Paul Potts: Sing when you’re winning

Despite being the first winner of Britain’s Got Talent, Paul Potts kept his feet on the ground as his fame grew, writes Jo Kerrigan

SINGER Paul Potts stole hearts everywhere during the 2007 Britain’s Got Talent final with his dazzling rendition of Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’.

Potts’s subsequent album, One Chance, outsold the entire Top 10 in its first week, soared to number one in 13 countries, and has sold 3.5m copies.

His endearing rags-to-riches story was made into a movie, also titled One Chance, starring comedian James Corden as Potts, alongside Julie Walters and Mackenzie Crook. Pott’s latest album, Home, has just been released.

Not bad for a young man who used to manage a phone store in Bridgend, south Wales. Yet Potts remains down-to-earth.

Irish audiences will hear the velvet-voiced star on tour here next week. Joined by classical crossover soprano Margaret Keys from Derry, he will perform in Cork, Belfast, Dublin and Castlebar. He’s thrilled to be returning. “I played the Olympia a few years ago, and loved Dublin. You could get this great pint of Guinness right next door. Now, I will get the chance to see some of the other famous places,” he says. His only regret is that the Swansea-Cork ferry no longer operates. “I could nip over anytime then.”

Potts, 44, first began singing at school and in church choirs. He was bullied and singing and choirs were a solace.

“I always wanted to sing — did sing, whenever and wherever I could. I took some lessons as, and when, I could afford them, which wasn’t often [he saved to attend a Pavarotti masterclass in Italy, an experience he cherishes]. And I joined amateur operatic groups as I got older, so that I could exercise my voice there, too. I wanted to be as good as I could be,” Potts says. He loved the occasional lessons, the amateur performances, but never thought it could become a career. “I thought a job was something you endured, so that you could do what you wanted in your spare time. People have to work to do the things they love.

“Now, I feel very fortunate that I can actually do what I like most, and make a living at it, too.”

Potts auditioned for Simon Cowell’s then new Britain’s Got Talent show at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff in March 2007. His ‘Nessun Dorma’ rendered the judges awestruck, while the audience gave him a standing ovation. (The YouTube video clip from that show is one of the top 100 most watched, even now.) In the semi-final that June, Potts performed Bocelli’s ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ and, with an overwhelming public vote, progressed to the final, later in June, where ‘Nessun Dorma’ won him the title.

Ill-wishers, of course, surfaced. They objected that someone who had participated in amateur operatic performances, and had attended a Pavarotti masterclass, was hardly a simple mobile-phone salesman. Potts answered with the truthful facts: that he had never performed for pay, that the one-off Pavarotti class was paid for out of his own savings, and that he did work at Carphone Warehouse. The begrudgers couldn’t stop his meteoric (and well-deserved) rise to recognition and fame.

The ‘London Variety Show’, tours across Europe, TV shows in Japan, Australia, Korea — everybody, it seems, wants Paul Potts. A good sport, he even appeared in a flash opera at Toronto’s Union Subway Station, in 2010, to delighted applause.

He may no longer have to worry about the household bills, but Potts remains firmly rooted in south Wales, from where he took those first steps to fame and fortune. And since this is where he met and married Julie-Ann in 2003, the region is entrenched in his DNA. Does he think success has changed him much? He laughs. “My wife says I’m still the same pain in the ass that I’ve always been.

“People around my home town are practical people, and tend to treat me as they always did. I do sometimes get surprised looks, though, when they see me out doing the shopping, as if I should get someone else to do it for me now that I’m considered a success,” he says.

There would be no fun in employing somebody else to do his household shopping, though, he says. “I’d have to make a list then, and think of it all in advance, and that would be all the work without any of the fun of wandering around and imagining what I might make for dinner.”

That’s when he’s at home, of course. When you’re as much in demand as Paul Potts, life can be tiring: he’s constantly on the road, living out of a suitcase.

But singing is what he loves best and so it isn’t difficult. “I’ve always tried very hard and I’ll admit that I tend to get tunnel vision when I’m interested in something. It doesn’t feel like work,” he says.

And he still strives to improve, never taking his success for granted. “I have classes with a well-known teacher and things seem to progress well but, in the end, you still have to have others hear what you’re doing. It’s only when I get that reaction from audiences that I think I might be doing OK.”

So, is there one form of singing he prefers more than another? “I love all music that speaks to people and this new album, Home, is a very diverse one, with all genres represented in there. But I would have to say that opera is really my first love.”

Back in those days before Britain’s Got Talent, when he was just another young man trying to make a living in south Wales, saving every penny and travelling to Italy to take a masterclass with Pavarotti showed unusual determination on Potts’s part, to say the least.

Did he think, even then, that he could succeed, given the chance?

“I believed in my own voice for myself. I had this dream that, one day, I would perform for people. But I never thought it would pay the bills.” Luckily for Potts, he’s done all that, and more.

  • Paul Potts, with soprano Margaret Keys, on tour: November 5, Cork Opera House; November 6, The Waterfront, Belfast; November 7, The Olympia Theatre, Dublin; November 8, Royal Theatre, Castlebar.

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