Russell Watson

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Russell Watson
Watson performing at Broadlands in Hampshire, England, in 2007.
Watson performing at Broadlands in Hampshire, England, in 2007.
Background information
GenresClassical crossover, operatic pop
Years active1998–present
LabelsSony Records (2009–13)
Decca (2000–09)

Russell Watson is an English tenor who has released singles and albums of both operatic-style and pop songs. He began singing as 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 The Voice was released in May 2001; four others followed. 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 the pituitary tumour and bleeding into Watson's 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 the brain tumour .[1]

On the 18 November 2020, Watson spent his first night within the celebrity camp, following confirmation that he would be a late competitor and participant in the twentieth series of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here broadcast from the Grade 1, listed Gwrych Castle, in North Wales, UK.[2] Watson was announced as the fifth celebrity to be eliminated in a double elimination alongside Jessica Plummer on 1 December 2020.

Early career[edit]

Although Watson had been singing since he was a child, he never sought a career as a professional singer. He attended Irlam Endowed Primary School[3] and Irlam and Cadishead High School[4] which he left with no GCEs. He then began work on a Youth Opportunities Programme[5] as a bolt-cutter[6] in Irlam, in Salford. Then married and with a baby, he began to earn extra cash singing Elvis Presley and other 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.[7] 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.

Also on 19 November 1999, he participated in Cliff Richard's The Countdown Concert, singing "Nessun dorma". This was broadcast live on Sky Digital under the title "Live In Your Living" room. Before his performance, Cliff presented him with a gold disc award for "The Choir".

2000–05: The "People's Tenor"[edit]

Watson was now managed by Perry Hughes, who was pivotal in the success of Watson's career during these years. Watson's début album, 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. When it was released in the United States, it took the number one spot, 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". It also featured a duet with Faye Tozer of pop group Steps on "Someone Like You". Cleo later duetted with Russell again, on his third album Reprise, on "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 to focus on his solo career.[8]

In 2001, Watson sang the opening theme of the television series Star Trek: Enterprise, "Where My Heart Will Take Me",[9] written by Diane Warren. He also sang it live at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. In 2003, the song was remixed to a more upbeat version. In August 2007, it was played as a wake-up call for American Mission Specialist Richard Mastracchio on Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-118.[10]

In late 2004, Watson released the single "Nothing Sacred – A Song for Kirsty" to raise £5 million for the Francis House children's hospice in Didsbury, Manchester. The campaign was fronted by Kirsty Howard, a seven-year-old girl with a serious heart defect. The song reached number 17 on the UK Singles Chart.[11]

The self-styled "People's Tenor",[12] 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[13] and 2002,[14] also collecting awards for Best-Selling Debut Album (2001) and Best-Selling Album (2002).

In 2005, he collaborated with Secret Garden for his song "Always There" from the album Earthsongs.

In 1 November 2005, Watson recorded "True To Your Dreams", his is ending theme for the video game Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.


Watson performing at Broadlands, in Hampshire, England, in 2007.

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[edit]

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 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.[12]

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.[15]

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."[12] Watson was readmitted to hospital in Manchester for tests on 6 October 2006 after complaining of dizziness, headaches and blurred vision.[16]

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.[17] 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[edit]

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.[18] Watson was discharged from hospital on 31 October. Watson later underwent an extensive rehabilitation programme including radiotherapy at the Christie Hospital in Manchester.[19] He released his sixth studio album, Outside In, on 26 November 2007.[20]


Watson appeared as a judge on the talent show Last Choir Standing, which was broadcast on BBC One beginning 5 July 2008.[21] His album People Get Ready, containing easy listening, rock and soul music standards, was released on 17 November 2008.[22] He performed at the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special 2008 on 25 December 2008,[23] and at the BBC's New Year Live 2008 programme from HMS Belfast on the Thames on New Year's Eve.[24] 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.[25] In July 2009, he performed at the opening ceremony of the World Games 2009 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.[26]

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 Björn Ulvaeus at Carnegie Hall in New York on 23 and 24 September 2009.[27] 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."[28] He reprised 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!"[29]

Critical reception[edit]

Some critics have said that Watson's untrained tenor voice is not up to operatic standards;[30] Rupert Christiansen, music critic of The Daily Telegraph has, for instance, called him a "karaoke crooner".[31] Watson has responded that it "[d]oesn'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 "[l]ongevity, that's the most important thing. I want to be a musical force for a good long while."[12] On 5 June 2008 Watson released his autobiography Finding My Voice.


Personal life[edit]

Watson has two daughters.[7] He has been reported as saying, "It [his first pituitary tumour] changed my priorities. Made me appreciate the importance of relationships, of friends and family and, most of all, my two daughters. My fear for them if I died—that was the worst part. I adore them".[12] In August 2015 Watson married his girlfriend of five years, Louise Harris, in Spain.[32]


  1. ^ "Album: Russell Watson, La Voce (Epic)". The Independent. 19 November 2010. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Where is I'm A Celebrity 2020's castle?". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  3. ^ 'Fern Britton Meets' interview. BBC One, broadcast 11 December 2011
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 May 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). Retrieved 11 December 2011
  5. ^ Rosie Waterhouse (28 April 2003), "'The Voice' to be sued for half his opera earnings", The Daily Telegraph, London.
  6. ^ According to a February 2007 article in The Times (times2), Watson was a welder: see Jane Wheatley (19 February 2007), "'You have a brain tumour,' the doctor told me. 'Quite a big one'", The Times (times2), London.
  7. ^ a b "Profiles: Russell Watson", Hello!, retrieved 23 March 2007. The year of Watson's birth is incorrectly stated in the article.
  8. ^ Roses – Slash begged British tenor to be in Velvet Revolver,, 26 April 2006, retrieved 7 October 2008.
  9. ^ This is the actual name of the song, although it was originally recorded as "Faith of the Heart" by Rod Stewart for the film Patch Adams (1998). See Status Report: STS-118-02; STS-118 MCC Status Report #02, NASA, 9 August 2007, retrieved 6 June 2008; see also "News in brief: Tenor records star track", The Daily Telegraph, London, 11 September 2001.
  10. ^ Status Report: STS-118-02; STS-118 MCC Status Report #02, NASA, 9 August 2007, retrieved 6 June 2008; Russell Watson song 'awakens' shuttle crew, United Press International (UPI) (reproduced on The Earth Times), 9 August 2007, retrieved 6 June 2008.
  11. ^ Single to boost Kirsty appeal, BBC News, 3 November 2002.
  12. ^ a b c d e Jane Wheatley (19 February 2007), "'You have a brain tumour,' the doctor told me. 'Quite a big one'", The Times (times2), London.
  13. ^ Classical Brits for ex-factory worker, BBC News, 1 June 2001.
  14. ^ Salford singer wins again, BBC News, 23 May 2002.
  15. ^ Brain surgery for Russell Watson, BBC News, 29 September 2006; see also Catriona Davies (30 September 2006), "Tumour put singer in danger of going blind", The Daily Telegraph, London.
  16. ^ Russell Watson back in hospital, BBC News, 6 October 2006.
  17. ^ Singer Watson postpones UK tour, BBC News, 31 October 2006.
  18. ^ Watson 'critical' after surgery, BBC News, 25 October 2007; Nigel Reynolds (25 October 2007), "Russell Watson 'critical' after brain surgery", The Daily Telegraph, London; "Singer Watson undergoes emergency brain surgery", The Guardian, London, 25 October 2007; Veronica Schmidt (25 October 2007), "Russell Watson in critical condition after brain surgery", The Times, London.
  19. ^ Watson discharged from hospital, BBC News, 31 October 2007.
  20. ^ Release date obtained from Retrieved on 3 June 2008.
  21. ^ "Russell Watson", Last Choir Standing, BBC, 2008, archived from the original on 2 October 2008, retrieved 14 July 2008.
  22. ^ People Get Ready,, retrieved 26 December 2008
  23. ^ "Strictly Come Dancing: New vote controversy", The Scotsman, 23 December 2008; Programme Information: BBC Network TV Weeks 52/53: BBC One: Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special, Press Office, BBC, retrieved 26 December 2008.
  24. ^ Gareth McLean (31 December 2008), "Watch this: New Year Live 2008", The Guardian, London, retrieved 2 January 2009.
  25. ^ "Audience loves Russell Watson", Express & Star, retrieved 20 July 2009; Donna Neville (14 July 2009), "'People's Tenor' Russell Watson gets Audley End picnic concerts off to a winning start", Saffron Walden Reporter, retrieved 20 July 2009[permanent dead link].
  26. ^ "British singer Russell Watson to sing at opening Kaohsiung World Games", Taiwan News, 10 June 2009.
  27. ^ Dan Bacalzo (27 May 2009), Helen Sjöholm and Russell Watson to Star in Kristina at Carnegie Hall, Theater Mania, retrieved 28 May 2009.
  28. ^ Stephen Holden (26 September 2009), "Swedes Coming to America, Grandly", The New York Times, p. C5.
  29. ^ "Entertainment Africa". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011.
  30. ^ Oliver Poole (19 June 2001), "Is this former bolt cutter really the new Pavarotti?", The Daily Telegraph, London; Moore, Charles (5 December 2001), "How to kill classical music", The Daily Telegraph, London.
  31. ^ Rupert Christiansen (8 April 2002), "Karaoke on a grand scale", The Daily Telegraph, London; Rupert Christiansen (1 March 2006), "Karaoke crooners hijack classical music", The Daily Telegraph, London.
  32. ^ "Russell Watson's fairytale Spanish wedding". 31 August 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2020.

Further reading[edit]

News reports[edit]


External links[edit]