INTERVIEW: ‘The People’s Tenor’ Russell Watson on working with Les Misérables writers for his new album and tour

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What do you get when you combine a voice hailed as one of the greatest tenors of a generation with bags of Northern charm? Russell Watson.

The “People’s Tenor” is every bit as affable during our interview as he appears on television and his passion for his new project is palpable, which is understandable as he’s teamed up with arguably the most famous pairing in musical theatre: the Les Misérables composer-lyricist team of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.

 The result of the collaboration is an eagerly-awaited new album Only One Man, which will be released on Monday, followed by a UK tour which brings Russell to the North East next spring.

 “It’s going to be completely different from any of the shows that I’ve done before,” explains the 46-year-old.

 “I have a record out this month where I worked with the writers of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon. Les Mis is the world’s most successful musical, so for them to write a new body of work just for me is quite something.

 “The pedigree of these writers is almost unrivalled. You have to look at someone like Andrew Lloyd Webber before you even come close to them as a modern-day writer.” He added: “There are fan favourites like Nessun Dorma, Volare and You Raise Me Up, but I’ve got to a point in my career now where I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I want to try something different.

 “The interesting thing about this show is that it runs like a story, it’s very different, while still giving a proverbial tip of the hat to my old repertoire as well.”

 The Salford-born singer’s life has itself played out like a drama. He earned his singing stripes in working mens’ clubs before going on to to become a classical music star, selling more than eight million records worldwide, and becoming the first artist to hold simultaneous number ones in the USA and the UK. 

 But his sparkling career came to a dramatic halt in 2006, and again in 2007, as he battled brain cancer.

 It’s a brush with death that Russell says gave him a renewed vigour for life.

 “Anybody who’s had a life-threatening illness, not once, but twice, will tell you that it gives you a different perspective on life.

 “I’m not a kid anymore, I’ve seen a bit of life, I’ve seen good times, I’ve seen amazing times, and I’ve seen catastrophic times, but it’s all part of the fabric of life.

 “I’m more aware of my mortality now and I appreciate and enjoy life more.”

 Throughout it all, Russell’s fans have remained a constant source of support and he says he loves nothing more than being on the road, performing to them.

 “It’s like being a footballer and playing football every Saturday, I live for it. If I haven’t done it for a while I get agitated. As soon as I step on stage and that spotlight hits my face I’m alive, it’s what I was born to do.

 “There are variations in fans across the world. In Japan, they sit very still and rigid, then go bananas at the end. In Britain there’s even more variation. In the North, I call them the football towns, the fans go crazy screaming.

 “It’s like that in Newcastle and Gateshead, the fans always give a great response.”

 Since rising to prominence, Russell’s performances have been transmitted to millions and he’s performed live for world leaders, but he says some shows have a special place in his heart.

 “Stand out performances for me were the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002,” he recalls.“There I was, little old me, in the middle of the stage surrounded by athletes and millions of people watching at home while I belted out the theme tune to Star Trek.

 “Another was performing for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. It was pretty early in my career and I was surrounded by 40 red-robed cardinals, an 120-piece orchestra and a 300 choral set with 3,000 invited guests which included presidents of countries. I kept thinking ‘three years ago I was playing Wigan Road Working Mens’ Club.”

Tickets to the Only One Man tour are available from www.gigsandtours.com  or Tel. 0844 811 0051.