Q&A • Charlotte Davies chats with...
Russell Watson is hailed as one of the world’s best classical singers. After his debut album, ‘The Voice’, held the number one spot in the UK charts for a record breaking 52 weeks, his second album ‘Encore’ sold almost two million copies. He is the voice behind the iconic Star Trek Enterprise soundtrack and has earnt critical acclaim for his performances in stage shows. Russell is currently playing the role of ‘Billy Flynn’ in the UK and Ireland tour of the international smash hit musical ‘Chicago’. He is also on his 20th Anniversary tour of the UK.
Hi Russell, thank you so much for speaking with me. I’m surprised you have found time, your schedule this summer looks insane. You are a busy man. You have done so much over your extremely varied career. What is your ultimate passion: acting and performing in musicals, or as yourself in concert?
I just love to perform. It’s dependant on how you interpret the songs. I love the feeling of being on stage. I love the feeling of being beside the stage. The anticipation and slight sense of trepidation. The adrenalin rush of walking on stage, the rush of the audience. 32 years now, I have been treading the boards professionally and all these feelings are still there, it’s still as prevalent as ever. If not more now.
I believe that you didn’t take a stereotypical road to a career in music. Was singing something you always loved and wanted to do when you were at school?
Some things people aren’t aware of. My Grandfather was a classical piano player. He was wonderful but didn’t have the nerve to play in front of an audience.
I started piano lessons aged seven then played the guitar. I have always had an interest in music.
You have performed for some of the world’s greatest figures, including The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, The late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, The Emperor of Japan. Have you met anyone you have been completely starstruck by and had a ‘pinch me’ moment?
Actually, it was Sir Alex Ferguson back in 1999. Although I have met him on many occasions since. As a child I was a big fan of the football club. Meeting him was ‘wow’ and intimidating. I did a concert for the Emperor of Japan. They sat me down next to the emperor afterwards, and his first question was, ‘what football team do you support?’. We spent the evening talking about football and our love of white wine. It was surreal. Sometimes I think back to when I left school at 16, a working class lad, went to work in a factory doing 12 hour night shifts and then something completely changed the course of my life and I end up sat next to the Emperor of Japan. Although when you meet the Queen, there is always the sense of not wanting to get it wrong. There are formalities to uphold, but I’m from Salford so we have a habit of calling everyone ‘mate’ or ‘chuck’. You don’t want to walk up to the Queen and say, ‘alright, chuck’.
You are a patron for many charities. Do you have one that is particularly close to your heart?
They are all different. From The Greyhound Charity to The Princes Trust to The Duke of Edinburgh’s charity to a brain tumour charity I work with. It’s one of those things where I think every bit counts. Even if you don’t have a public platform, as a human being you have the opportunity to be charitable, to help with these causes. Anyone can go out and do something for their favourite charity. It gives you a wonderful warm feeling knowing you’re doing something to help someone else out.
Do you have a favourite musical you have starred in?
‘The War of The Worlds’. I played the part of Nathaniel. That was a standout moment for me. I loved the camaraderie with the guys too.
In 2006 you were diagnosed with two brain tumours. This must have been a life changing experience. Has it changed your outlook on life?
The first tumour I had wasn’t life threatening, the second one was. It haemorrhaged one night, and I didn’t wake up the next morning. I think when you have gone through anything like that it changes your outlook on life. I don’t think it was just necessarily what happened to me when I had the tumour though. As we progress in age as human beings our outlook on life naturally changes. The generations in front of us gradually disappear and we become those generations. As you see those generations disappearing, you realise life is precious. It’s important to sustain the balance between personal and work life. Making sure it’s not just work, work, work all the time.
In 2020 you were brave enough to go on ‘I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!’. What was the worst thing about being on the show?
The people were brilliant, and the only bugs were the ones they poured on you during the challenges so that wasn’t too bad. The hunger was the worst. Vernon (Kay) is a big lad; he ate about 6000 calories a day when he was working out and dropped to about 600 in the jungle. I probably did about 3500-4000 calories a day. Then dropping to 600 calories makes you think about food constantly. You only see an hour on the TV, the challenge was trying to sustain a modicum of energy.
We had a tiny bowl of rice in the morning, that was bland and plain. Bland, dry, tasteless rice. A lot of us were coming down off caffeine for the first few days too. I went to see the nurse with headaches and was told it was my body detoxing, coming off the caffeine. You are with a group of people in it together. The bonds we formed were strong and there were no burgers backstage.