PUBLISHED: 05:15 01 December 2014 | UPDATED: 07:22 01 December 2014
He's been described as the man who sings like Pavarotti and entertains like Sinatra.
He’s been described as the man who sings like Pavarotti and entertains like Sinatra. Russell Watson – the Lancashire factory worker who found his voice in the working men’s clubs and went on to create classical crossover – will be showing how he does all that and more, when he performs at Norwich Cathedral on December 2, as part of a 12-date tour of the nation’s cathedrals and churches.
Are you looking forward to performing at Norwich Cathedral on December 2?
For the past 15 years I have been touring the UK, since my first record came out in 2000, and we’ve been playing everything from arenas to the larger theatre venues like the Royal Albert Hall. So for me, the chance to play these cathedrals and churches, with the acoustics of these spaces, well, there is nothing better. It is going to be an incredible season and something I have wanted to do for years. All the venues are between about 500 and 1100 seaters, so I will be able to be up close and personal with the audience, which is great. I love to be able to see the faces of the people who have come to see me.
The Norwich date sold out immediately. What can the audience expect from the show?
Throughout the tour we will be using local choirs and a piano. There will be an element of my singing with a microphone for a couple of the songs, then I hope to be without for the classical pieces.
We have held a competition on social media for people to suggest which carols they’d like me to sing and the top three have now been decided – O Holy Night, Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful, which we have decided to do in Latin. I really am looking forward to this tour – it feels like something quite special.
You’ve performed in Norfolk before, on the Royal Estate at Sandringham.
I remember it well! I was taken to the stage in a vintage Rolls Royce, which was wonderful, but by the time I got there I looked like Worzel Gummidge. But the weather was beautiful and it was a great place to perform – Norfolk is such a beautiful part of the world. Oh, and we always buy our Christmas turkeys from Norfolk too!
You’ve become known as the man who invented classical crossover – what does that mean to you?
I am very proud. A record label person said to me recently, “You created your own legacy with what you did at the beginning of your career – it really hadn’t been done before”. No-one had combined pop and classical before like we did on those first two records – putting Nessun Dorma with Ultravox’s Vienna and a duet with Shaun Ryder all on the same record. It opened the floodgates for a genre in the market. There were some really interesting collaborations – Lulu was fabulous and working with Lionel Ritchie was amazing. I was a soul man when I was young, I loved people like Lionel, Alexander O’Neal, Luther Van Dross and even Nat King Cole, though I’d listen to more classical music from my mother and grandmother’s choice.
There is some great music to dance to in that selection – what are you like on the dance floor, Russell?
Dancing is not my forte. I have been asked on two separate occasions to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, but I strictly said no – no-one would want to watch that! I’ll stick to what I do best, singing. Though when I was in my teens I was into Northern Soul and would go to a little club in Manchester called The Cave and to The Mitre, which were good for it. I love a bit of James Brown.
Although your debut album The Voice broke records as being the first to hold number one in both the UK and USA classical charts, you did take a lot of criticism early on in your career.
A heck of a lot from the classical fraternity! I was beginning to doubt myself but the audience really got behind me and I think part of the reason for my success was because the more they attacked me in the press, the more the audiences stood up for me, “He’s one of us, leave him alone!”
You’ve certainly had your tough times, having twice had brain tumour and having to undergo emergency surgery. How are you these days?
It’s been a very good year for me. Any artist who has had a career that they have sustained for more than 10 years knows that it has peaks and troughs. My trough was obviously when I was sick in 2006 and 2007, and it has taken me a long time to come back from that.
The discovery of that second tumour must have been devastating.
When I was ill, I was more frightened for my children, and my family and friends, than I was for myself. I knew what I was going through but they felt they had absolutely no control over it. My girls were very young at the time, Hannah was four and didn’t really know what was happening, and Rachel was 11, so had a little more understanding about what was going on.
When the tumour came back, of course it was very upsetting, but the thing that took me so long to regain was my confidence. All of it had been shaken – I’d always been probably overly cocky and had complete confidence on stage, but I felt as if I had been dissected, put back together and “off you go, son”. Probably the past 12 months have been the first time since that I could say that my confidence has returned to where it was before.
Did it change how you work?
When you go through something like that it turns your life upside down and makes you re-evaluate your life. The music industry has been very kind to me, but it is an incredibly cruel mistress who will bite you on the backside as soon as you are not up and on it. The business of the industry I found really hard to deal with and I went through several managers. But now I finally have the family working for me and I feel that so many things are on the right path now, and I thank God for it.
Now, engaged to your fiancée Louise Harris, how will you be celebrating Christmas this year?
Resting! I have a heap of stuff to do in between the 12 days of Christmas tour and then a couple of charity events, at St Paul’s Cathedral and for the Prince’s Trust in Blackburn, plus a couple of private gigs up to December 21. But I always make a point of taking off the whole of Christmas and some of January. Next year, though, I will be starting the recording of the new album in January, which will be out for Christmas 2015.