For a million-seller he’s a throughly nice chap, too...

Russell Watson
Russell Watson
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When a journalist phones an A-list celebrity to conduct an interview, the important thing is to tackle the big issues.

“So the thing is,” Russell Watson says, “these days I prefer chicken and mushroom Pot Noodles to beef and tomato.”

I suggest that indicates celebrity has gone to his head.

“You might be right,” he responds. “When I do have beef and tomato I always add a dash of Heinz tomato sauce to it. My dad saw this and he went ‘Heinz? That’s it, you’ve gone big time. What’s wrong with a normal brand?’”

I am talking to Watson to promote the show he’s announced at Blackpool’s Opera House in March and his new record, Only One Man, written for him by the fellas who did Les Miserables.

I have to confess, I liked Watson. A lot.

He has a sense of humour, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and – unlike some stars – is happy to talk about the tough years when he struggled to get a break.

“I used to work in a factory called Sabre Repetition, which lived up to its name,” he said. “I put bolts and nuts on things and worked 12-hour shifts. I literally didn’t have a life. I went to work at 8 at night and got in at 8 the next morning. I’d have breakfast, go to bed, wake at 5, watch a couple of hours of crap TV, then head back to work.”

Watson, with a family to support, stuck at it for six years, before he won a local talent competition and quit.

Then came a decade-long tour of the clubs and pubs.

“I’ve played Blackpool more times than I can remember, had a season at the Philharmonic Club,” he said.

“The number of times the compere would say ‘ladies and gentleman we’ve got the bingo coming up, then we’ll have a lady selling some freshly made sandwiches – and after that Russ Watkins!’ They didn’t even get my name right.

“But that was my apprenticeship, I learned my trade, it’s part of me, and it’s why I think it’s important to talk about it. Besides, I look back on it fondly.”

His rise to fame was remarkable when it happened, debut album The Voice selling an astonishing million copies.

“In 2001 I was invited to sing at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, who was about to be Sainted,” recalls Watson.

“There were 500 specially invited dignitaries, presidents and prime ministers, Royalty. In the front row there were 40 cardinals, the Pope was in his private box – and there was me, on stage, slap bang in the middle of it. As I started singing, I looked around and thought, ‘crikey, three years ago this was Wigan Road Labour club!’”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Watson has twice been diagnosed with a brain tumours and undergone lengthy treatment. But you can’t keep a good man down and he sounds in terrific spirits and must be fighting fit for he’s about to head back out on tour to promote the new album.

Called Only One Man, that record is out on Monday – just shy of Watson’s 47th birthday – and has been written for him by the most famous pairing in musical theatre, the Les Misérables composer-lyricist team of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.

He said: “It’s lovely to be coming to Blackpool because – and I’m not just saying this – the Opera House is one of my favourite venues in the world.

“It holds great memories. I did a big charity event there in 1997 and I remember thinking to myself if I could get to the stage where I was able to sell out a venue like this, what a wonderful thing it would be.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Watson is rightly lauded as one of the best tenors on the planet, but best of all he seems a thoroughly nice chap too.

He’s at the Opera House on Saturday March 29, 2014. Tickets starting at £27.50 at www.blackpoollive.com and all the usual ticket outlets.