Singer Michael is having a Ball

~ The Portsmouth News by Jodie Jeynes 10/09/09 ~

'I never thought an overweight Baltimore mother-of-one would be my soulmate,' reveals musical icon Michael Ball.

But the 47-year-old is not divulging an illicit cross-Atlantic relationship, but rather an adoration for one of his most famed roles on the stage.

'I love you Edna Turnblad!' declares the smiling singer, who recently announced that he would be reprising his role as larger than life heroine Edna in the smash hit musical Hairspray when it takes to the road for its first nationwide tour next year.

But you can see Michael on stage much sooner than that if you bagged tickets to his sold-out concert at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday.

Named after his current CD, Past & Present – The Very Best of Michael Ball (which went to number 11 in the charts in March), the tour kicks off tomorrow.

It's two years since his last tour and Michael can't wait to get back on the circuit.

'I love the camaraderie on the road. It's great seeing different venues and revisiting venues that have become like old friends. You learn the pitfalls of different places – what needs to be done, what needs to be adapted. And I love the team playing of putting a show on with the crew, the musicians, everyone.

'It's good to see fans all over the country too and some travel to a lot of the shows. It's just really good fun travelling around this beautiful country,' enthuses Michael – Britain's leading musical theatre star.

As well as working in musical theatre, Michael's a multi-platinum recording artist and a presenter for radio and television.

He's had 15 albums, 11 tours and appeared in shows including Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Aspects of Love and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In 1989 his single Love Changes Everything (from Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love) went to number one in the UK singles chart.

In 1992 he represented Great Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest and came second.

In 2007 he was given his own BBC Prom and was a judge on ITV's celebrity talent contest Soapstar Superstar.

In 2008 he launched his own radio show, Michael Ball's Sunday Brunch, on Radio 2. Also last year, he won an Olivier Award for his role in Hairspray.

'This year has, without question, been the busiest and most varied of my entire career,' he explains.

'I find myself, after 25 years, never happier, more fulfilled and more stretched, continues Michael, who is half English and half Welsh.
But what does he consider his nationality to be?

'I'm Wenglish,' he laughs.

'Seriously, I'm very proud to be British and I don't think I am going to differentiate between England and Wales unless it comes to rugby or war. Then I'm a Welshman,' continues the star who is based in London and has a home near Chichester too.

'I love living in London but it's really important for me to get away to my bolt-hole and relax,' says Michael of his seaside home in Itchenor.

'I've had a place on the South Coast for about 20 years. I absolutely love the whole area; the air's great, there are loads of lovely walks which is perfect for taking the dogs out, it's very peaceful and I can sit and read quietly or cook up a lovely Sunday roast for the family,' he continues excitedly.

Michael is involved with the local community and works hard raising funds as a patron of St Richard's Hospital in Chichester.
'Last year we managed to raise an incredible £3million, which was vital funding for the new building,' he explains.

'In fact, I climbed onto a digger to make the first foundation cut. It's a long way up into a digger's cab you know – very frightening.'
Michael is looking forward to returning to the area to perform at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday.

'Every gig is special, but I do think Portsmouth is a fab town. I love the way the harbour area has expanded. It looks brilliant and has obviously encouraged more people to visit,' he says.

Of his anniversary tour, Michael says: 'I think that if you can still be doing this after 25 years, it's worth celebrating and I can't think of any better way of celebrating than going on tour and having a party with all my fans up and down the country.'

But what can the audience expect on Wednesday?
'Well, I can guarantee a great night. I've got some fab people on tour with me. There's Ben James-Ellis, who played Link in Hairspray, Adrian Hansel who played Seaweed, Emma Williams, who was my Truly Scrumptious in Chitty and Louise Marshall who's toured with me before.

'Louise is a brilliant R'n'B singer and she'll be doing the musical arrangements and keeping the kids under control – she's adult-in-charge.

'I'm also delighted to welcome aboard Louise Dearman, a fabulous West End musical performer and singer.'
When his tour ends in October, Michael can look forward to being back on the road again in a matter of months, when Hairspray begins its first nationwide tour.

The musical, set in 1962, tells the story of Tracey Turnblad – a big girl with big hair and a big heart who wins a slot on a local TV dance show.

Michael plays Edna, Tracey's equally supersized mum who suffers with agoraphobia.

'I knew when I originally took the part of Edna that she was going to be a big part of my life in every way, but I never realised how big,' Michael admits.

He says he's delighted to have been given the chance to play the drag role again, adding: 'Thank goodness I haven't said goodbye to Edna just yet – I would have been heartbroken!

'There are so many things I love about Edna – she's a wonderful, loving mother, she's warm hearted, she believes in justice and equality and she'll do anything to protect her family.

'I learned a lot from Edna and I also learned about what women have to put up with, such as make-up, tights and high heels. It's so complicated!'

Despite the toils of womanhood, Michael jumped at the chance to don the dresses again.

'When the opportunity came up to take part in some of the dates on the Hairspray tour, and to get involved as Associate Producer, I was able to work out my schedule of commitments so that I'll be able to do 16 weeks,' he beams.

'I finish in Edinburgh at Christmas in 2010! It's strange because, in this business, you don't always know what you'll be doing so far ahead and here I am talking about what I'll be doing at the end of next year – by then we'll be announcing plans for 2011, a new production of a show I've always dreamed of doing…but you'll have to watch this space for details.

'And of course next year I'll be recording a new album as well.'
After 25 years, Michael's clearly still going strong, but did he ever imagine he'd be where he is now two decades ago?

'I've always loved music and theatre and when I was about 12 I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar and had one of those defining moments. I thought, wow, this is amazing, I've just found exactly what I want to do,' Michael remembers.

'There was never any question of doing anything else. When I made my West End debut as Marius in Les Miserables, I was so thrilled to be stepping onto the Cambridge Theatre stage that I couldn't even think about next week, never mind the next quarter of a century.'

Though Michael has achieved everything that he set out to, he still has aims and ambitions.

He reveals: 'I definitely want to continue singing, performing and acting. And I want to do more charity work for kids. I've just become involved with the Shooting Star Children's Hospice and will be doing a concert for them on December 12th.

'I'd actually like to visit some other countries too, like China and South America – if I ever get a day off…'

Michael is performing a sold-out show at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday and comes to The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from May 11 to 29 in Hairspray's first ever UK & Ireland tour. Tickets cost £17.50 to £42.50 and are available from

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