Alfie Boe's Lancashire Christmas
Alfie Boe has had remarkable success but some of his fondest memories are of Christmas at the family home in Fleetwood. He spoke exclusively to Emma Mayoh
Most of us recall a distinctive smell we associate with Christmas. Pine needles or roasting turkey, perhaps.
But in the Boe household the air was always pungent with the aroma of new paint. This unorthodox but annually occurring odour was not down to a last-minute spruce up of the family’s Fleetwood home.
It was because Alf and Patricia Boe, determined that every Christmas should be special for their nine children, hand made their gifts. It is a time the Fleetwood singer, dubbed the People’s Tenor, remembers with great affection.
‘Dad always built the toys for us and my mum painted them. It meant there was always a smell of paint in the house at Christmas. He used to build bikes and then he would paint them up to make them look good. He got me a really nice BMX one year. I was so surprised that he had actually gone and bought it for me.
‘It was Christmas morning and the curtains were drawn. My dad told me to look at the snow outside. There was no snow but I looked down and there was this bike. It was absolutely brilliant.’
It wasn’t a wealthy home but the Boes were never deprived. ‘There were always surprises in our house. We never struggled and our toys were great. My dad once built a train set making the tracks out of wood. He was amazing.’
- 1 20 of the best places to eat out in St Ives
- 2 6 waterfall walks in Derbyshire and the Peak District
- 3 16 beautiful beaches in Devon you have to visit
- 4 Seven Falls, Tintwistle - a hidden gem in the Peak District
- 5 8 great family walks in the North West
- 6 Win the full range of Bashall Spirits Gins
- 7 20 of the best restaurants in Hertfordshire
- 8 Win Castle Howard Prom Tickets & a VIP Hamper
- 9 6 great walks near Skipton
- 10 12 beautiful waterfalls in Yorkshire
Speaking to Alfie, it is clear he grew up in a home that was loving, if a little crowded. This large family knew how to look after each other and enjoy life. Memorable times were Christmas dinners. Once mum started preparing the meal, Alfie’s brothers and sisters would set to helping in the kitchen, peeling and chopping the veg. But, being the youngster, he was spared sprout duty until later in life and was allowed to play with the toys he’d unwrapped earlier that day. But it wasn’t always plain sailing at the festive dinner table.
Alfie, describing one of his favourite Christmas Days, said: ‘Christmas was always wonderful. It was really nice to have such wonderful parents who really made it special. We had the best of times. There was one Christmas, though, that was so funny.
‘My dad made wine and there was a lot of it in barrels. I wasn’t old enough to go to the pub so I was upstairs playing on my drums, which I loved and spent most of my time doing. I heard lots of laughter and shouting. I went downstairs and my mum and sisters were plastered. They were dancing all over the place.
‘They didn’t realise the wine hadn’t finished fermenting. It was really strong. My dad and brothers came home and were not nearly as drunk as the rest of the family. The dinner was ruined but we had such a laugh. That was an amazing Christmas.’
Parties were a big part of the Boe home life. Having such a large family meant that occasions, like Christmas, were celebrated in style. There were also lots of weddings, holidays and events like Halloween, which were always great fun. These were times Alfie enjoyed and the occasions always provided the perfect excuse for a large gathering of family and friends.
He said: ‘Parties at my mum and dad’s house were always pretty memorable. I had five sisters and three brothers. It meant a lot of family occasions to celebrate. When everybody had a drink in them, the bread board would be put on the floor, my dad would put his clogs on and then dance on it.
‘He would do an Irish jig. It was always inevitable my dad would do this, it was his party trick. It was brilliant.’
Alfie’s career started off in an unorthodox fashion – this operatic star began his career in rock bands playing in pubs in Fleetwood. His big break – as he describes it – came when he was working as a car mechanic at the TVR plant in Blackpool. To relieve the boredom, he would often sing. A customer who worked in the music industry heard Alfie and told him the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in London were auditioning.
Alfie said: ‘This was the turning point for me. It was my first job and it started me off as a professional. If I had not been given that chance to try out with them it may never have happened for me. I might never have had this career.’
But Alfie has also had to deal with hardship and struggle and his time in London provided him with some of his greatest challenges. And it is also clear that he is still affected by the death of his dad who passed away, aged just 63, as the result of a brain tumour.
During some of the time he was at the Royal College of Music, he slept on a bench in Hyde Park, preferring to spend his money on food and drink than yet another ropey house share. He thought he would be able to earn enough money singing but it didn’t quite work out that way.He said: ‘Losing my dad was horrible. It hit me really hard, I was totally floored. He had always been an inspiration to me.
‘It was him who would play opera during our Sunday lunches. He introduced me to so much. I miss him every single day and it’s still very hard to get to grips with.
‘It was a very difficult time. But you just get through. It was the same with sleeping rough. I was lucky because it was summer so it was easier.
‘I didn’t want to fail. I wanted to make it as a singer. I really wanted to be successful. I didn’t want to go running home. My mum went mad when she found out I’d be sleeping rough. Fortunately, singing started to pay off for me. I realised I could earn money singing. I went to karaoke competitions and got a part-time job to see me through. I figured out a way of how to make things better for myself. The college didn’t really look favourably on it. But I did it.’
Alfie, who now has a home in Salt Lake City, has his current sights set on recreating magical family memories with Sarah, and their children Grace and Alfie.
He said: ‘Grace is really excited about this Christmas. She has already been writing her list. It’s all about Barbie dolls this year. She is growing so fast. It is so lovely to see her enjoy it so much.
‘I want her and Alfie’s Christmases to be just as special as mine. I was so lucky to have such a special childhood.
‘Who knows, I might be tempted to get the bread board out too one day. I’m looking forward to it. It will give me an opportunity to embarrass them!’
Read more about Alfie and see more exclusive photos of his youth - click here
Hitting the high notes
Alfie’s hard work and endurance paid off. The 39-year-old, who is married to American wife, Sarah, and has two children Grace, four and Alfie, 11 months, is considered one of the most successful English tenors. He has performed in many operas and was chosen by world renowned director Baz Luhrman to take the lead in his production of La Boheme on Broadway.
He has also played Jean Valjean in the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert as well as for a five month stretch in the West End. He also fulfilled a dream to perform with some of his rock idols, including Brian May and Alice Cooper, at the Royal Albert Hall.
This year alone has also provided him with plenty to celebrate. Not only was son, Alfie, born he also hit the career heights with performances at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert and with Olivia Newton-John at Sydney Opera House, his Alfie album reached number six in the UK charts, he did a homecoming performance at the Lytham Proms which was his largest solo show to date and he did a successful American tour. Next year looks set to be even bigger as he has just launched a new album, Storyteller, and will embark on an arena tour in spring with dates including the Royal Albert Hall as well as Lancashire dates in Blackpool and Manchester.
Alfie Boe’s new album, Storyteller, is on sale now. For more details on next year’s tour visit alfie-boe.com. He has also produced an autobiography.