'I love the whole festive season... I'm not a Scrooge'
Ahead of a TV special with Michael Ball, tenor Alfie Boe tells Jeananne Craig why they're different and what he likes about the festive season
A self-described "miserable northerner", Alfie Boe groans as he describes Michael Ball's pre-performance routine. "Oh my goodness, it's like some sort of cult ceremony when you go on before a show with him," the tenor says in his slow Lancashire drawl.
"He does these handclap things he's roped me into doing, and if we slip up a little bit, like if we don't make full contact with our hands, we'll have to do it again."
The pair are sharing the bill on a nationwide tour (and have a new album, Together, out, too) and while there's no doubt they gel on stage, they are very different people away from it.
"I always try and put a positive spin on stuff and keep people's spirits high, and Alfie is a dementor," the irrepressibly cheerful Ball tells me, before they both crack up laughing.
They're chalk and cheese - but it works.
Boe, who has achieved UK album sales of more than a million and four top 10 albums, describes Ball as "a wonderful colleague on stage and a great friend off stage".
"It's mutual respect, I think," he says. "We like each other and we've known one another a long time."
"We have fun," Ball, a double Olivier Award winner, adds. "We like the music we're doing, and we're thrilled with the reaction we're getting to the album and the tour. It's all feeling really rather nice."
In December, they'll appear in an upcoming TV special on ITV, with songs from the album, a medley from Les Miserables and some very special guests.
"It's funny, it's got the music and some fab live guests who are hilarious," says Ball, who was awarded an OBE last year for his services to musical theatre.
Can we ask what stars will appear? "No, you can't," he replies. "It's a surprise."
They'll be on stage the night it airs, but Ball plans to watch it on catch-up and "try to look at it as a third person and be objective".
He does confess he will always question certain camera angles, however, "because I now look enormous".
Boe, who worked as a mechanic before honing his music skills at the Royal College of Music and the National Opera Studio, avoids watching his own work on screen.
"You can't do anything about it once it's recorded and it's going to be broadcast," he says. "If there's something better on the other side, I'd sooner watch that. I don't watch myself on TV. I do watch Crimewatch, just in case I'm on there."
They usually share a dressing room and eat together, but before a gig, Ball will have a quick lie-down, while Boe (left) strums on his guitar.
Downtime is spent recharging their batteries, so no wild nights or TVs thrown out of hotel room windows. "It's really about just gathering your strength and indulging yourself a little bit on your days off," says Ball (54).
"I think towards the end of the tour, we might get a little bit more frisky - that's my feeling."
"Alfie doesn't drink, so I do his for him. It's my duty to make up for him.
"The other weird thing is that Alfie does all the eating - I've never seen anyone eat more in my entire life. He eats it and I put the weight on."
Boe's wife, eight-year-old daughter and four-year-old son live across the pond in Utah, and the star (43) admits spending large chunks of the year away from them is a struggle.
"We FaceTime four or five times a day, usually on school drop-off, school pick-up, just before they're having their dinner and just before I'm going to bed," he says.
"The touring life is difficult, so you rely on other people to keep you sane and give you the love that you need. Michael is always there for a good hug and a handshake."
One thing the pair can agree on is a mutual love of Christmas.
It's a very traditional affair chez Ball. "We'll do one present at midnight on Christmas Eve, then I'll spend the day making a mess and letting someone else clean up," says Michael. "Then I'm taking everyone to see the panto on Boxing Day."
Meanwhile, although Boe jokes that he'll be making the kids a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Christmas dinner "if they're lucky", he's clearly looking forward to it.
"Normally in Utah on Christmas day, it snows like crazy," he says. "We get the hot chocolate going, the fireplace lit and the kids excited, then the day is spent in slippers, eating food and watching a movie.
"I am a big Christmas fan. I'm not an Ebenezer Scrooge - I might sound like it, but I'm not."
- Ball And Boe: One Night Only, ITV, Friday, 9pm