Michael Ball and Alfie Boe tell how they both battled depression and turned to booze to cope as solo star
~ Mirror ~ 25/10/2017 ~
Michael Ball and Alfie Boe are deliberating on who could join their boyband. “Manband,” Michael corrects me, then suggests calling themselves No Direction before collapsing into Alfie’s shoulder in a helpless fit of the giggles.
They later get serious to talk about the depression they have each faced, but for now, the Ball & Boe banter goes on.
Michael, 55, wants Josh Groban in the manband: “We like Josh. Gary? No, Barlow’s busy.” Sidekick Alfie, 44, pitches in with: “Ronan? Rick Astley?”
Michael, the West End star and Radio 2 DJ, and Alfie, the UK’s top-selling tenor, have become a delightful double act, on and off stage, since teaming up last year.
Their first album, Together, was the Christmas No1, and went double-platinum , knocking The Rolling Stones and Little Mix out the park.
“Mick Jagger was at my doorstep ready to smash my face in,” deadpans Alfie. “And Little Mix were going to beat the c*** out of Michael.”
“Individually, too,” chimes Michael.
Now they are back, with a second ITV special and a new album, Together Again, featuring covers of classics such as New York, New York and White Christmas. They laugh about being past it and wanting to “conk out in front of Antiques Roadshow”, but they have a second tour to look forward to before then.
The pair become serious as they talk about what, beyond the sales figures, this partnership has come to mean to them. Both suffered loneliness and depression on the road as solo stars and both .
Becoming a duo, sharing the highs and the lows, has been a massive help.
Alfie admits that a few years back his depression got so dark as he toured alone, leaving wife Sarah and children Grace, nine, and Alfred, five, home in America, he found himself lashing out.
He also had depression early in his career, and has since suffered panic attacks. He says: “This business is hard, the euphoria, the rejection, we experience. I drank a bottle of wine a night up to very recently, it’s what one does, it’s a form of self-medication.”
Alfie says: “You have thousands of people in front of you. You perform to them all. You finish, you get on to a bus. In your hotel room, you’re on your own, and then you think, ‘Now what?’
“It can be a lonely existence sometimes.” But as a double act they have not had to face that loneliness. Alfie says: “There has been nothing depressing about it, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Michael, who came second for the UK in Eurovision 1992 with One Step Out of Time, says: “We finish the gig together and you see those people standing and cheering, and you have the statistics of the album coming in, and you have someone who absolutely gets it, and gets the pitfalls and the pressures.
To look someone in the eye and say, ‘We’ve got this’. Nothing can touch it.” The friends, who have known each other since they appeared in West End musical Kismet together 11 years ago, are clearly good for each other.
Working with heartthrob Alfie helped persuade Michael to get in shape and he has lost 2st in around eight weeks. His partner of 25 years, Cathy McGowan, 73, a TV presenter in the 1960s, bought him a session with a nutritionist to get him on the right track.
Nodding to Alfie, Michael says: “I was sitting next to Captain America. I was feeling rubbish. We did this tour in the summer and they had these huge screens and I caught sight of myself and I was bright red and sweating and I thought, ‘That’s not you’.”
The pair have a genuine friendship, despite their different backgrounds.
After drama school, Michael got straight into musicals, famously Les Mis and The Phantom of the Opera.
Alfie forged a career after being discovered singing, aged 19, while he worked as a mechanic in his hometown, Blackpool. He got into the Royal College of Music, but had to sleep rough along the way.
He says: “I’d do a posh concert in a palace and then sleep on a bench.”
Starting out, he even posted a little plea for help through his idol Michael Ball’s letterbox. It wasn’t answered.
Michael says: “I honestly don’t remember. I have apologised for it.”
Alfie quips: “It didn’t affect my career.” Michael adds: “No, you’ve done all right.”