Q&A: Michael Ball

Simon Button

The singer, actor and broadcaster talks about his new album, being on the road at age 56 and his status as a national treasure

RD: How did you decide which songs to include on the new album?

It started with “Goin’ Back”, the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, because the lyrics spoke to me about going back to the time of my youth and thinking about the songs and sounds that influenced me when I was getting into music. I chose songs that fit into that category but I also wanted to put some new tracks on there in that sort of West Coast, singer-songwriter genre.

 

RD: The album’s called Coming Home to You so what’s the first thing you do when you get home?

The first thing that happens is I get on the floor and get attacked by the dogs. They go mental so I’m having a fight with them on the carpet before they eventually settle down. 

 

RD: Does your wife Cathy McGowan join in?

[Laughs] No, she waits until later to beat me up.

 

RD: You work a lot but what’s a great day off for you?

I love being around the house and going for walks with the dogs and I enjoy cooking so I like going to the local shops for the ingredients to make something nice. I love watching movies on the telly and boxsets or having people round for something to eat. Because I’m away so much I love being at home and being in that relaxed atmosphere.

 

RD: You’ve got a big tour planned for April onwards. How’s the set list shaping up?

I’m doing quite a long show so I’ll be on stage for well over two hours. When I go see other artists there are certain songs that brought them to my attention and which I’d like to hear them sing, so I’m aware it’s the same with my audience.

So there’ll be old songs as well as the new material, I’ll be throwing in some surprises, having a party at the end and sending people out feeling better than when they came in. That’s always been my game plan when putting a show together.

 

RD: What couldn’t you be on the road without?

Nowadays it’s my iPad. It’s just such an important piece of kit: Do your messages, do your emails, watch the telly, listen to the radio…

 

RD: You’ve recently worked a lot with Alfie Boe, both on stage and in the studio. Is he feeling a bit left out this time round?

[Laughs] To be honest we wanted to be sure we could do shows on our own again, but we’re doing a one-off concert at Hampton Court in June and we’ll be back together for Les Miserables in the West End later in the year—after which we’ll be sick of the sight of each other, I’m sure.

 

RD: Who else have you worked with who’s really impressed you?

Oh, I loved working with Imelda Staunton in Sweeney Todd and in the film we did with Victoria Wood, That Day We Sang. She’s extraordinary as both an actress and as a human being. She’s a very special lady and my god, is she funny!

 

RD: Who would be your dream collaborator?

Barbra Streisand. She’s a magnificent performer. She’s doing a concert in Hyde Park this summer and I’ll be out of the country. I’m so gutted, I can’t even begin to talk about it.

 

 

RD: How does your post-show routine compare to when you were younger?

I’m much more chilled and much more aware that I have to be fit to do another show the next day. So it’s about comfy clothes, getting on the tour bus, eating something, watching a bit of telly and I try not to have a drink after a show anymore because I want to be in the best possible form I can be.

 

RD: How does it feel being hailed a national treasure?

It’s ridiculous. [Laughs] I’m far too young. I’m more like a regional trinket, as Jack Whitehall once said to Piers Morgan.

 

RD: Everyone perceives you as always happy and jolly, don’t they?

It’s my job to be. I honestly believe that. We’re here to make people feel better and to feel entertained. I know when to turn it off, such as when I’m performing a serious song, but if I’m meeting people in a social situation no-one wants a misery. I’m well aware that my life’s good and I’ve got very little to complain about. 

 

RD: What’s the most rock-and-roll thing you’ve ever done?

[Laughs] As if I’m gonna tell you that! There have been moments but I’ll never forget what my first agent said to me: ‘Get up to what you like but you must always look like the lily white hen who has never laid a stray.’

 

RD: As you mentioned, you’re returning to Les Miserables for a concert version more than three decades after you starred in the original. Did you ever imagine back then you’d have had the career you’ve had?

God, no. So much of this business is about luck and recognising what’s right. Sometimes you make your own luck but once you land a job it’s about making sure the people around you want to work with you again - so it’s about doing it to the best of your ability and being a good company member. That’s the beauty of this business and also the nightmare of it: You simply never know what’s around the corner. You can’t second-guess or anticipate, you just have to keep trying, to take risks when they need to be taken and be open to new things. 

 

RD: What’s the strangest thing a fan has ever given you?

When I was doing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a suitcase turned up at the stage door containing a number of money-off vouchers, a pair of pyjamas, a T-shirt, pants, socks, a ploughman’s lunch, a tin of beer, a bottle of water and a ticket to Rhyl where whoever sent it had booked a caravan for me. Did I go? [Laughs] You know, I was so tempted!

 

Michael Ball’s new album Coming Home To You is out on March 22 and he tours the UK from April 20. For more information visit michaelball.co.uk