Russell Watson spent lockdown doing wife's list of chores after concerts cancelled
When you’ve sold more than seven million albums and performed private audiences for the Pope, three US presidents and a Japanese emperor, it must be hard to keep your feet on the ground.
So it’s surprising to hear that singer Russell Watson, one of the world’s finest classical voices, spent lockdown doing just what many of us did – having a clear-out.
“When we went into lockdown, my wife in her wisdom decided to compile a list for me of all the things I’d been meaning to do but never got round to,” he says.
“Top of the list was tidying the garden shed. I literally emptied the entire contents of the shed on to the lawn and slowly began to work through them.
“Without a word of a lie I found three bikes in there that I didn’t even know I owned. Now, for the first time in 10 years you can actually walk into the shed. Everything’s tidy and organised.”
Russell credits his wife Louise, 31, with ensuring his success – which includes his first album spending a record-breaking 52 weeks at No1 and an impending film of his life – doesn’t go too much to his head.
“My wife wouldn’t let me hang up my gold discs and platinum discs around the house. She says they’re not as nice as paintings,” he chuckles.
“So I had to put them all in a little room I have which I call my boy’s room, full things that no one else needs to see.”
When Russell, 54, took part in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity in November, Louise took over his Instagram account.
His followers soon saw her straight-talking approach for themselves, as she berated her husband for his awkward dancing during a challenge in the Welsh castle.
“Hubby! When you get home we must chat about your dancing,” she posted.
Russell says he and Louise, who wed in 2015, have a “very good relationship”.
He says: “We get on well, there’s no bickering or falling out. We share the household responsibilities, we cook for each other on alternate days, then sit down in the evening and watch a bit of television.”
With the hope of a return to pre-pandemic normality this summer, Russell is looking forward to being on stage again, for three Last Night of the Heritage Proms open air concerts in July and August.
He says: “We’ve picked some beautiful locations. We’ll have fireworks, Spitfire flyovers, and the NHS choir will be joining me. It’s going to be fantastic.
“By the time I get up on stage it’s going to be 18 months since I last performed live in front of an audience. I’m getting shivers now just thinking about it, walking on with a full orchestra, conductor, all my friends, the audience in front of me. I think it will be an immensely emotional moment.”
Russell began his working life as a bolt-cutter in his home city of Salford, Greater Manchester.
The struggling factory worker, then married to his first wife and with a family to support, started singing Elvis and Neil Diamond covers in local working men’s clubs to earn some extra cash.
His big break came in 1999 when he was chosen to sing the national anthem at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, and then for a football match between Manchester United and Spurs at Old Trafford.
The performances got him noticed, and his first album, The Voice, was top of the UK and US Classical charts and won two Brit awards.
Dubbed “the People’s Tenor” due to his working class upbringing, over his 20-year career he has performed for some of the world’s most famous people, from the Queen to the late pope, John Paul II.
But with the highs came some devastating lows.
In 2005 he underwent a five-hour operation to remove a pituitary tumour the size of two golf balls near his brain.
Two years later he suddenly became incapacitated while recording an album and doctors discovered a regrowth, which was also successfully removed.
He says facing those challenges helped him in the I’m A Celeb castle last year, including in ‘rancid rotisserie’ trial where he was dunked in rotten offal.
“I’m claustrophobic and had major concerns about that, but I did what I always do when I’m faced with adversity – and trust me, I’ve looked adversity in the face a few times. I took a swallow got on with it. Once I’d been dunked once I was like, ‘It’s not too bad’.
“On telly it looked like I went under 10 times, but it was way more than that.
He says he was “desperate to do a trial. The whole idea of the show is to challenge yourself and do things you wouldn’t normally under ordinary circumstances. It was brilliant. Honestly I had such a laugh.
“There was such a feel-good factor – we genuinely all got on. We were very conscious of the fact that any kind of silly bickering would have been ridiculous after the year that everybody had.”
Russell says the I’m A Celebrity stars have stayed in touch. “We’re in contact all the time. We have a WhatsApp group. Every morning someone will send a little message.”
One of his favourite competitors was Paralympics champion Hollie Arnold.
“She was first out but I found her to be a wonderful human being. I’ve spoken to [her] quite a lot in the past few months.”
Despite his foray into reality TV, we won’t be seeing Russell in any shows that involve dance, he says – especially after his talk with Louise about his dodgy dancing.
“I’ve never been gifted in the movement department,” he adds. “And certainly not Dancing on Ice. I’m dangerous enough on the bloody floor, never mind the ice.”
Fans might soon see more of him on the silver screen, though, as filmmakers are planning a biopic of his life.
He reveals: “It’s really exciting. The people who came to talk to me about it was very enthusiastic about it. They were comparing it to a modern-day Billy Elliot, because of how I’ve come from the back streets of Salford to performing private audiences for the Pope, with a tragedy in the middle and overcoming that.”
Maybe he could play himself if his biopic, like Billy Elliot, is turned into a West End musical?
“That would be a little bit self indulgent,” Russell laughs. “Can you imagine, it’s my musical and I’m playing myself, it’s all about me! I don’t need anyone to tell me that would be a little too much.”
*Last Night of the Heritage Proms with Russell Watson: Ardingly, West Sussex, July 18; Theale, Berkshire July 25; and Saffron Walden, Essex, August 15. Full event info and tickets are available at heritagelive.net.