Fleetwood-born Alfie Boe, car mechanic turned opera superstar, has sung for the Queen, and Olympians, and now written a book.
It’s not every book that includes a thank you to the folk of Fleetwood – but Alfie Boe is the sort of celebrity to acknowledge his gratitude to his home town.
The port has produced one of the greatest, yet most grounded, entertainers in the world. He’s a principal opera singer, the definitive Jean Valjean (Les Mis), rocked the royals a the Queen’s Jubilee Concert and sang the official Olympic anthem One Vision.
Now married with two kids of his own, Alfie knows he owes a lot to his family, friends, and fans. Most of us are familiar with the story of the local lad made good, encouraged by a customer at the car factory where he worked to audition for a top opera company.
He’s the ultimate everyman entertainer, able to switch from opera to rock, from the big top notes to ballads. Just, incidentally, as his late father did before.
Alfie’s just as at home in his family’s local RC church or raising the roof at the Marine Hall, as he is in major opera houses around the world. Or the 02 Arena.
Five years ago, he was support act to the Fron Male Voice Choir – and a guest at the Lights Switch-On too.
Now he’s bringing it all home. His brand new book, Alfie My Story, is out on Monday (Simon and Schuster, £18.99), the publisher surprisingly styling Alfie the “first official bad boy of opera”.
Alfie seldom speaks publicly about negative opera experiences – but pulls no punches here. He was once dismissed by a lofty intellectual as a “car mechanic” who “sings rather well”. The comment was prompted by Alfie’s confession that he’d rather sing opera than listen to it – and who could blame him with that voice.
Alfie admits: “It entertains me when feathers get ruffled. It doesn’t take much.
“I just like to be honest now, God knows I kept my mouth shut long enough.”
So the road to fame and fortune wasn’t as smooth as some would have us believe.
Sometimes, he admits, “my face just didn’t fit.”
Journalists have long made the story of tenor Alfie’s life sound like a Hollywood rags to riches saga rather than a chapter from the real life of a down to earth and well-raised Lancashire lad.
He’s made it on talent, grit and determination, rather than let the establishment grind him down. He’s remained his own man, and a natural-born entertainer. As a kid he would copy his late dad Alf . “He never stopped singing, he was good, could flip from baritone to falsetto.”
The surname hails from Norway, the fishing link, a voyager Boe who came and stayed. His parents met at a dance at the Marine Hall in the 1950s, his father worked at Thornton’s ICI plant, the prolonged contact with chemicals doing little for his health.
Alfie, youngest of nine children, spent his formative years in Fleetwood.
He hated school. “And I mean properly hated it.” He went to St Wulstan’s Primary. “It was really hard, always a fight, always a battle. “I think one of the reasons I hate injustice – which is why Jean Valjean appeals to me so much – is because I suffered it so much at school. I don’t take rubbish from people any more.”
Nor did the rest of the family. They didn’t always “go with the flow” in Fleetwood. “The church was a big deal,” he explains. It remains so. “Some people felt intimidated by us.”
Alfie liked singers shaped by their own love of classical music, Sinatra and Elvis. His first solo came in a youth club. At 14, he was “practically pushed” into amateur operatics but stayed because he fancied one of the girls. He belted out his trademark top note, his voice having broken, and “got a buzz” from the “gobsmacked expressions”.
Fleetwood offered fishing, industry or army to a lad who had dropped out of sixth form, says Alfie. He collected glasses at the North Euston, was a caretaker at the Marine Hall, had a stint as an MOT assistant and walked his feet off until he landed an apprenticeship – at TVR sports car factory, Bispham. There he helped turn out 32 “scarily fast” cars a week. He also dated his first serious girlfriend. “Beautiful – but a witch, the first torment in my life.” To “pull more girls” he joined amateur operatic societies and worked as a jobbing musician in clubland. He came runner up in a talent show at the Viking Hotel. He also got the “best bit of advice of my career” from the late Frank Carson. “When you’re not working, rehearse, train, study and observe.”
The break which changed his life came when a TVR customer urged him to audition with London’s D’Oyly Carte. At 19, he turned up in lumberjack shirt, jeans, boots, looked at the posh suits and ball gowns, thought “I don’t fit here.” And then proved why he did. The rest, as they say, is history. His story. And it’s there to be read...