This much I know: Russell Watson, The People’s Tenor

As a child growing up in Salford near Manchester I had no aspirations to sing or to be on stage.

I’m from a working class background, my dad was a welder and mum worked in Woolworths. I started out as a a bolt-cutter myself.

I was a mischievous kid, not particularly studious. I was always the class clown and a bit of a mimic, messing around and making friends laugh doing impersonations. 

Because of my uncomplicated upbringing, and my ease around performing, I’ve never suffered from nerves. 

When my career did eventually take off and I was first confronted with large audiences early on, standing up there on stage came naturally to me and I didn’t have to over think it.

My first memory of music is sitting by the radio on a Sunday evening with my cassette tape recorder, waiting for the Top 40 Chart to come on so that I could press the record button.

The first public performance I recall doing was with one of my best mates, Steve Gleave. 

We were in a band together and did covers of The Beatles and The Stones and The Jam in an elderly peoples’ home. We were paid in chocolate digestives.

I’ve sung with everyone from Sean Ryder to Lionel Richie, and sung everything from pop to opera, and have enjoyed all the collaborations. 

I am especially proud of being known as the People’s Tenor.

The trait I look for most in others is someone with a similarly warped sense of humour to my own. Laughter is the key to everything.

One of my biggest faults is being very fidgety. I can’t relax and I’m a little OCD about cleaning. I don’t like mess. I like things to be organised.

I dream regularly about flying although I don’t like planes.

If I could be someone or something else for a day without question, I’d be an eagle. No creditors. Free.

I’m addicted to tennis. I used to play as a kid. We’re prepping the tour right now but still, in the last few weeks, I’ve played tennis or been to the gym every single day.

I am very driven. Once I got the singing bug, I got other aspirations too. 

But you have to view your career as a bit of a rollercoaster ride, with highs and lows, not just one big spike of success.

There has always been a place in our culture for television talent shows but its reached saturation point in the last seven or eight years.

I’ve been on the cusp of not being here any more so I fear my own mortality. 

In 2005 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of two golf balls. I had to have a five-hour emergency operation to remove the lump. 

Then in 2007 there was a regrowth and more emergency surgery. When the second tumor hit me, being that close to, in essence, meeting my maker, really did change my perspective.

Faced with such life-changing situations, spiritually, you can go one of two ways. If you are a believer it can turn you against sod, so that you ask, why me? I was the opposite. My beliefs were heightened by the whole experience.

I think when you have those types of massive conflicting periods in your life — stratospheric highs, catastrophic lows — you become more appreciative of what you have. Then, when good times happen again you appreciate them more.

The music industry is laden with sharks. My only advice to anyone who wants to get into it is that it’s crucial to find people to work with whom you trust. I’m lucky to work with family. 

My sister is my business manager and my nephew does the merchandising.

I hold any time that I get off work very dear. Louise (Russell’s wife) and I are not big celebrity mixers although we know a lot of people in the industry. My friends are people I have known from long before I became famous.

So far life has taught me to value each day as it comes and not to take things for granted.

You can forget to be grateful.

Russell Watson plays the Opera House Cork, on November 27. Tickets at www.corkoperahouse.ie

His debut album, The Voice, was the UK’s biggest-selling classical record ever.

In conversation with Hilary Fennell


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