Russell Watson (born 23 November 1966) is an English tenor who has released singles and albums of both operatic-style and pop songs. The self-styled "People's Tenor" had been singing since he was a child, and became known after performing at a working men's club. He came to attention in 1999 when he sang "God Save the Queen" at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, "Barcelona" at the last match of the Premiership season between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford and a full set of songs at the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final in Barcelona between Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
Watson's debut album titled The Voice was released in May 2001; four others followed. However, an album planned for November 2006 was delayed due to the removal of a benign pituitary tumour. This album, titled That's Life, was eventually released on 5 March 2007.
On 24 October 2007, it was discovered that there had been a regrowth of his pituitary tumour and bleeding into his brain. He underwent emergency surgery and was discharged from hospital on 31 October. He underwent an extensive rehabilitation programme, including radiotherapy. His sixth studio album, Outside In, was released on 26 November 2007.
On 22 November 2010, Watson released La Voce, his first album since overcoming brain cancer.
Watson was born on 24 November 1966 in Salford, Lancashire, England. Although he had been singing since he was a child, he never sought a career as a professional singer. He attended Irlam Endowed Primary School and Irlam and Cadishead High School which he left with no GCEs. He then began earning £29.50 a week on a Youth Opportunities Programme as a bolt-cutter in Irlam, near Manchester. Then married and with a baby, he began to earn extra cash singing Elvis Presley and MC Hammer covers in North West clubs to help support his young family.
The turning point in his career came one night at an engagement at Wigan Road Working Men's Club, when the secretary suggested that he try singing "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. Although Russell Watson was not a classically trained singer, he continued to perform the aria, and was encouraged to try other classical pieces. In 1990 he won a Search for a Star contest organised by Manchester's Piccadilly Radio.
In 1998 Ian Boasman, manager of the Bistro French restaurant in Preston, arranged for him to sing at Old Trafford during the interval at a memorial football match for the Munich air disaster, a huge privilege for a lifelong Manchester United fan. However, his appearance was cancelled at the last minute when player Eric Cantona requested that Mick Hucknall sing instead. Russell signed a management deal with Boasman; this also involved comic Bobby Ball and businessman Keith Chadwick.
In 1999 he sang "God Save the Queen" at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, then finally sang at Old Trafford before the last match of the Premiership season between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. After the game, when his team had won the league championship, he returned to the pitch to sing the Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé song "Barcelona", during which he tore off his dinner jacket to reveal a Manchester United shirt.
This appearance sealed his success, and only a week later he was invited to sing a full set at the final of the UEFA Champions League in Barcelona between United and Bayern Munich, duetting with Montserrat Caballé.
Watson used to work at St. Ambrose College, Altrincham.
2000-05: The "People's Tenor":
Watson's debut album, titled The Voice, followed in May 2001. A mixture of operatic arias and covers of pop songs, it topped the UK classical chart and eventually reached number five in the UK Albums Chart. Later, when released in the United States, the album took the number one spot and made history as the first time a British artist had held both the US and UK classical number one. The album contained perhaps Watson's most unusual collaboration to date, with former Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder who lent his vocals to the Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé song "Barcelona". The album also featured a duet with Cleo of girl group Cleopatra on the song "Someone Like You". Cleo later duetted with Russell again on his third album Reprise on the song "The Best That Love Can Be".
Prior to the formation of Velvet Revolver, Watson was asked by Slash (former guitarist of Guns N' Roses and currently in Velvet Revolver) whether he would be their singer. Watson turned down this opportunity, at least for the time being, to concentrate on his solo career.
In 2001, Watson sang the opening theme of Star Trek: Enterprise, "Where My Heart Will Take Me", which was written by Diane Warren. Watson also sang it live at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England in 2002. In 2003, the song was remixed to produce a more upbeat version. In August 2007, the song was played as a wake-up call for American Mission Specialist Richard Mastracchio on Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-118.
In late 2004, Watson released the single "Nothing Sacred - A Song for Kirsty" to raise money for the Francis House children's hospice in Didsbury, Manchester. The campaign to raise £5 million was fronted by Kirsty Howard, a seven-year-old girl with a serious heart defect. The song reached number 17 in the UK Singles Chart.
The self-styled "People's Tenor", who is also known as "The Voice" after his first album, won the Album of the Year at the Classical BRIT Awards in both 2001 and 2002, also collecting awards for Best-Selling Debut Album (2001) and Best-Selling Album (2002).
In 2005, he collaborated with Secret Garden for his song called "Always There", from the album Earthsongs.
In addition to his recording work, Watson played Parson Nathaniel in the stage adaptation of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds which toured the UK in early 2006. In the same year, he also took part in the BBC reality TV show Just the Two of Us. The programme involved eight couples, including Siân Reeves and Watson, competing in a duet-singing showdown, complete with a live band, a panel of judges and viewer voting, to see who would be crowned champions. A wide array of music was performed, from country and western to rock. The scores each week were tallied from both a judging vote (the judges were Lulu, Trevor Nelson, Stewart Copeland and Cece Sammy) and a public phone-in vote. Watson, a late arrival to the competition replacing Reeves's original partner Rick Astley, who had pulled out, took the crown despite the low scores awarded by the judges to their performances. Following the competition Reeves and Watson released a victory single, "Can't Help Falling in Love". Russell Watson was scheduled to defend his title in the 2007 series with a new celebrity partner, Loui Batley, but had to withdraw at the last minute because of serious health problems.
First pituitary tumour:
In 2005, Watson began having headaches, which he described as "like a knife being pressed into the bridge of my nose". He consulted a specialist, who told him there was nothing to worry about as he was suffering from stress and should find ways of relaxing. When his peripheral vision began to be affected in late 2006, he visited another specialist, who also said he was suffering from stress. Watson told him, "The only thing that's stressing me is this pain in my head."
In September 2006, Watson flew to Los Angeles, California, to record his album That's Life. On the flight, he told his producer that he was experiencing terrible pressure inside his skull. When they landed, his producer suggested a game of tennis to clear his head. Watson could not see the ball at all. After a visit to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and an MRI scan, he was advised that he had a developing pituitary adenoma, which was the size of two golf balls. According to Watson, "Since an early age I've had an in-built premonition, a vision that I wouldn't make 40. For the previous seven years I'd have a recurring nightmare in which my head exploded. And here I was with a brain tumour on the eve of my 40th birthday; I thought, 'This is it, I was right, I knew it'." Watson recalled that the tumours were "like a figure of eight, one filling the frontal cavity of my skull, the other forced through into the top of my nose." He stayed in Los Angeles for two days and continued recording his album while tests confirmed whether the tumour was malignant or not - it turned out to be benign.
Watson then returned to the UK, and had a five-hour emergency operation to remove the eight-centimetre lump at St George's Hospital in Tooting, South London, on Monday, 24 September 2006. As the tumour was pressing against his optic nerve, the surgeon removed the tumour through his nose.
After the operation, Watson could barely walk, and the tumour had affected his pituitary gland which controls hormone levels: "My mood swings went from ecstatic to suicidal. I remember one night standing on the balcony, full of dark thoughts and self-pity, thinking 'God, this is f**king terrible, why me?' I went back to bed, couldn't sleep, got up again. I thought I'd had enough. If it hadn't been for the girls his daughters..." His energy levels were very low and he did not leave his house for two months: "I couldn't deal with more than one person at a time or with multitasking and I cried easily." Watson was readmitted to hospital in Manchester for tests on 6 October 2006 after complaining of dizziness, headaches and blurred vision.
Upon recovering, Watson returned to the recording studio to finish his album That's Life. Originally due out in November 2006, it was subsequently released on 5 March 2007. On the advice of his doctors, his latest UK tour, which had been due to start in late October 2006, was also postponed until March 2007 to coincide with the album release. The rescheduled tour met with huge approval throughout the country, with night after night of standing ovations to a visibly moved Watson. On 19 May 2007, Watson sang the "God Save the Queen" at the 2007 FA Cup Final.
Second pituitary tumour:
While in the middle of the studio recording of his album Outside In on 24 October 2007 Watson suddenly became incapacitated, with multiple symptoms including a dramatic deterioration of vision. An MRI scan showed he had a regrowth of his tumour with bleeding into his brain. He underwent emergency surgery to remove the tumour at the Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, Greater Manchester, and was for a while in a critical condition in the hospital's Intensive Therapy Unit. Watson was discharged from hospital on 31 October. Watson later underwent an extensive rehabilitation programme including radiotherapy at Christie Hospital in Manchester. He released his sixth studio album, Outside In, on 26 November 2007.
Watson appeared as a judge on the talent show Last Choir Standing, which was broadcast on BBC One beginning 5 July 2008. His album People Get Ready, containing easy listening, rock and soul music standards, was released on 17 November 2008. He performed at the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special 2008 on 25 December 2008, and at the BBC's New Year Live 2008 programme from the HMS Belfast on the Thames on New Year's Eve. In April and May 2009, Watson undertook a 20-date tour of the UK backed by Liverpool's Sense of Sound, who came to his attention after they performed in the BBC's Last Choir Standing. In July 2009, he performed at the opening ceremony of the World Games 2009 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Watson was one of the principal singers (in the role of Karl-Oskar) in the English world premiere of the Swedish musical Kristina från Duvemåla (Kristina from Duvemåla) by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus at Carnegie Hall in New York on 23 and 24 September 2009. He and his female lead Helen Sjöholm were praised by music critic Stephen Holden as having "first-rate poperetta voices, with Mr. Watson's Puccini-ready tenor the more operatic. Each brings down the house at least once." He will reprise the role in the UK premiere of the musical in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 14 April 2010.
In March/April 2014, Watson went on tour around the UK with his 'Only One Man' tour with the Arts Symphonic orchestra, Arts Voices and Robert D.C. Emery conducting.
Once Watson finished radiotherapy in 2008 he decided to embark on a return to music. He soon found that his treatment had given him not just a fresh outlook on the world, but a new, deeper, richer voice. "The tumour could have been growing for 10-15 years in my nasal cavity, so when I had cut it out I went from a V8 to a V12!"
Some critics have said that Watson's untrained tenor voice is not up to operatic standards;Rupert Christiansen, music critic of The Daily Telegraph has, for instance, called him a "karaoke crooner". Watson has responded that it "doesn't bother me. Seven years ago classical crossover didn't exist - putting Italian lyrics to pop songs in a big ballsy way. Now every bugger's doing it. I've transcended all that bickering and bitching." Watson's career ambition is "longevity, that's the most important thing. I want to be a musical force for a good long while." On 5 June 2008 Watson released his autobiography Finding My Voice.