Latest album, Anthems—Music To Inspire a Nation(2012)
Sold more than 7 million albums worldwide
UK’s best-selling classical artist ever
Has sung for American presidents, British royalty, prime ministers, empowers and sultans, and the late Pope John Paul II
Russell Watson: Anthems
The 700 Club
TRIAL IN THE MIDST OF SUCCESS
Throughout the United Kingdom, Russell Watson is known as “The Voice,” but a medical scare nearly silenced his voice for good. The last seven years have changed Russell forever. They’ve changed who he is, the way he sings and how he feels about everything. “The thing that I most wanted to achieve has happened. The voice is back. And not only that, but the infrastructure that generates the noise I make, the strength and stamina I need to perform all that incredible material is back,” he says. “It’s been a long road, and it’s been hard work, but we’re there…” Most people who’ve had a life-threatening experience will feel the same, but after a while, when the immediate pressure of their illness begins to dissipate, they may slip back into their old ways and their old lives. But not Russell. At the height of his success in 2006, he was diagnosed with a large brain tumor. While it turned out to be benign, by the end of 2007, Russell was “devastated” when he learned he had a second more serious and aggressive brain tumor. All his confidence and strength had gone, and a lot of what he does relies on knowing those big notes are coming. As a singer in his league, and there aren’t many, if your confidence gets rattled you lose everything. “When I had the first tumor I only focused on the operation,” he says. “When I had the second one, it was about getting out of intensive care, and then getting out of the bed. Each time there was a different focal point.” The second tumor nearly took the life of the father of two daughters. “That was particularly hard to come to terms with, psychologically,” he says. “The second one affected me so badly.” Russell says he’d always believed in God, but it wasn’t until he was faced with the possibility of death that he really went to God in prayer. He’s says he felt selfish that it took a tragic event before he put his faith in God, but says that he found prayer very cathartic.
When Russell finished his radiotherapy at the beginning of 2008, he decided to start his return to the stage. He had put on a lot of weight from the intense course of medication, so the day the treatment finished he stared at himself in his full-length hallway mirror and said, “Right Watson, it’s time to get back to work…” The very next day he went to the gym – much to everyone else’s dismay. “That’s the kind of idiot I am,” he says now. “Most people would rest. I looked terrible too…” He wasn’t willing to give up all he’d worked for, nor the talent he’d been blessed with. Six months of three-times-a-week visits to the gym followed before he was ready to sing again. Finally, in August 2008, Russell went to visit his voice coach, Patrick McGuigan. They began by running through scales. Suddenly McGuigan stopped Russell and said, “What has happened to your voice?” “I expected something negative,” Russell says. “But he thought it was fantastic, with all this new depth and power. The tumor could have been growing for 10-15 years in my nasal cavity, so when I had it cut out I went from a V8 to a V12! All those experiences have affected the way I view my life, the way I view others and the way I conduct myself.” Russell’s voice has never sounded better, stronger, more driven and powerful. “I believe that I have come through all this for a reason and that reason is now,” he says. “There are great times to come, but this is what it’s all about for me now.”
AN UNLIKELY TENOR
Russell never imagined he’d someday be the world’s greatest tenor. Born in Salford, England, he’d have preferred to make it playing football, the trouble was, however much he played, he never got any better. Russell hated losing, hated that he was no good at the thing he loved. So he found something else to be the best at. His mom would play Mario Lanza and Tchaikovsky, Mantovani, Chopin, Schubert, even The James Last Orchestra in the house. Her own father was a concert-level pianist, “My grandfather was amazing,” he says. “I’d sit on his lap and listen to him for hours…” At age seven, Russell learned to play the piano, and he was good, but he didn’t like it, never had a flair for it. “There was no joy there,” he says. “But when I started singing there was real joy. I started playing guitar as a teenager and started singing along with the Beatles and Jam records I loved.”
Russell knows how unlikely it is that he’s in the position he’s in today. He says it just doesn’t happen that a son of a steelworker enters the world that he has entered as a classical singer. Before making it big, Russell did factory work, which he calls “mind-numbing.” Singing in clubs became his escape. “I’ve walked out on stage in some of the biggest venues in the world,” he says. “The Vatican, Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Old Trafford! – but nothing is as daunting as a Friday night at a serious working men’s club. If I ever start to feel sorry for myself I go back and remember where I’ve been, singing through a fog of Woodbine smoke…” One night, a concert secretary appeared out of the fog in front of Russell. He had gray hair with a yellow streak and yellow, tar-stained fingers. Russell had just sung The Music of The Night. “He just looked at me and said, ‘You have a smashing voice, have you ever tried any of that Pavarooty stuff?’…”
As determined as ever, Russell went off and learned the aria “Nessun Dorma” phonetically and when he first sang it live, he got a standing ovation. That was the beginning of a whole new life. A few short years later – in May 1999 – that standing ovation was at Old Trafford just before Manchester United won the Premiership. Since then Russell has sung for American presidents, Japanese emperors, British royalty, an array of European prime ministers, Middle-Eastern sultans, and even the late Pope John Paul II who requested a private audience with Russell at the Vatican. Each of his albums has won more praise than the one before. His first, The Voice, went to No. 1 in the US and the UK and won two Classical Brit awards. Encore was No. 1 in the UK classical charts for 30 weeks and Russell won another two Classical Brit Awards. Every time he’s had a UK release, it has gone Top 10 in the UK and among them he boasts two Double Platinum certifications, one Platinum and two Gold.
In honor of the Queen’s Jubilee Celebration and the upcoming Summer Olympics in London, Russell wanted to celebrate all things British on his latest CD, Anthems—Music To Inspire a Nation. In addition to his recent album release, he’s had a busy year performing. He recently performed at the D.C. Memorial Day Concert on Capitol Hill in Washington and after completing the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee in England, headed back to D.C. to perform at America’s premier birthday party concert—A Capitol Fourth—which aired live on PBS on July 4th. He performed the finale and helped send off the American athletes to the London Olympics.
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