, Hairspray was made into a movie starring John Travolta in the role before Michael brought the stage musical version to London two years ago.

With a heavy heart, Michael felt he had to leave the character to get back to touring in case his fans forgot that part of his career.

And what a career. Since 1985 he's become theWest End's biggest showman, singing to the Queen and to presidents, releasing bigselling albums and songs such as Love Changes Everything from Aspects of Love. He even came second in the Eurovision Song Contest and has his own a Radio 2 Sunday morning show.

But there's been bad times too, particularly when he had a breakdown just as he hit the big time.

Surely Michael, more than anyone, knows whether Scotland's own hope Susan Boyle can cut it as a serious artist.

The Blackburn spinster who came second in Britain's Got Talent is currently recording her debut album. She wants to follow her heroine Elaine Paige into theWest End.

But after a very public meltdown following the programme and some no-shows on the Britain's Got Talent tour, many feel that psychologically Susan isn't able to cope with the pressure - and Michael agrees.

"Could she cut the stage life? I really don't think so," he says without malice.

"It takes professionalism and strict control of yourself and dedication to it.

"It's not an easy gig.You have to really want it I think. I watched that programme.

"It was wonderful to watch when she first came out. Good luck to her, whatever happens she's going to do well.

"But it's sustaining it. It's having the people around you who aren't just there to exploit you."

If anyone knows about pressure it's Michael.

In 1985, Scots impresario Cameron Mackintosh picked him to be Marius in the original London cast of Les Misérables but he caught glandular fever and took six weeks off sick with the associated tonsillitis and post-viral fatigue.

When he returned to work, he was still suffering from fatigue and on stage he started getting panic attacks.

For nine months, he lived alone in his flat not going out and not telling anyone until he left the show.

He admits: "I had a breakdown and lost touch with reality. It was a terrible time."

With a huge sigh and clearly finding it hard to even think about those times, Michael adds: "We all have hideous things that happen to us in our lives and it's how we deal with them and get through them and learn from them."

Back then Michael felt he'd never go back on stage.

He was prescribed a betablocker and began to handle the panic attacks, although he admits he still has to be careful and his partner ex-Ready Steady Go presenter Cathy McGowan keeps an eye on him.

Michael's stage return was singing during the Miss England contest.

"Tacky," he screams laughing.

"It was a moment. I realised it's never going to be worse than this."

He was nervous but realised no one else would have noticed and his rehabilitation began with Mackintosh picking him to play Raoul in the second casting of The Phantom Of The Opera.

Since then, he's never looked back and last year won a Laurence Olivier Award for his role in Hairspray.

While he's been in dozens of massive shows, Hairspray is his favourite - more than Les Misérables, playing Alex in Aspects of Love, which he also played on Broadway, and Count Fosco again in both the London and Broadway productions.

"For the past two years I've been doing the same show every night," he says with a certain degree of incredulity.

"But it's the only show I've ever been in that I was never bored. I didn't once go 'I can't be bothered to do this'."

But there have been other moments - like the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest when he came second with One Step Of Time or having his own Prom in 2007 and selling out the Sydney Opera House.

While some theatre types would gush about such a performance, the measure of Michael is apparent in how he laughs it off.

He says: "You have to have a sense of humour, to think this isn't real, this isn't serious, this isn't my job.

"These are the fun things. These things are the privilege stuff."

And that means things like covering a song by metal and make-up legends Kiss on his new album, Past & Present -The Very Best of Michael Ball.

He laughs: "Readers will instantly think that it will be awful but the song I've chosen is perfect."

But Edna's outfit hasn't been sent to the charity shop - Michael will glam up as her up again next year for a five-city tour of Hairspray which he will also be associate producing.

Michael Ball's tour comes to Glasgow Clyde Auditorium on September 29, tickets, then Edinburgh Usher Hall on September 30, tickets

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