Russell Watson has reason to be upbeat. The record-setting, multi-million selling tenor released a new album of career highlights, entitled 20, a fortnight ago and is now gearing up for a tour.
After entertaining fans with songs from his home by live streaming on Facebook during lockdown, Russell is looking forward to getting back on the road for celebratory concerts to mark the 20th anniversary of his debut album, The Voice.
He said: "The tour will be a celebration of The Voice with a collection of what I feel are the favourite songs from my fan base. We're going to be digging out some real old classics like Nessun Dorma and a few little surprises as well. There will be some special guests which we're working on."
The tour is split into two halves, initially taking Russell and his band to theatres in Buxton, Aylesbury and High Wycombe among others. The second half plays in bigger venues such as London's Royal Albert Hall and Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. Russell said: "It's the same performance but just in different places which generates a completely different atmosphere. I love the intimacy of performing at somewhere like Buxton Opera House or the grandeur of performing in a massive expanse like the Royal Albert Hall which is steeped in history.
"I've been singing for so long that there are very few places in the country that I haven't performed in before now.”
Russell will sing with orchestra and choir at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall on February 11 and at Buxton Opera House with his band on March 30, 2021.
He said: "I genuinely feel blessed to be able to do what I do and that I have been able to sustain my career in a music industry that is so transient. The artists come in with a massive bang, they're number one and they're all over the world, then a couple of years later they are nowhere to be seen.
"My main ambition is sustainability, to keep entertaining the audience and hopefully they will keep coming back to see me."
The Voice made Russell the first classical artist in the UK to sell a million albums. He said: "Another record I set which hasn't been broken is it spent 52 weeks at number one in the classical charts. The second record I released (Encore) made me the first UK artist to have a simultaneous transatlantic number one - in the UK and the United States."
Flying in the face of music snobs and medical experts, Russell has rocketed to superstardom sharing stages with Luciano Pavarotti, Monserrat Cabale, sung for Pope John Paul II, the Queen of England, American presidents and the Emperor of Japan and at the opening of the Commonwealth Games. He said: "It's impossible to say which one of those is my favourite - they've all got a special place in my heart. "
Russell, who started work at 16 making nuts and bolts in a factory, is nicknamed The People's Tenor, a term of endearment whose origin remains a mystery to him. But it's one that suits his personality as much as it does his singing. In a 15-minute chat, Russell showed what a warm, friendly guy he is and not one to shy away from tough questions.
He said: "In the early stages of your career you take for granted what you have. It's only later on when you've had a couple of hiccups or the proverbial wave has crashed into a shore with a big bang that you realise to be doing something that you really love and enjoy for a living and getting paid well for it is a true blessing."
That proverbial wave hit Russell hard when he had to have a non-cancerous brain tumour removed in 2006, followed by an emergency operation a year later when the tumour returned. He said: "It was very scary, a really tough time and there was a lot of trepidation about whether I'd actually sing ever again. Even the specialist was saying it's unlikely that you'll be able to go back to the schedules of singing that you were doing before with the type of illness you had. That's not been the case, I've just forged through.
"Over the years I have worked incredibly hard. The infrastructure of the classical voice is not something that happens; you have to have coaching, you have to have training. I've worked with some of the best vocal coaches on the planet, everyone from Seth Riggs to Patrick McGuigan who have taught me a lot about how to sing, how to project my voice and everything else which goes with making a good classical performance. In essence, that's given me longevity as well. The way I was singing early on in my career, I don't think I would have lasted five minutes if I continued singing in that way.
"When I first started I had stacks of bad reviews...I had the whole classical fraternity near enough on my back. That ended up being a plus point because everybody who was buying my records said: 'Leave him alone, he's one of us....he's a working-class lad, he's got a great voice and we love him....they went out and bought even more records.
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