Michael Ball explains how 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' taught him to appreciate being an individual and how Wilfred Owen opened his eyes to the horrors of war.

Olivier award-winning singer and actor Michael Ball is famous for roles in Les Misérables and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Last year he won another Olivier for his starring performance in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Adelphi Theatre.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

I was in my late teens when I first read it and going through a hippie phase. It was about freedom and opening up to possibilities that weren’t the norm. It showed me you could pursue something that might set you apart from others but could still be liberating. I was a bit of a crazy, mixed-up kid, and it demonstrated that being different was all right—in fact, rather exciting—and it was better to be an individual following his dreams than one of the herd.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

This book was published in 1972 when I was ten, although I didn’t read it until I was in my mid-teens. I quite quickly realised that it was much more than just a story about rabbits: it was an epic struggle between Big Brother and the individual and how, ultimately, integrity, courage and honesty will win the day. It was also about the lasting power of friendship. I must have reread it about eight times. I’m now trying to persuade my partner’s two grandchildren—Connor, who’s 13, and 11-year-old Grace—to give it a try. It’s well written and works on lots of different levels—a beautiful book, and somehow so quint-essentially British.

The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen

At drama school in Guildford, we had to read First World War poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, who, of course, was about the same age as I was then when he was killed. I was a student in the early 1980s, around the time of the Falklands War. There was no real parallel, but we were nonetheless suddenly at war, and my best mate Phil performed a number of the poems in his final show. It was probably the first time that I realised the older generation were young once. These were little more than boys and yet they were fighting, sometimes dying, for their country. They faced situations that I couldn’t possibly have imagined until I read their beautiful, poignant, haunting verse.

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