Wilmslow resident Russell Watson looks forward to an event packed 2014
- Credit: Archant
Russell Watson has a big year ahead, including a major role in the commemoration of the First World War. He welcomed Cheshire Life into his Wilmslow home
The voice of Frank Sinatra wafts from the Dalek-like loudspeakers of the Bang and Olufsen hi-fi as we are ushered into the pristine lounge of Russell Watson’s large modern home near Wilmslow.
Russell, like Sinatra, has regrets, but then again too few to mention. That said, he admits he does still kick himself for not working with his musical hero John Barry when he had the chance.
But, continuing that My Way theme, it can honestly be said that Russell has lived a life that’s full; a life, in fact, that has just induced another of Russell’s musical heroes, Claude-Michel Schönberg, to do what he has never done before: write new songs for a solo artist.
Schönberg - who with lyrical partner Alain Boublil composed Les Misérables - at first turned down Russell’s request for new songs. But then the singer told him a story stranger than fiction.
‘I gave him my potted history: born in Salford, son of a factory worker, my mum worked in Woolworth’s, left school with no qualifications, went to work in a factory, entered a talent competition, won it, spent ten years in the working men’s clubs, got a combination of lucky breaks, released my first record, it went to number one in the classical music charts, it broke world records, I sang for the Pope, I sang for the president of the United States,’says Russell.
‘Then the wheels came off. I got ill with a tumour, and the second one, when it came back, nearly killed me, and it’s been a long fight to get back to where I am now.’
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That story will form the framework of Russell’s next stage show, to be produced by Schönberg and using songs written for Russell’s new album Only One Man.
Russell describes Schönberg euphemistically as ‘very direct’ and admits that this ‘directness’ would have caused the younger Russell simply to walk away from the project.
‘I thought, I’m working with one of the greatest composers of all time. Go with it,’ says the older and wiser Russell.‘By the end of it we got on fantastically. I looked up to him like a father figure.’
Before this momentous collaboration, Russell had come to believe that, despite all the millions of records sold and packed arena concerts, his career was ‘stagnating’, mainly because he had relied on covering the work of others rather than developing his own canon of work.
That ‘stagnating’ career had, however, put him in a large ‘newish’ home in a sought-after Cheshire address, with a Bentley bearing a personalised number plate on the drive, record company plaudits on the walls and a grand piano in the hall.
‘I’ve lived here seven years,’ says Russell, aged 47. ‘It was a completely blank canvas when I got it. All the walls and decor were white and plain.’
At first the home was ‘a real man-pad’, then partner Louise Harris, 22 years his junior, moved in and ‘made quite a few changes’. Russell’s elder daughter from his first marriage, Rebecca, aged 19, lives with them, and younger daughter Hannah, aged 12, is here three or four days a week.
‘The whole place is horse mad,’ says Russell. Louise and the two girls are keen riders, Russell too has been persuaded into the saddle and they keep two horses nearby. Another four-legged companion is Blaze the greyhound, who was brought from a dogs’ home to be used a photo shoot with Russell, and then adopted by him.
One of Russell’s favourite places to be is up on Alderley Edge, walking the dog. He is less likely to be seen in the fleshpots of the village below.
‘The last time I went out in Alderley Edge, some girls came up and were asking me to sing Happy Birthday to their mate,’ he says.
This coming year sees the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Russell will be headlining charity gala concerts at Edinburgh Playhouse on May 17 and the London Palladium on July 27. The Home Ground Anthem, sung by Russell, will be released in January to raise funds for Coming Home - which provides housing for severely wounded soldiers - and the Falklands Veterans Association.
‘Home Ground takes over where Help For Heroes leaves off,’ says Russell. ‘For those who have the most severe injuries, or lost limbs, there’s a rehabilitation process, and Help for Heroes funds that. Once the soldiers are discharged there is this massive undertaking of putting them back into society and rehousing them.’