I’m A Celeb: Russell Watson reveals why he missed reunion call
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Whether it’s banning him from displaying his trophies around their home, to critiquing his atrocious dancing, Russell admits the world has her to thank for keeping the People’s Tenor grounded. “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 of all the things that no one else needs to see.” When Louise, 31, took over Russell’s Instagram account during his stint on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity in November, she gave fans a taste of her straight talking after viewers saw the singer’s two left feet in action during a challenge.
“Hubby! When you get home we must chat about your dancing,” she posted.
And Russell says she never allowed fame to go to his head after he left the Welsh castle.
“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.
“It’s 10ft x 6ft, and 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 ten years you can actually walk into the shed. Everything’s tidy and organised.”
The couple married in 2015 and, Russell says, are still as much in love as ever. “We have a very good relationship, there’s no bickering or falling out,” he says. “She spends most of her day riding a horse. She’s a dressage rider, and rides to a really high level, and has been lucky that she’s been able to carry on riding through lockdown.
“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 prospect of the beginning of normality this summer, Russell, 54, is now looking forward to doing what he does best, taking to the stage again for three Last Night of the Heritage Proms open air concerts in July and August.
“We’ve picked some beautiful locations, we’ll have fireworks, Spitfire flyovers and the NHS choir will be joining me on stage, it’s going to be fantastic,” he says.
“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 the stage with a full orchestra, conductor, all my friends, the audience in front of me, I think it will be an immensely emotional moment.”
Today counted among the world’s finest classical voices, Russell began his working life as a bolt-cutter in his home town of Salford, Greater Manchester. The struggling factory worker, married to his first wife and with a family to support, started singing Elvis and Neil Diamond numbers in 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 match between Manchester United and Tottenham at Old Trafford. The performances got him noticed, and his first album, The Voice, held the UK No1 spot for a world record 52 weeks and won two Brit awards.
Dubbed the People’s Tenor due to his ordinary, unprivileged upbringing, during 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.
Two years later he suddenly became incapacitated while recording an album and doctors discovered a re-growth, which was also successfully removed.
He says it was his experience of facing those challenges that made his time last year in the I’m A Celebrity castle a doddle, including a trial which saw him strapped to the Rancid Rotisserie and dunked in offal.
He says: “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 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.
“I was desperate to do a trial. The whole idea of the show is to challenge yourself and do things you wouldn’t normally do under ordinary everyday circumstances. It was brilliant, honestly I had such a laugh.
“It was such a unique experience, it’s difficult to describe the sense you got when you were in there. Literally every creature comfort in your life is stripped away and I found that quite liberating.
“The environment is completely stress-free, all you’re thinking about in the morning is self-preservation. It’s like being a child again. There was such a feel good factor about the whole thing, we genuinely all got on. We were very conscious of the fact that any kind of silly bickering or back-biting would have just been ridiculous after the year that everybody had.”
Russell says the I’m A Celebrity stars have stayed in touch. He was in there with, among others, actors Shane Richie and Beverley Callard, West End star Ruthie Henshall, TV presenters Victoria Derbyshire and Vernon Kay, Olympian Sir Mo Farah, Paralympian Hollie Arnold and the eventual Queen of the Jungle, actress and author Giovanna Fletcher.
“We’re in contact all the time,” he says. “We have a WhatsApp group, every morning someone will send a little message asking how it’s going today and everyone who can be bothered replies.
“One of my favourite people in there was Hollie. She was first out but I found her to be a wonderful human being. She is the one person I’ve spoken to quite a lot in the past few months.”
Will his foray into reality TV mean we might see him on other shows? Maybe, Russell says, but nothing that might involve dance, especially after that talk with Louise.
“I’ve never been gifted in the movement department,” he says. “And certainly not Dancing On Ice. I’m dangerous enough on the bloody floor, never mind the ice. Not a chance. I’m so accident prone.”
But Russell says we will be seeing more of him on screen soon, revealing that a biopic of his life is planned.
He says: “It’s really exciting when you get approached about these things. It’s in the embryonic stages but it’s something we are very much discussing and it could happen quite quickly.
“The people who came to talk enthusiastic to me about it were very enthusiastic, they were comparing it to a modern day Billy Elliot because of how I’ve come from the backstreets of Salford to performing private audiences for the Pope, with a tragedy in the middle and overcoming that.
“That’s been the story of the last 20 years of my life and they really like the idea of the story.”
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,” he laughs.
“Can you imagine, live on Drury Lane, the star of the show, the man himself, Russell Watson! 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.” Not even Louise.
Last Night of the Heritage Proms with Russell Watson, West Sussex, July 18; Berkshire, July 25; and Saffron Walden, Essex, August 15.
Tickets available now via heritagelive.net
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