‘It changes the way you view people’

Russell Watson will be performing at Portsmouth Guildhall on June 10.
Russell Watson will be performing at Portsmouth Guildhall on June 10.
The fragment from the Union Jack believed to have flown on board HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Credit: Sotheby's

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Ahead of his appearance at Portsmouth Guildhall next month, Russell Watson talks to MISCHA ALLEN about his new album, recovering from two brain tumours and being asked by Slash to be in his new band.

On his way to Liverpool, Russell Watson seems faint and distant.

There’s the sound of mumbling at the end of the line and he almost whispers ‘where’s the volume?’ before his voice booms out. Half-speaking, half-singing, he shouts: ‘And then there was sound!’

Russell’s off to rehearse for two nights in the Coronation Street musical Street Of Dreams before starting his own national tour at the beginning of next month (arriving at Portsmouth Guildhall on June 10).

Having left school at 16 to work shifts in a factory, he has gone on to sing for the Queen, the Pope, the American president and the emperor of Japan. Quite a list.

It seems the singing star doesn’t have any plans to slow down and talks about how his new album and tour are in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Russell says: ‘I’ve literally just finished the record in record time because we only started talking about it around February time, which doesn’t give much time to get everything together.

‘We managed to make it start to finish in about four weeks and it normally takes four or six months.

‘I don’t think the clarity and quality of it has been compromised, but it’s incredible.

He adds: ‘It sometimes felt like the wheels could fall off the wagon, but I came out fighting. I think that’s very much indicative of me.’

The patriotic album Anthems, is in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee because Russell felt it was be good to join in with the country’s celebrations.

He explains: ‘It’s a very patriotic year with the Jubilee, the Olympics and our national football team in Euro 2012.

‘It’s a good year for the UK, so this is kind of my tribute to great British music.

‘The classics over the years and the up lifting songs that are familiar are on it, and will hopefully make people feel a bit patriotic.’

Anthems is Russell’s ninth album, and it’s been something he’s wanted to record for some time.

He says: ‘I’ve been doing the patriotic theme for about four of five years and the audience come in with the flags and bottles of champagne, and we thought why not bring that to the theatres?’

Self-styed ‘People’s Tenor’ Russell first started singing as a child and progressed to performing in working men’s clubs.

He came to national attention in 1999 when he performed Barcelona before the Mnahcester United v Tottenham Hotspur match at Old Trafford.

He also sane God Save The Queen at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and performed at the UEFA Championships League final in Barcelona between Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

From then on his career went from strength to strength, and today he’s one of the UK’s top selling artists.

With British talent shows reigning across our television sets at the moment, he believes they all have their place. Russell explains: ‘The music industry is in a melt down and many of the talent coming through the organic way are more on the peripherals of the public eye.

‘I don’t think we will ever see another Elton John come through the game shows like X factor.’

But the fame game isn’t why Russell does it, and he’s even come up with ingenious ways to hide himself when out in public.

He says: ‘I put on a big fake moustache, and I put on a air force baseball cap which I got after a performance at the White House and a green army jacket.

‘Dressed like this I got recognised by more people than not wearing a get up. It was an experience to say the least!’

But at the start of his career Russell sometimes stood on the other side of the interview, and once filmed a show which looked at the parallels between classic and rock music.

It was while filming in America that he was offered the chance most rock fans would die for – to be in Slash’s new band, which later went on to become Velvet Revolver.

Bursting out laughing when I ask for the truth behind the myth, Russell instantly puts on a slow America drawl as Slash as he explains the story.

He explains: ‘There were big names who just turned up and I met him.

‘He was very cool and classic and he said “I love your voice” and he said “I’m putting a band together, you should come along to the auditions.” And that was it.

‘I said “thank you very much Mr Slash but I’m quite busy mysel”.. I think I actually called him Mr Slash.’

Having been on the judging panel of the BBC’s Last Choir Standing, starred in the Royal Variety Performance and headlined at the Llangollen Eisteddfod, Russell Watson’s career has spanned over a decade and seems to show no signs of stopping.

But in 2006 he found out the devastating news that made national headlines – he had a brain tumour.

Told it was the size of a cricket ball, it was a horrific experience for the father-of-two.

Thinking he was on his way to recovery, the following year he was told he had a second tumour.

Going through such an experience has changed him.

Five years on, he says: ‘I have got no time for wasting time.

‘I mean one brain tumour is enough for anyone and I ended up with two.

‘As a period it helped me to become who I am now and I thank god I survived it.

‘A lot of people don’t survive the five year period and I’m in a bracket which a very specific few have made it through

He adds: ‘I’m not a person that dwells on the past or constantly feels sorry for himself.

‘It’s about moving forward and putting a positive spin on something that was a negative time.’

But, he believes the period has changed his outlook on life forever.

Russell explains: ‘It changes the way you view people, everything changes. You get those moments where you’re with a group of friends and you’ve had a few glasses of wine and feel the people that are close to you.

‘Those are eurphoric moments when you think “This is magnificent.”’

Where & When

Russell Watson is performing his tribute to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee at Portsmouth Guildhall on June 10. Tickets cost £29.50 to £55 on (023) 9282 4355 or go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.

Russell on...

...why he started singing

I love performance. I get a real kick out of it – even more so now I’m a little older and have been through hard times in my life. Now I think ‘oh thank God I’m here still going what I love so much.’

...meeting Gene Simmons

He was very, very mad, but incredibly intelligent. People who are intelligent can be mad sometimes, but it made a good interview.

...surviving two brain tumours

It was very difficult and, looking back on that period, it developed me into who I am today. I just want to move forward with my life, which is less turbulent because I’ve been through so much.

...using recordings of Dame Vera Lynn on the album

We somehow managed to get the original recordings. It was really quite special and I’m pleased with how it came out.

...the fame game

I’m not really bothered about the fame if I’m being completely honest. It’s detrimental to the way I want to live my life. I want to be quite happy without wearing a fake moustache and a baseball cap.