Michael Ball (seen here on the left), actor, singer and broadcaster, chats with Kevin Cooper about a possible musical venture with Gary Barlow, his best and worst Christmas present, his and Alfie Boe’s latest album Together Again, and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Michael Ball, OBE is an English actor, singer and broadcaster, who is known for his work in musical theatre. He made his West End debut in 1985 playing Marius in the original London production of Les Misérables, and went on to star in 1987 as Raoul in The Phantom Of The Opera. In 1989, he reached number two in the UK singles chart with Love Changes Everything, a song taken from the musical Aspects Of Love, where he played Alex. He played the role both in London and on Broadway.

In 1992, Ball represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing second with the song One Step Out of Time. In 1995, he reprised the role of Marius in Les Misérables: The Dream Cast In Concert. His other West End roles include Giorgio in Passion (1997) and Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002). He has twice won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. He won it in 2008 for his role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, and then in 2013 for the title role in the revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

He currently presents The Michael Ball Show on BBC Radio 2 on Sunday mornings.

Ball was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to musical theatre.

Whilst busy promoting his latest album and forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Michael how are you?

I’m very well thanks Kevin, how are you today?

I’m doing well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, thank you for your support. I do hope that you are going to be supportive (laughter).

I know that you are extremely busy at the moment but just how is life treating you?

Life at the moment is pretty special, it is really lovely. Alfie (Boe) and I have just got back from a great tour of Australia. I hadn’t been over there for thirteen years and it all went so well. We both walked into the maelstrom and the excitement of the release of the new album Together Again and yes, everything was good. Everything is good at home, and I have to say that I am in a nice place at the moment; thank you for asking.

You and I last spoke on 30th October last year prior to the tour. Everywhere sold out within hours and you played three sell-out shows here in Nottingham. You must have been pleased with the fans response?

Oh my God, we simply couldn’t believe it. As you rightly point out we added extra dates up there in Nottingham and we played the Royal Concert Hall three times. We actually played Nottingham more than anywhere else which is why we are going to be playing at the Motorpoint Arena this year. So yes, the 30th October last year when you and I last spoke was the start of everything incredible. Alfie and I did our very first concert in Cardiff, the album Together was released, and then literally from that point on every day we were getting more news relayed back to us about how well the sales were going for the tour, how the sales were going for the record; it was like a huge snowball effect.

We got to the end of the year and we had to add extra dates as everywhere had sold-out and the album was at number one over Christmas. I will be honest with you, we were both absolutely knackered. I’m not One Direction (laughter) but to find ourselves at the end of the year with every dream that we could ever have had actually professionally, coming true, it was a little bit mind blowing. And it was so lovely to then be able to finish, go home, be with the family and say “have you seen what has just happened” (laughter). It was amazing.

You mention the album, Together. It sold over six hundred thousand copies here in the UK alone. That really is phenomenal.

It is and what is even more exciting is that it was six hundred thousand physical copies, it wasn’t streaming or downloads, it was people going out and actually buying the product. And that is kind of a record in this day and age. It just goes to show doesn’t it that if you have got the right product, you make the right thing, and you tap into the right market then it is still possible to sell physical copies. That to me is very exciting. And I have to say that the new album Together Again, although I would say this wouldn’t I, is even better than the previous album.

You have told me how you felt at the end of the tour but just how did it feel seeing you and Alfie become two of the biggest artists in the world?

(Hysterical laughter) I personally don’t really think that you can analyse it. I think that because we are both old enough, experienced enough and have been around long enough to have seen just what can happen in this business, plus we are fairly level-headed, and not going out and going mad….

Not that mad anyway (laughter).

Not that mad (laughter). At least not that mad that we are going to get caught. We both know and appreciate just how lucky we are. We know how blessed we are; we know how to cherish it and we know when to smell the roses. We know that it could all be taken away from us in a second; we both know that. For me it was twenty-five years ago now that I had a number one album so there has been quite a break between the two number one albums (laughter). That really is awesome. And then blooming’ Vera Lynn goes and….(laughter). But then you realise just how old Dame Vera is and think ‘oh well I have got a way to go’ (laughter).

I have to ask you, The One Night Only TV Special, was it as much fun to make as it was for the watching audience?

Yes it was, it really was, but hang on, how can we have a One Night Only Special when we have just recorded one again (laughter). That’s the irony of it. Both Alfie and I have over the years done loads of TV shows but I think that I have far more experience than Alfie has when it comes to doing this kind of TV programme. I have never known a show where you start it in front of a live audience, and you just do it with no retakes, no editing, and the whole thing just happens. And that is what occurred. So much of the show was spontaneous, and for the TV company to invest in having a full orchestra on the show, well people simply don’t make those kinds of shows anymore. It is a real privilege for us to be able to do a show of family entertainment; anyone can watch it and have a good time with it.

I have to ask, is there any truth in the current story that you and Alfie will be joining forces with a certain Gary Barlow on a new musical venture?

(Hysterical laughter) old Alfie’s terrible isn’t he (laughter). The thing is, we both know Gary, in fact Alfie knows him very well, and Gary is currently making huge inroads into musical theatre. He has had Neverland on Broadway, The Girls in the West End, and he is currently writing new musicals. I think that the journalist who supposedly broke the story put two and two together and made forty-seven. But here’s the thing, if Gary wants to write a show for me and Boe we will do it. We would love to find a project like that and if Gary wants to be in it as well, then that would be great. Similarly if he is tired of the other lads in Take That and an opening comes up, who knows (laughter). We just need to get the billing sorted and ensure that Gary has got everything required to be a part of our team B; B and B it would be so he can join us at any time (laughter).

There is a saying that if you want to get ahead in business then you have to get the monkey off your back. Well I have to ask, what have you done with Alfie?

(Laughter) I have had him put away (laughter). The funny thing is that Alfie and I have never met. You will never have seen us in the same room together (laughter). Alfie is actually in another room speaking to someone else as we speak.

The last time that I spoke to Alfie he spent the entire interview swearing at me (laughter).

Did he really, well you should try being me (laughter).

Let’s talk about the new album Together Again. I have now been playing it for a couple of weeks and as much as it pains me to say this, I actually love it.

(Hysterical laughter) pains you to say, you cheeky bugger (laughter). You really don’t have to say that but if you do truly like the album then thank you. I’m chuffed to bits with the album and I think that the arrangements that we have got on there are a step up from the last album. I’m also pleased with the way that Alfie and I now work together and sing together. We now instinctively know what to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of the first one, it was a great album and one of the best that I have ever been involved with, but there was a learning curve on that album. However, with the new album I feel that a great track leads into a great track and it feels really good.

I know that you will be getting bored by now being asked the same question but (laughter) just how did you settle on the songs which finally made it onto the album?

We just kept on coming at each other with different ideas and different songs and that is what we always do. We sit down around a piano, sing through things and we instinctively know just what is going to work. There is very little toing and froing saying “it should be this one” or “it should be that one”, we both knew really quickly. Some of the songs that we had both assumed would be no brainers and that they would work simply didn’t. Others which came from the left field left both of us saying “oh my God that is really special. There is something really exciting happening here”. Alfie bought some songs to the table that had me saying “really, I’m not quite sure about this one” but after we had worked on them they really did work.

And the same for me; I went to the table with a few ideas to which Alfie said “oh really, it’s been done to death. I can’t really hear the two of us doing that” but again, once we got started something magical happened. It is an instinctive thing and it goes back to the fact that we now know each other so well, there is almost a telepathy between us about just how a song is going to go for us.

Well I have to say that you have recorded one of my favourite songs of all time and I think that you have done a fantastic version of it.

Really, you have me intrigued now. Which one is that?

It’s You’re The Voice by John Farnham.

I’m so pleased that you like it. I have wanted to record a cover version of that song forever, right back to the start of my recording career but it never quite worked. I mean it was alright when I was singing it on my own but I thought there is no point, John Farnham does it so much better. However, when Alfie and I put our two voices together it is no longer simply a copy of the John Farnham song. It totally makes it something else. That was a song that I was banging onto Alfie about and I was really pleased and excited when he agreed that we should record it for the album. I am delighted with the way that song has turned out.

It’s one of those songs that if you like it then it’s the hairs on the back of the neck syndrome isn’t it?

Totally, I totally agree with you. The very first time that we performed that song was actually in Australia whilst we were there on tour in order to see just how it would go down with the fans. Well what can I say, the whole place went mental.

Thanks to modern day technology, you and Alfie have been able to record your version of White Christmas with the late Bing Crosby. How did that make you feel?

I have to be honest with you and tell you that for me, it was one of the greatest moments ever. Bing Crosby was my gran’s favourite singer and if she had been around to hear me singing with Bing Crosby then oh my God she would have been made up. So she is up there somewhere looking down beaming. The whole experience was simply awesome and a real privilege. Isn’t technology amazing that we can now do that, take his voice and me and Alfie be able to mix in with it. It was lovely of his estate to say that they were happy for us to do it.

You have mentioned the fact that the last album Together was the Christmas number one last year, have you released Together Again a little too early to achieve that again this year?

(Hysterical laughter) we are releasing the new album a week earlier than we did the last one and to be honest we are not anticipating anything like the success of the last one. You simply cannot think about that sort of thing, it’s just going to be out there. If people liked the last one then I am sure that they will love this one. Just how it performs in the charts, who knows. You have to remember that the music industry is a fickle old business and there are a lot of big releases coming up. As long as the people who do buy it enjoy it and then they tell their friend that they liked it then that would be great. But having said all of that, if the album did get to number one then I wouldn’t mind (laughter). I would be okay with that and I’m sure that Alfie would be as well (laughter).

Let me just say that I wouldn’t bet against it (laughter).

Well from your lips to God’s ear (laughter).

The tour hits Nottingham on Wednesday 13th December and I have to say that as of this morning there are not that many tickets left.

Seriously, that is fabulous news. Oh my God that really is great news. Thank you for checking for us, that really is fantastic news.

Just what can the audience expect?

A lot of nudity, bad language and a lot of everything else that the audiences have come to hope and pray will come from Ball and Boe (laughter). Being serious for a moment, the one thing that the audience will get this time around is a much bigger show. We will be performing songs from the new album together with the things that went down really well on the last tour. And as we mentioned the last time that we spoke, I am still desperately trying to get Alfie to do a Wham medley (laughter). We are currently arguing as to who is George and who is Andrew (laughter). I am going to get him to do it.

Just as long as you are not arguing as to who is Pepsi and who is Shirley (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) now there’s an idea (laughter).

Thirty two years ago you made your West End debut playing Marius in the original London production of Les Misérables. Looking back, have you enjoyed the ride?

I can’t believe it, I wouldn’t change a thing; it has been amazing. And thirty two years later for me to be having this conversation with you, talking about a brand new album coming out and the fact that I could possibly have the Christmas number one again, then yes, I have enjoyed the ride (laughter).

If I had to push you, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Do you know what, nothing is ever going to beat last year, it was simply amazing and so unexpected. It was a total gift absolutely without question. It was all so varied as well, all of the other stuff that we got to do; it was a brilliant year.

As the tour will be taking place during the run-up to Christmas I have a couple of Christmas based questions to ask you if I may.

Okay let’s do it, go for it.

What is the best Christmas present that you have ever received?

Cathy (McGowan) and I had a huge house fire which destroyed all of my records and memorabilia and I have to say that I don’t know how she did it but she put together a file of old press cuttings which basically related to everything that I had ever done throughout my life. It was just so meticulously done and thought out. She had got in touch with people at the theatres I had appeared at, together with friends and she had found old pictures and reviews and it was so beautiful. I still to this day treasure it.

On the other side of the coin what is the worst Christmas present that you have ever received?

(Laughter) it’s funny that you should ask me that. Cathy also then got me a Gucci patent leather document holder (laughter). I have to say that it was the most hideous thing that I have ever seen in my life and it was not cheap. I looked at her and said “do you really know who I am” (laughter). She just smiled and said “but it is very, very trendy” to which I replied “well that’s good then because I’m not” (laughter).

What would be Michael Ball’s ideal Christmas?

That’s easy, I’m going to have it. On Christmas Eve I will be doing my radio show live, then the rest of Christmas Eve will be spent with the family who will be coming over to ours. We will most probably have something nice to eat, watch a bit of telly, and then go to Midnight Mass. Then Christmas Day morning we will be up, opening presents, a bit of breakfast, walk the dogs then I will be cooking the dinner. So Christmas will be spent at home with a few lovely walks, far too much food, Christmas telly, the Doctor Who special, Strictly Come Dancing, all of that kind of stuff and then Boxing Day we will be off to the panto.

Michael on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful once again.

It’s been my pleasure Kevin. You take care and I will see you up there in Nottingham.