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Russell Watson: 'When I started out I was a bit of a rough diamond'

Tenor Russell Watson talks of his humble beginnings and beating two brain tumours


‘People’s tenor’: Russell Watson

‘People’s tenor’: Russell Watson

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20 by Russell Watson is out now. His 20th anniversary tour now takes place this year

20 by Russell Watson is out now. His 20th anniversary tour now takes place this year


‘People’s tenor’: Russell Watson

Long before Tyson Fury was the People's Champion, I was the People's Tenor," says Russell Watson with a wry smile.

Comparisons between Watson, a Salford-born classical singer, and Fury, a world heavyweight champion boxer, might at first seem odd.

But both rose from humble backgrounds to become among the most successful in their field, and both fought back after battles with their health.

"When I started out 25 years ago I was a bit of a rough diamond," Watson explains over the phone.

"But I have honed my skill over the last 20-odd years or so and I am very pleased where I am at at the moment."

Watson is speaking from the Cheshire home he shares with his second wife, Louise, and is occasionally interrupted by the youngest and most demanding of their four dogs.

The 54-year-old is celebrating two decades since the release of his debut album with the aptly titled 20, an album featuring newly recorded versions of highlights from his career, and a tour this year.

Starting out performing in clubs around the north west while working on factory floors, Watson found overnight fame with the release of his debut album The Voice in 2000.

But his career was almost derailed when in 2005 he began having headaches and was diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma the size of two golf balls.

He underwent a five-hour operation to have it removed.

Two years later he suddenly became incapacitated while recording his album Outside In and doctors discovered a regrowth, which was also successfully removed.

So what lessons has he learned in those 20 years?

"You get to the point in your life, especially when you are progressing in your years, and I have been through my fair share of s*** in my life, with ill-health and all the rest of it, so I try not to dwell on negativity too much.

"It's funny because, back in the early days of my career, I really did used to.

"A lot of artists will tell you this. When I was doing the arenas… you are at the MEN Arena and there are 13,500 people rammed in there and there is one person in the middle with a miserable face not clapping - that is the person you will hone in on."

Crowning a landmark year, Watson signed up to appear on I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! - which took place in a Welsh castle instead of the Australian jungle due to coronavirus.

He had repeatedly turned down the show because he thought it would be impossible to keep up his life-saving course of gels, tablets and steroid injections.

But, with it moving to within a relative stone's throw from his Cheshire home, he had no excuse.

He almost backed out of the Rancid Rotisserie trial, which saw him strapped into a rotating machine that repeatedly dunked him into cold gunge, because it reminded him of the MRI scanner used during his brain tumour treatment.

"I'm terrified of small spaces because I associate them with…" he trails off.

"I have had so many MRI scans on my brain and various other parts of my body, to be fair, so I am used to having MRI scans, but when I go in it's like I need a sedative or something to calm me down.

"I have to take my specialist in with me just to keep me calm because I associate those types of things with bad news.

"So, as a result, I am lying on my back and being strapped into this thing.

"It was when the bloke who was strapping me in came over, he had his mask on and everything, and it literally felt like I was in a hospital."

Belfast Telegraph