Liz Nicholls chats to singer and dad Russell Watson, 53, ahead of his 20th anniversary UK tour.
Q. Hello! Congratulations on 20 years since your album The Voice. How does that feel?
“Thank you! You’d expect to be more thrilled and grateful at the start of your career and then becoming used to it but for me it’s the other way around. I didn’t realise the significance of the record sales at the time. The Voice spent a year at number one in the charts and people kept congratulating me but at the time I was a bit ‘meh’ – I’d say, nah, Robbie Williams has done more, Elton’s done more. Now I look back and can’t believe the arena tours, the sales. It was just happening so quickly but I’m more grateful now.”
Q. How do you take care of your voice?
“I’ve always had to take care of my voice. If you don’t you pay the price later down the line. Dairy is an absolute no-go, as are fizzy drinks and anything spicy. I lived on chicken and boiled rice throughout the entirety of the last 25-date tour I did with Aled Jones, but he didn’t! I’d meet him in the canteen where Aled would be tucking into his meat & potato pie, chips, peas, gravy and a Diet Coke. I‘d ask him how he could have that before going on stage and he’d say ‘Well, that’s the downside of being a tenor!’ But I love Aled; we’ve become really close. It’s nice to have someone you can talk to and trust in the music industry.”
Q. You’ve worked with some stars – who would be your favourite?
“I’ve been very lucky. The list is endless and I’d never want to forget anybody. From Luciano Pavarotti at Hyde Park to Paul McCartney at the Nobel Peace prize awards in Oslo when we sang Let It Be. When I was a kid I remember sitting in my bedroom playing the Beatles bumper songbook and 15 years on I’m singing with the man himself, wow. Shaun Ryder, Meatloaf, Lulu, Mel C ¬– so many amazing people! Lionel Richie definitely stands out, and Cliff Richard; my mum was a massive fan of Cliff when we were kids.”
Q. What’s your first memory of music?
“My grandad was a fantastic classical pianist trained to the highest level but sadly he had serious confidence issues so he never went on stage. But my earliest memories are of leaning against the back leg of his grand piano, falling asleep to the vibrations of the Chopin waltz.”
Q. You left school early didn’t you?
“Yes; I loved school but not from an academic perspective – I always felt I wasn’t ready for learning as a child. I learned more about life and started to read more after I’d left school – I’m not an advocate of leaving school early, though! I come from a working class background and I love my mum and dad to bits but they didn’t in anyway to encourage me to be academic. Maybe if I’d had parents who’d been more pushy I might have been. But I wouldn’t change anything.”
Q. Do you get stage fright?
“No not really! I’d been doing the clubs for years then in 99 I was invited to sing at Old Trafford for Manchester United’s last game of the season in what had been a truly iconic time for the team. I sang Nessun Dorma and walked off to see my dad at the side of the pitch with a tear in his eye (it was windy, he said!). He said: ‘were you not nervous?’ And I said no – I love it! And I’ve never stopped loving it. The more the merrier in terms of the crowd.”
Q. Do you love being a dad more than ever?
“Yes; my bond with my girls got even closer after getting ill with the tumours, particularly the second one when I nearly died. My eldest is 25 now and works with me and they’re both nearby. We pull funny faces and sing the wrong words to pop songs, crying with laughter. They bring the best and most stupid side out of me.”