Paul Potts, winner of the first series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2007, chats with Kevin Cooper about performing at The Royal Variety Show, the release of his new album, Home, his current tour of the UK, and Nottingham’s one-way system.
Paul Robert Potts hails from Port Talbot, Wales and came to fame in 2007 after winning the first series of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent with his performance of Nessun Dorma.
His previous job as a Manager of The Car Phone Warehouse was left behind when he flipped a coin to see if he should enter the competition. Since then he has had two top selling albums and has now released his third; ‘Home’.
A hugely successful film was made about his life story; One Chance, and starred James Corden in the starring role. Now on tour to promote his latest album, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.
Hi Paul how are you?
I’m well thank you. How are you Kevin?
I’m very well thank you and before we go any further I would like to wish you a very happy birthday.
Yes Kevin, I’m getting older every year (hysterical laughter). I am thinking about starting to count backwards (laughter).
I was just thinking that it’s your birthday and instead of being out enjoying yourself, here you are sat talking to me (laughter).
This is actually my first birthday at home in the past seven years. I haven’t managed to get a day off for my birthday since the days when I worked for the Carphone Warehouse. It was good because they always gave you your birthday off at the Carphone Warehouse, or at least they certainly did when I worked for them (laughter).
So on this, your birthday, how is life treating Paul Potts?
It’s all good at the moment Kevin. I have spent the last seven years doing something that I love doing in forty-five different countries. I have just got back from Japan and Korea and I have to say that the weather is much better over there (laughter). Japan however has got a monsoon heading inland so not so good there, but when I was there they basically had wall to wall sunshine for four weeks. The moment that we landed back here at Heathrow it was pouring it down (laughter).
You new album ‘Home’ has recently been released and looking at the track listing, there are some big songs on there. What inspired your choice of songs?
Well Kevin I have always been of the view that music isn’t simply about the genre, for me, music is about what speaks to you. And so I wanted this album to be all about the music and not just about one area of it, and so songs such as ‘November Rain’ by Guns N’ Roses and the Eagles classic song ‘Desperado’ were, for me, really good choices for the album. My wife chose the Guns N’ Roses and The Foo Fighters tracks as she is a bit of a Rock Chic (laughter) and they work incredibly well. I was determined to leave the longest of the two guitar solos in November Rain, which is the better of the two, and whilst it does make the song a bit longer, it’s a great song and that guitar solo is amazing. The guitarist who was on tour with us did an incredible job of interpreting that great guitar solo.
I also see that you have covered my personal favourite Spandau Ballet track, ‘Through The Barricades’.
Yes Kevin that is simply another great song. There was a time when I would occasionally do that song at karaoke. It is a really iconic song but you are always taking a risk when you pick iconic songs because you can’t sing them exactly like the original; you have to give it your own twist as well without changing it so that it becomes unrecognisable from its original form.
You have worked closely with PledgeMuisc for this album. How did that work for you?
Yes Kevin that’s right. I found that fine, it’s a good way for people to get involved with the process and it also helps other things too, for example I am a keen photographer and it gave me the opportunity to sell a few photographs to the fans as well. In my opinion PledgeMusic have given a lot of artists an opportunity to get records made by getting assistance with the funding. However, I had already funded the album before we got to that stage, but it does give people the opportunity to get some funding for records and it also gives people the opportunity sometimes, in certain circumstances, to have some input as well. I think that as artists you have to try more and more to involve your fans in what you do. There are so many ways of getting free music now, most of which are not necessarily legal, and so you have just got to work that little bit harder in order to get the recognition.
And as you have said, it makes the fans feel closer to you, and they are actually involved with it which can’t be a bad thing.
No it can’t be a bad thing. It gives people the opportunity to have some sort of part to play and without your fans you don’t have a future so it’s important to have that input.
You mentioned photography, then I had better be on my best behaviour as I am coming to shoot you at The Royal Concert Hall in November.
(Hysterical laughter) hopefully with a camera and nothing else (laughter).
So on the subject of the tour, and you looking forward to getting back out on the road in the UK?
Well I haven’t really stopped touring at all over the past seven years Kevin. However saying that, this will be my first tour in the UK for a few years. It will be my third time performing at The Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and it is always one of my favourite venues. It has always got a great atmosphere, the acoustics are good and for me it is always a great place to come to. Having said all of that Kevin, it is an absolute pain to park at the back (laughter) and Nottingham has got one of the most interesting one-way systems anywhere in the country (laughter). This will be my first time driving to the gig so I have got ‘Bus Gate’ to look forward to (hysterical laughter). I know a lot of people who have been caught by the cameras there.
We all know you for being the very first winner of Britain’s Got Talent, how did that feel?
It was kind of bizarre Kevin, rather like the last seven years have been really (laughter). I only entered literally off of the back of a ten pence piece. I never expected it to ever take me anywhere, and I certainly didn’t expect it to take me around the world so many times. It’s been a fantastic opportunity from something that I almost didn’t enter. It has changed my life and has given me opportunities that I would never have dreamed of having before.
Why did you not enter The X Factor, did you think that Britain’s Got Talent suited you better?
I think that except for the fact that The X Factor is a bigger risk, which involved taking four months out of your life, I just didn’t think that I would get anywhere. In the end it was a ten pence piece which I flipped and even when I sent in my application form for BGT, I didn’t think that they would take me seriously. The way that I looked at it was that they were looking for twenty year olds, singing pop music who were all very good looking and skinny. There was me; at the time I was thirty six years old, overweight with a great face for the radio (hysterical laughter). So the way that I looked at it was that there was no way that they would ever pick me. I flipped the coin which landed on heads and to be honest I have never looked back Kevin. It just shows you how life can change.
Deep down inside, was it always going to be a career in music for you?
That was always what I dreamt of doing, but I never believed that it would ever happen. I never thought for a moment that it would ever be something that I would do but it was always my dream Kevin. But not one that I ever dreamed would come true.
When that dream finally came true, was it always going to be classical music for you?
Yes I think so because I have sung rock songs before on the karaoke but I would always select songs such as ‘The Show Must Go On’ by Queen and ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ by Foreigner, both of which always had me reaching for those high notes. But to be honest I have just always loved singing and it is something that has always made me feel at home. When I was going through some tough times at school that was the one place that I could call home, and it would get me through the hard times. So in many ways that is why I have called the new album ‘Home’ because it is where I feel most at home.
Performing at The Royal Variety Performance; what a pleasure that must have been for you?
Yes it was Kevin and I have been lucky enough to perform at it twice now. Not many people get the opportunity to do it once so for me to do it twice, once in Liverpool and once at The Royal Albert Hall in London was such a huge honour. For me, one of the most important things about winning Britain’s Got Talent is that you get to perform on something like The Royal Variety show. It’s something that you can’t pay for; it is simply something that money can’t buy. It gives you opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
I have to ask you, what was is like to have a Masterclass with the great man himself, Mr Pavarotti?
Actually Kevin it was quite nerve-wracking but I have to say that it went quite well. He appeared to like my singing and he asked me to sing another piece for him which was a huge honour. He didn’t say a great amount but for me to sing for the world’s most important tenor at the time was a huge honour. He is a great loss, not only to the opera world but to the world in general when he died back in 2007.
Now you may surprise me, as did Alfie Boe, when I recently asked him who had inspired him. I was expecting him to say Mr Pavarotti but he said Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers. Who has inspired you?
(Laughter) Well you know, its music. It doesn’t matter what genre basically, it is what draws you into music and what makes you investigate music and if that’s what does it for him then that’s good. I really do feel very strongly that the genre divisions in music don’t serve it too well. You don’t have to love everything about a particular genre in order to like it. There is an elitist view that you cannot like certain parts of opera; their view is that you have to like it all or nothing at all, and that you can’t pick and choose. That’s like saying that you can’t eat Mexican food unless you eat jalapeno’s (laughter). Well I quite like Mexican food but I don’t like jalapenos. I have been to Mexico several times and I will leave the jalapenos behind but I will eat the rest of the Mexican food without too much difficulty. So why in opera can you not watch La Bohme but not The Ring Cycle? It is great music but it is not for everyone. I don’t believe that any one genre of music belongs to any one person or group of people. It all belongs to everyone.
So back to the question, who has inspired you?
Well Kevin I have to say that I have always wanted to sing like Morten Harket (A-Ha) but unfortunately I don’t sing like him at all. I always used to love his voice when I was growing up as a teenager. It was mostly girls who used to listen to him because A-Ha were a great looking band but they also made real music. I enjoyed listening to that. But the person who has inspired me the most although, he didn’t have the perfect voice, was José Carreras. It was listening to him that inspired me to look deeper into opera and seeing him come through leukaemia and the fact that he had kept going inspired me. I have been fortunate to perform for him twice now and that really did make me feel nervous. Performing for my first idol was really quite awe inspiring.
I have to ask you, were you happy with the movie ‘One Chance’ and how you were portrayed?
I love the film and in fact it has just been released in America. I find it funny which is what I wanted; when I read the screenplay it made me laugh and that is what I asked them to do. I told them that I didn’t want a documentary; I wanted them to make a movie that would make people think. But most of all I wanted them to make something that would make people laugh, because that in many ways is the best way of helping people learn something without them knowing that they are being taught something. The message of the movie is that you get to where you want to be by not giving up but just by keeping going. Even if you stop trying, if you still keep going then at some point you will get there.
As I have said, you have just released the album ‘Home’ and are about to tour the UK. After that, what next for Paul Potts?
The album will be released in other parts of the world as well which will mean that I will most probably be travelling. I also think that I have yet another trip to Korea coming up before the end of the year, where I have done seventeen trips already (laughter). I have a trip to India together with more touring next year.
Despite all of that, will you be at home with the family for Christmas?
I am always told that I have to be at home for Christmas Kevin (laughter). That is non-negotiable (hysterical laughter).
Paul it’s been great speaking to you and I wish you the very best with everything that you do.
I look forward to you shooting me at The Concert Hall (laughter) and if you get a decent picture of me well that would be an achievement (hysterical laughter).
You take care.
And you Kevin, bye.