tenor, Russell Watson became a professional opera singer in 1996
at just 23 years of age, winning both local and national acclaim
for his amazing voice.
His parents, an engineer
and a shop assistant, loved classical music and played it often
while Russell was growing up. But it was covering Meatloaf and Michael
Bolton tunes that got him his gigs in the working men’s clubs
and lounges after a long week’s work as a Bolt cutter.
Though he knew he could
sing, Russell didn’t imagine going much outside the range
of popular music, nor much outside Greater Manchester, but an owner
of a club where he was singing suggested to him that he try Puccini’s
“Nessun Dorma.” (which was popular in Britain after
Pavaroti's version reached Number 1 in the pop charts during the
1990 Italian World Cup). Russell was sceptical, particularly since
he knew no Italian, but he learned the song phonetically and discovered
that singing opera moved him in ways he hadn’t expected. He
began including as much classical music into his sets at local clubs
as he thought he could get away with. To his surprise, the audiences
began to respond.
united's 12 player
Singing classical music at a local
charity event brought him to the attention of Manchester United
Chief Executive Martin Edwards. Edwards asked him to sing at the
Munich Memorial Game in 1998. The World's press flocked to Old Trafford
to cover the charity match, in which United legend Eric Cantona
returned to the club for the first time since retiring a year earlier.
Russell, a life-long Manchester United
fan and season-ticket holder, thought his dreams had come true however,
it is alledged, that on the very last minute, Eric insisted that
Mick Hucknall sing "Holding Back the Years" instead. Russell
was devastated and made front page headlines the following morning
for all the wrong reasons.
In 1999, Russell sang the National Anthem before the London versus
Leeds Rugby League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and also astounded
the fans of Lancashire Cricket Club with an amazing performance
during one of their floodlit evening matches.
On the 16th May 1999, Russell finally
realised his dream when he was invited back to Old Trafford to sing
before United's Premiership winning match with Tottenham Hotspur.
As the young tenor walked onto the pitch wearing a tuxedo, the electric
atmosphere was reduced to a hush as he broke into the World Cup
anthem "Nessun Dorma". Everybody in the stadium was astounded
by the magic of Russell's voice and even the cynical journalists
in the Press box joined both sets of supporters in a standing ovation.
No sooner had the game ended with
United winning their 5th Premiership trophy, before the crowd were
singing for Russell again. He returned to the pitch and immediately
broke into an amazing version of Freddie Mercury & Montserrat
Caballe's magnificent "Barcelona", tearing off his tuxedo
to reveal a red United shirt whilst orchestrating the crowd just
like Freddie would have done.
A week later and Russell must have thought he had died and gone
to heaven when, in front of 95,000 supporters, he was asked to sing
a full set in Barcelona's Nou Camp Stadium before Manchester United's
triumphant European Cup Final against Bayern Munich. His version
of "Nessun Dorma" again won a standing ovation from both
sets of fans and his version of "Barcelona" was adapted
to include the line "This dream was of Man U" (instead
of the original "This dream was me and you".) To crown
Russell's performance, he was followed by a live performance from
Montserrat Caballe herself with a brilliant video link up of old
Freddie Mercury footage on the huge scoreboards.
Russell has since gone on to perform
a series of duets with Sir Cliff Richard in London's Hyde Park.
He also recorded "Swing Low '99", the official England
Rugby Team song for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, which he also performed
live at Twickenham before England's game with the New Zealand All
Blacks in front of 74,000 fans. The single gave him UK Top 40 chart
success, albeit at number 38.
In what is truely one of the most
interesting recordings of his career, Russell joined fellow United
fan, Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays and Black Grape), for a truely Mancunian
version of "Barcelona". Had the single been released in
the May of 1999, the track would have surely topped the charts,
however by the time of its release (July 2000), United were no longer
European Champions and the interest outside of Manchester was not
enough to lift the single higher than Number 68.
Having appeared live at many more
big sporting and national events (including the final ever football
match at Wembley Stadium), Russell's debut album received great
media attention. In October 2000, "The Voice", climbed
to No.13 in the UK pop charts and topped the classical chart for
over half a year! With guests including Shaun Ryder, Cleopatra and
Maire Brennan, the track listing mixes opera and theatre classics
with pop tunes such as Ultravox's "Vienna" and Simon &
Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". The album cover
pictured him walking across the bridge at The Lowry in Salford and
also included many shots of him outside various Manchester landmarks.
The heavy touring and promotional
schedule that Russell underwent to keep "The Voice" at
the top of the UK classical music charts far 26 weeks, ultimately
led to the divorce from his wife in March 2001.
Russell played the part of Sir Matt
Busby alongside world-famous rock stars and actors in a musical
about Manchester United at the Bridgewater Hall in November 2001.
On his World tour promoting "The
Voice", Russell received a similar reaction to that in the
UK. The album went straight in at Number 1 in the US Billboard Classical
Having contributed to the soundtrack
of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and providing the theme tune to the
latest Star Trek, Russell returned to the studio to record his second
When "Encore" was released,
the success was incredible. With arguably a far better vocal performance
than on "The Voice", Russell teamed up with the likes
of Lulu and Lionel Richie. The album reached Number 6 in the UK
pop charts and sold millions worldwide. Again the album sleeve featured
many photographs of Manchester, including a great picture of Russell
at Manchester Airport on the cover. His worldwide tour immediately
sold out (including a concert in front of 100,000 people in New
Zealand) and fans couldn't get enough of the Salford tenor.
In May 2002, Russell teamed up with
ex-Steps singer Faye Tozer to release the single, "Someone
Like You". It reached number 10 in the UK pop charts and provided
Russell with yet another new fanbase.
Russell Watson opened the Manchester
2002 Commonwealth Games in his home city with a brilliant performance
of "Where My Heart Will Take Me", to a television audience
of over a billion. Are there any dreams the young tenor has not
His third album, "Reprise"
mixed opera with pop classics including "Someone Like You".
Russell's voice seemed to have got even stronger than on "Encore"
as he delivered a powerful version of Bizet's Pearl-Fishers duet,
Schubert’s Ave Maria and a spectacular arrangement of Dean
Martin's That's Amore. Teaming up again with Manchester's Cleopatra
Higgins on 'The Best that Love Can Be', Russell showed he hadn't
forgotten his routes. As well as another Freddie Mercury cover,
Queen’s pop-opera classic, Bohemian Rhapsody, he also sang
a brilliant version of Mike and The Mechanics' classic 'The Living
Years'. (ex-Mechanics frontman and fellow Mancunian, Paul Young,
had tragically died of a heart attack in Manchester, July 2000).
Reprise seemed to receive very
little promotion, however it still climbed to a respectable Number
13 in the UK album charts.
Russell returned to Old Trafford,
the home of his beloved Manchester United, to record the video to
his next single, "Nothing Sacred". Reaching Number 17
in the UK singles charts at Christmas 2002, it raised much needed
funds for Kirsty's Appeal in aid of the Francis House Children's
Hospice in Manchester. The charity was set up by little Kirsty Howard,
whose struggle with terminal illness had won the hearts of the nation,
and indeed the world when she appeared at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth
Games opening ceremony with David Beckham, where she passed the
Commonwealth baton to the Queen.
Russell Watson has recently been made
a World Peace and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and
travels the globe campaigning when he's not travelling the world
promoting his records. Whenever he gets chance, Russell returns
home to Irlam and still attends Manchester United matches.
Russell 'The Voice' Watson is living
a dream that even he could never have expected, however he remains
a true Mancunian at heart.
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Russell Watson discography]