Plaque sees Fleetwood keep Alfie in its heart

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe at the Marine Hall in Fleetwood
Michael Ball and Alfie Boe at the Marine Hall in Fleetwood
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While the gentle strains of the song Alfie Boe is best known for brought goosebumps to an audience invited to share in his special moment, it was a lesser known cover version which really told the story of the day.

Fleetwood’s most famous son was back in his home town to see a heritage blue plaque unveiled at the Marine Hall - making the place where he made his first public concert performance aged 14.

A blue plaque dedicated to Alfie Boe is unveiled by Michael Ball at Marine Hall in Fleetwood

A blue plaque dedicated to Alfie Boe is unveiled by Michael Ball at Marine Hall in Fleetwood

And after doing the honours with his friend and musical collaborator Michael Ball, Alfie showed friends, family and guests just why he has become and internationally renowned singer with a spine-tingling performance of the emotional song Bring Him Home, from musical Les Miserables.

But after chatting with the audience, in a live broadcast on Radio Lancashire as part of BBC Music Day, Alfie gave a clear message to his home town with his choice of second song called Keep Me In Your Heart.

Tenor Alfie’s plaque was one of 47 revealed up and down the country yesterday, paying tribute to people and places with key roles in the nation’s musical heritage - and he’s the only living person to have received the honour.

“Amazing isn’t a big enough word to describe this,” he told the Gazette. “It’s great to see all these people, friends and family - actually I’m feeling really torn as there’s so many people here.”

Alfie Boe with mum Patricia.

Alfie Boe with mum Patricia.

Alfie was joined on the day by his wife Sarah, their children Alfie and Grace, mum Pat and five of his eight siblings.

He spoke of his parents having met in the local area and going on dates to dances at the Marine Hall, and joked how his late father would have said he could have made a plaque for him. He added that the plaque had extra meaning, as Alfie was named after his dad, adding: “He’s not here, but it’s also his name up on that wall.”

“It’s a shame that I don’t get back as much as I’d like,” Alfie admitted, later adding how his family is ‘never out of my thoughts’.

“Fleetwood is a strong, wonderful town. I have a lot of pride for the town and for everybody who lives here.

“It stands you up in good stead for what you want to do in your career. You know whatever happens it will be here for you.”

Alfie’s American wife Sarah - who he met when struggling to make a cup of tea during a break from rehearsals in San Francisco for Baz Luhrmann’s La Boheme - said it was a ‘lovely warm feeling’ to be back in Fleetwood for the event.

“Everyone is like family here,” she said. “It’s not surprising for me that Alfie is getting this plaque, because I do think he’s wonderful, but for him, he just does his job. He does what he does and doesn’t think about it, then to see the fans here - it’s heartwarming.”

His mum Pat said she was ‘extremely proud’ and always had been, adding: “We knew that there was something special [about him].”

Alfie is the youngest of nine children, and was joined at the event yesterday by his brothers Joseph and John and sisters Anne, Therese and Pauline.

His brother Michael lives in France and sisters Fran and Maria away on holiday.

“Every time I see him on telly, it’s scary,” said Therese. “When he first started being interviewed on TV I was cringing, but he has got a lot better.

“We’ve kept him in his place though,” she added, as only big sisters can, while Pauline added: “It’s still weird when you see posters up in places with his name and face on.

“He’s still not always confident either. I’ll see him on TV and send a text saying ‘Looking great, sounding great’ and he’ll reply ‘Thanks love, was it OK?’.”

Also taking part in the Radio Lancashire breakfast show, hosted by Graham Liver and Sally Naden, for the event were members of Thornton Cleveleys Operatic Society, Blackpool Male Voice Choir and the Shakespeare Primary School choir.

“There’s a lot of familiar faces, it’s wonderful to see them,” Alfie said of the attendance by people from his past - in a kind of This Is Your Life set up at the Marine Hall.

And paying tribute to the members of Thornton Cleveleys Operatic Society, with whom Alfie performed as a teenager, he added: “I was in awe of those guys when I was in the operatics.

“I used to watch all those guys getting all the roles, thinking ‘Maybe I’ll do that one day’.

“I hope they realise as well that they have brought joy and love through their music.”

Another fellow performer from his teenage years is the Marine Hall’s events and front of house manager Janet Heald who was a member of Fleetwood Ladies Choir - with whom Alfie made that historic first public concert performance aged 14.

“It has been absolutely incredible to have this plaque installed and to watch Alfie’s career,” she said. “What a fantastic accolade for Fleetwood and for the Marine Hall.

“We are overwhelmed with the response we have had from guests and fans lining up outside. But most importantly, it’s been brilliant to welcome Alfie back home to where it all began. When Alfie was invited to join the choir for the musical performances, it became very obvious, very quickly that he was something very special. “He had a stunning voice even at that age, but was such a loveable, likeable cheeky chappy, as well as being very gifted with comedy timing.”

Press and communications manager for Trinity Hospice Shirley Morgan paid tribute to the unseen work Alfie has done for them as a patron for the past five years - and thanked his fans worldwide for their support too.

“The amazing thing with Alfie and his team is that the relationship is genuinely one where they do things for us and don’t expect anything in return,” she said.

“You give us a global reach we would never otherwise have.

“Alfie has an amazing fan base; at one time we’ve had people in three different time zones holding tea parties and sending donations from them.”

And she told how the star when recently asked for a message to put in a card to a patient sent a personalised video message: “I wish I could tell you the joy that brought to that lady and her family,” she added. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Blackpool-born Alfie was joined by friend and musical collaborator Michael Ball who did the honours in unveiling the plaque.

“Alfie has always gone on about his pride in coming from Fleetwood and his love of it,” the fellow musical theatre star said. “Being here, it’s palpable, and seeing how proud the community is of him too is lovely.”

After revealing the plaque, Alfie starred in a further ‘scary as hell’ hour-long special broadcast on BBC Radio Lancashire, with friends and family chatting about his younger years - and even revealing he had left his mark back stage at the theatre with a bit of grafitti in the wings.

In between the stunning acoustic performances, the former Cardinal Allen Catholic High School pupil also recalled his days as a ‘matte blacker’ in the paintshop of the former TVR factory at Bispham, when a customer tipped him off about auditions for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company which he subsequently attended in London - setting him on the road to fame.

Alfie opened up about some more challenging times too, living on the streets for a couple of weeks while studying at the Royal College of Music in London, after being thrown out of his digs when they flooded.

“[My time at the Royal College of Music] could have been better, but it depends on how determined you are,” he said.

“A professor found me and put me up in a hostel.”

Alfie’s breakthrough into household name and superstar status came several years on in 2010 when he played the role of Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary concert performances of Les Miserables.

But on accepting the role, little did he know how much it would change his life.

“In the moment I was singing Bring Him Home at the O2 arena, I was focussing on the song and how important it is in the piece,” he said.

“It wasn’t until the end of the song and everybody was on their feet, 30,000 people standing up. The applause started to die down and then picked up again, but I was in a protected little bubble and it was like someone turned the volume up and I started to hear what was going on and it blew me away.”

After that performance, Alfie went on to play the role on the West End and on Broadway to great acclaim.

So it came as something of a surprise to fans when he wasn’t cast in the 2012 film version - missing out to musicals man-turned-Hollywood hero Hugh Jackman.

Asked if he gets emotional when singing the iconic solo Bring Him Home, Alfie joked: “I got emotional when they gave the role of Valjean to Hugh Jackman in the movie.

“I do get emotional when I sing that song.

“When you listen to the words, it says everything for me today - it has brought me home.

“If I hadn’t started singing that song, in the 25th anniversary concert, on Broadway, in the West End, I wouldn’t have had a blue plaque here today.”

But really, the message is to Fleetwood: Keep Alfie in your heart and always Bring Him Home.