Russell appears a few minutes later in a sharp Geoff Souster suit. He greets us warmly, shaking hands all round, and then leads us to a room that momentarily deprives Stan, our audiophile/cinephile photographer, of the power of speech. A large Bang & Olufsen television stands on a motorised plinth, while either side of the fireplace are the futuristically styled speakers of a magnificent hi-fi system from the same manufacturer.
In a state of near-debilitating envy, Stan quips: “Couldn’t you find a bigger television, Russell?”, and then wishes he hadn’t as Russell opens a set of double doors to reveal an adjoining, fully equipped cinema room, complete with wall-to-wall widescreen, projector and full surround sound system. The hi-fi is soon gainfully employed and the strains of La Voceaccompany our conversation.
Russell explains that one of the tracks, ‘Be My Love’ (a big hit in the 1950s for Italian singing star Mario Lanza), was recorded in remembrance of his beloved late grandmother for whom it was a particular favourite. He finds performing ‘Be My Love’ on stage a very emotional experience as it always evokes fond and poignant memories.
The fabulous sound system is symptomatic of Russell’s attention to detail where the presentation of his music is concerned. At each venue he plays, he is very particular in ensuring that sound, lighting and staging arrangements are all up to the standard that he feels his audience deserves. The high quality of the hi-fi system at his home allows Russell to apply that same scrutiny to his own recorded vocal performance.
He will soon need to employ his critical approach to stage and recording work again. “I am working on two projects at the moment,” he says. “Firstly there’s my forthcoming UK tour which starts in Manchester at the end of May and then moves on to the rest of the country throughout June. I have also just started working on my new album, which is due out later this year.”
So there is plenty going on, but how does Russell feel about the future having already achieved so much in the face of extraordinary difficulties?
“I have been very fortunate to fulfil so many of my ambitions and dreams. Wherever my life and career take me in the future, I will always remember that it’s been the support of my family, friends and fans that has made it possible. And I still feel that drive to give my very best to my music. I am very proud to have enjoyed such a long recording and performing career to date and I hope to carry on for a long time to come.”
Having achieved so much, he is obviously qualified to impart advice to aspiring performers. What would Russell say to someone taking their first steps as a musician?
“You need to be a performer, an entertainer. Although it does help to have a good natural talent, that is not enough by itself. You also need to have a good business head. These days, it’s not all about the singing. It’s also a business, and the more success you have, the more there can be at stake.”
But life isn’t all about work and business. How does Russell relax? “I love tennis and I play as often as I can, at home or abroad. It keeps me fit and gets me out in the open air.”
We know that Russell plays piano and guitar. Does he ever feel the urge to get together with a few friends and just play some rock and roll in a local pub?
“Not really, to be honest; but I do sometimes have a bit of fun with my band or orchestra after rehearsals when I am touring. If I am out with friends I have occasionally been known to get on stage and jam a couple of songs, but it’s never planned.”
Russell seems very happy with his lot, but looking back, is there anything he would change if he had the power to do so?
“I really don’t feel I could change anything. All the highs and lows in your life make you who you are. I am, in short, the sum total of all my life’s experiences, good and bad. I wouldn’t change it.”
To be able to say that, after everything that Russell Watson has been through, is really quite remarkable.
Interview: Angela Banh
Story: Rick Cadger
Photography: Stan Thompson
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