Michael Ball enjoying new fame on daytime TV

~ Wales Online - 28/08/2010 ~

HE'S enjoyed a celebrated stage career, a hit show on Radio 2 and now it looks as though Michael Ball is set to become the saviour of daytime television.

The 48-year-old Hairspray star is enjoying runaway success in the mid-afternoon chat show spot in ITV1 recently vacated by gardening housewives' favourite Alan Titchmarsh.

So much so that, despite the unpromising start time of 3pm, Ball – whose family comes from Mountain Ash in the Cynon Valley – has already trounced the hardy showbiz perennial's highest ratings by almost a third, notching up nearly 1.5 million viewers per episode now after barely three weeks on the air.

And industry insiders are saying that given The Michael Ball Show's overwhelming similarity in its format of inoffensive celebrity chat, musical guests and cookery slots then it must be the appeal of its presenter that's led to the huge hike in audience numbers.

Elaine Penn from TV Choice magazine said the reason for its popularity could be put entirely at the feet of the seasoned, board-treading West End star.

“Michael's an all-rounder and has a very wide appeal, from younger children who've seen him in things like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and teenagers who loved him dragged up as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, to the mums and grandmas who know him from Les Miserables and all the old Lloyd Webber staples like Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love,” she said.

“Three in the afternoon is a very difficult slot in which to come up trumps, but it's exactly the right time of day to find your core audience of kids just home from school, parents and OAPs all at home together. He's also really well respected in the industry and can attract a large number of big names to come on.

“Michael's really keen to hear real people's stories too, and he's admitted how much he loves meeting people, and that personableness and charm really comes across to everyone watching.

“He's been in the business some 25 years and knows what the punters want and how to deliver it. Michael may admit to having watched Titchmarsh and having emulated his style to a certain extent, but he's really got this unique knack of making you feel like he's your new best friend.”

However, Ball, born near Birmingham, modestly played down the success.

“I was excited and a little bit frightened when the show started,” he said

“I went into it with my eyes open but, because I've not done anything quite like this before, I just didn't know how it was going to turn out.

“It could have been an absolute car crash. As a result I've not stopped pinching myself since.”

Television presenting hasn't always come so easy to him though, the singing star recalling the occasion when he hid in a toilet from the late Godfather of Soul James Brown who'd been booked to guest on his other eponymously-titled television show in 1993.

“That man was as scary as hell,” laughed Ball, Brown having turned up with a fleet of six limousines with a huge entourage of heavies and with little truck for small talk.

“I was so anxious about meeting him I refused to come out of the loo, but I finally I managed to go out and introduce myself,” he added, any nervousness excused by the fact the troubled music legend hadn't long emerged from a three-year jail sentence after publicly waving a shotgun around in Atlanta, Georgia, while high on drugs and demanding to know who'd used his private restroom.

“So I walked over to him, sheepishly held out my hand and said, ‘Mr Brown, my name is Michael Ball and I'll be singing with you later'.

“He just looked at me and replied (Ball adopting Brown's unmistakable scalded cat yelp) ‘Never mind that. Gimme the key of D!', before launching into a version of I Feel Good.”

“It went on for ages and he started to ad-lib, coming out with all these different rock stars' names at the end of each riff – Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley , Marvin Gaye and so on.

“I tried keeping up with him, honestly I did.

“But I had to throw the towel in when all I could think to come up with was Karen Carpenter!”

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