The People’s Tenor reveals his love of big ships, his favourite places and why he always has time for his fans
I’m very lucky that I get to travel the world and sing. I’ve performed at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, toured Japan and had dinner with the Emperor at the Imperial Palace, and given a show for the Duke of Edinburgh in the garden at Buckingham Palace. Japan has to be one of my favourites because I adore the culture. I also love Rome, and Vienna is amazing. I am singing there soon in the Concert House, which is just an incredible experience.
It’s a fine feeling being on the ocean on a great big liner. The appeal is being out in the middle of nowhere and as far away from humanity as you can possibly get. Yet you still have the luxuries on board. I don’t ever get seasick either, even if it’s rough.
I have many stories of my younger days on the cruise ships when I played a much more minor role in the entertainment. I did quite a few trips around the Mediterranean and Caribbean with a dear chap called Crisco. He was a comedy magician whose tricks always went wrong.
Once when our ship called at Naples, we wanted to look round the old Roman ruins of Pompeii. We weren’t exactly flush with cash, so we snuck in by jumping over a fence into an area of historical significance which had been cordoned off. Unfortunately we couldn’t get back out because the fence was too high, and we were trapped behind metal gates in a deserted no go area, shouting for help until someone walked past to help us. When we finally got out, I couldn’t resist singing in one of the amphitheatres until a collection of people started clapping.
One of the Caribbean islands I got to know quite well was Barbados. I got to make friends with the locals. One of them was Vernie, who took me round to all the local reggae clubs in the evenings. It was fantastic. It meant that I got to see a side of Barbados which I would never have seen staying in a posh hotel or a resort.
What I’ve never done is taken my success for granted. That’s why I think that 13 years down the road as a recording artist I’m lucky I am still here. It’s not just about being a singer, you also have to be a business person as well. And that’s what a lot of people aren’t taught when they are coming off The X Factor and talent shows. That’s why a lot of them slip through the net. Very few, like Will Young, have the business acumen as well as a great talent.
I still think back to the days when I was singing Elvis in working men’s clubs in the North West. I would drive round in a battered old Peugeot which I could barely afford to run, lugging my two speakers up and down flights of stairs. You’d walk in and people would stare are you, like who are you? They’d ask me what I was singing, and I’d say, Lionel Ritchie, and they’d say, we don’t like him. They were very tough areas and could be scary. But they gave me a good grounding and made me who I am today.
I’ve been with my girlfriend Louise for three years. If you were to ask her if there are any plans for us to marry, she would say yes. If you asked me, I’d remain ambiguous. I’m a typical man. Yes I think I see myself being married again. But there are always reasons or excuses. At the moment we enjoy each other’s company, and everything is good. We are happy and like a family unit now when my daughters (Rebecca, 17 and Hanna, 11) are with us. I don’t see much reason to change that at the moment.
In an ideal world, if I could get my kids over to Sydney in Australia, I’d live there. It’s so cosmopolitan, not overcrowded, the beaches are wonderful and the summers are hot. The winters are cold so you still get the seasons which is something I love.
Louise will be coming with me on the P&O cruise, and if I have time off we will have a romantic meal together. But if it’s a working day, then it’s out of the question. I have a routine. I get up as late as possible to give my body plenty of rest. Just prior to lunch I start going through some mid range scales, and later in the afternoon I start reaching for some of the high notes, and then we are ready for the stage.
I love the social aspect of cruising. The interaction with the passengers is the reason I do this. On the last cruise, the fans really enjoyed the fact that I was in their proximity, wandering around the ship. There are some artists I know who are not keen being close to their fan base, but I love speaking to people and passing the time of day. After a concert, I like going back to the suite, and we will invite my assistant and whoever has done the sound and have a few glasses of wine and a chat about the gig and a good natter, which I enjoy.
The fans have been incredibly caring and supportive during the times I’ve been ill (Russell has had two brain tumours). I am a very lucky man. It’s coming up to six years now since my recovery and I’ve made it through. Until the point where I got ill, I didn’t give my mortality a second thought. But particularly with the second tumour, I was very close to stepping over onto the other side. And when you’ve gone through an experience like that, not once but twice, it certainly alters your perspective on life.
I was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall recently and Russell Grant was the compere. At the end of one of my shows he came over and said: “Oh my God darling, I really didn’t know you’d had all these problems. You’re unbelievable. I’ve only just found out today sweetheart.” He was very sweet. A lot of people don’t necessarily know. It really doesn’t make any difference to me. It’s not an area of my life that I want sympathy for.
I am much more focused and more patient now that I ever was. You could say I am more like a wise old owl than a waggy puppy dog. I do feel as though I have been blessed with something very special. And that’s a true appreciation of life and the people who are around me. Every day is a gift.
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