King of the classical charts on two continents, Russell Watson pulls a platinum hat trick, charms the Prince of Wales, and impresses the First Lady of the U.S., before kickboxing his way into Men's Fitness.
MF: What does the title of "The People's Tenor" mean to you?
RW: "The People's Tenor" is an affectionate tag that I was labeled with right around the first record. I think it was born from the fact that I'm of a working class background and my parents were working class. The press picked up on the sort of working class "lad done good," hence the label, "The People's Tenor."
MF: Do you have any backstage rituals?
RW: I try and stay away from the venue right until the last minute. I usually go right about 2, 3 'o clock and I'll do an hour of rehearsing, maybe an hour and a half then I'll go back to the hotel and I'll have something to eat that's going to give me a little bit of protein and an energy kick, some steak and some boiled rice, but nothing that's creamy or anything that's going to cause a problem. Always at the side of the stage I have some strawberries cause I find that they're good to lubricate my voice, water, maybe a couple of cans of Red Bull if I'm feeling tired I'll just throw down a little bit of caffeine which isn't particularly good.
MF: Red bull's like a miracle substance
RW: It is! But it's also laden with sugar and caffeine that can dry up the vocal chords. But as long as I take plenty of water with it, it gives me a little boost.
MF: I know many vocalists follow a strict diet so as to not interfere with their voices; do you follow any sort of a diet that works for both your voice and for kickboxing?
RW: On vocal days I would eat very differently to the way that I would eat on a regular day. I would avoid anything at all that's creamy or milky like cheese or eggs. More recently I was touring Australasia, and during that tour I discovered that mashed potato wasn't really working for me. I find that my weight fluctuates from the start of a tour and when I finish I'll usually have lost four or five pounds. So that's not always a good thing.
MF: Not always a bad thing either
RW: No, it depends on whether you're me or Pavarotti I guess.
MF: Funny you should say that because there's another one of my questions. What do you think of the stereotype of the male opera singer- the kind of rotund, bearded old man?
RW: I think it's changing very quickly and I think with the intervention of artists like myself and maybe Josh Groban that old stereotypical view and the image of a bearded bloke with a barrel stomach is starting to disappear very quickly.
MF: What kind of party does an opera singer has when a record goes platinum? What do you do?
RW: Oh, a good party! (laughs) The interesting thing about the music industry is that it's not always as glamorous as people might think. I could be in an airport, I could be taking my dog for a walk or even cooking chili con carne on a Friday afternoon and you get a call- your record's gone platinum! It's such a huge rush. But achieving things in the music industry is like achieving things in any industry and when you find out that your record's gone platinum then you kind of collect yourself and say "okay what's next?"
MF: And it makes the next time all the more daunting.
MF: I heard you sang for Prince Charles and Camilla at Buckingham Palace
RW: I've been very fortunate to have done some incredible events including a performance for the President on the west lawn of the White House, a performance at the Vatican for the Pope with a hundred red-robe cardinals in the front row, and for the Queen at Buckingham Palace. A more recent thing was the performance at Windsor Castle for Prince Charles and Camilla. The Prince told me at the end of the evening when I went over to his table, "Oh Russell, you must go over and see Camilla she's a huge fan of yours, she's a really big supporter, you must go over and say hello." So I walked over and I said "Oh, hello Camilla, it's lovely to meet you. Did you enjoy the concert?" and she said "Oh I absolutely adored it I wanted you to sing all night, would you sing us another song?" And I said "I'm sorry I think the band's gone off."
MF: That's a really good impression!
RW: I went back over to the Prince and he said "Russell, I was wondering whether you wouldn't mind at all if maybe we could talk about you maybe becoming an Ambassador for my trust." A few days later I got some official looking letters, one hand-written by the Prince himself and he thanked me for my participation in the concert at Windsor Castle and I then was announced officially in the UK press as being a new ambassador for the Prince's trust.
MF: I also heard that you performed for Laura Bush at the White House.
RW: Yeah I did Laura's Ladies Lunch. Laura's a big fan of mine and Sherry Blair was there and she's also a fan and what a picture that was. I had Laura Bush on one side I was in the middle, Sherry Blair on the other side and at the end of the line was Lynn Cheney as well. So that was quite a collection of powerful ladies (laughs) there I was in the middle with my suit and my big smile.
MF: When did you begin kickboxing?
RW: About four years ago when I started making my 2nd record, "Encore." For me the key moment was that I'd done a Grenada television documentary in the UK. My manager and I were sitting on my couch at home watching and at the end of the TV show it showed me walking down a hill in a park, the sun was shining on my face and I was just kind of strolling down I thought "god, I look fat." And I looked at my manager and I went "Do I look that fat?" and he said "eh, yeah."
MF: That's brutal.
RW: Always the honest one, and that was it. I decided I was going to do something about it, and when I decide I'm going to do something I am so determined. It was the same with singing. I was determined, I knew what I could do with it and I kept running with it. I'd gotten into a routine of doing late-night gigs when I was in the working man's clubs, and I'd be finishing club events at one o clock in the morning and driving home at that time of night the only place that sold food was KFC. You know what that does to yourself.
MF: Oh yes I do.
RW: And I was working on the Pavarotti figure. So I gradually started getting on the treadmill and working my way up, first of all by walking as far as I could, getting a sweat on, gradually building that up to a very slow jog. In about a year I was running around 7 miles an hour and I was able to run for about 45 minutes. And then I started kickboxing and I completely changed my eating regime. Beer was probably one of my downfalls. I just cut that out completely and the weight just fell off. A lot of it's common sense. You know when you're eating something that's crap. I remember my first two weeks of when I started my regime, I was having nightmares about 25 foot chips, chasing me going "Eat me! Eat me!" I'm like "no!" (laughs) Great big burgers coming to life under my feet and I was sinking into them. Well, maybe it wasn't quite that bizarre but I was feeling hungry all the time and I had to fight that. That was tough.
MF: Kinda sounds like drug withdrawl.
RW: (laughs) That's what food doesn't to do doesn't it? You get so used to eating a certain type of junk and then when it's taken away your body's saying "hey, where's my rubbish? Where is it?" I really stay away from that stuff now. Because of what I do I bring my personal trainer with me and we train all over the world. Everywhere we go he takes the gloves and the pads and the day of a concert we'll go down to the gym and have a real good old thrash and grab and it's great.
MF: It must be a great stress release too.
RW: Oh, that's probably the key factor of doing the kickboxing is that it is a fabulous stress reliever. Walking out of stage in front of thousands of people brings its own kind of stress.
MF: Do you find that kickboxing works in tandem with vocal training?
RW: No. (laughs) they're two completely different things and I keep them separate. I thoroughly enjoy physical contact sports. I love squash, I love boxing, I love anything where I can have a good old grapple and a good old rock. I'd always be front of the cue to get stuck in. Primarily I do the kickboxing because I enjoy it, not necessarily to stay fit, but because I bloody enjoy it. When the pads go up it's like hey here we go I'm on my toes and I'm ready to rock.
MF: So what's a daily workout routine like for you?
RW: I deviate. I don't stick to one particular regime because I believe your body gets used to it and then it becomes too easy. If you do the same situps every day they're not going to do anything for you because it's almost like the muscles know "okay, here he comes with a hundred flat situps. We know what he's gonna do, we're ready for him," so I change my routines. I might work on my obliques one day and then two days later I'll work on the top part of my abdomen and then a couple of days later I'll work on the middle. I might get up one day and say "I did kickboxing yesterday but that session was so good let's kickbox today again." Some days I get up and think oh it's nice outside why don't I go for a run?
MF: What do you eat on a typical day?
RW: I just got myself this juicer- it's the best thing I've ever bought. I start the day with either a pint glass of grapefruit juice or watermelon. The watermelon I started doing a few weeks ago and it feels like it's cleaning your blood from the inside. I don't do the juice with food; I kind of get up in the morning, do the juice, and then two or three hours later go for lunch. I've got this great little salad thing going which is a mixed leaf salad and I add a few nuts to it but not like anything that's salted. Some sliced almonds and I usually add some of that Canadian type syrup. It's got a real Mediterranean feel, dilute it down with some lemon juice, mix it up with your hands, few of the little fresh plum tomatoes cut in half, and maybe a side of roast beef or roast turkey and that'll be lunch. It gives a different flavor to the salad, and the sugar mixed with the lemon really livens up the leaves.
MF: Well believe it or not you're not the only guy who's not a huge fan of salad.
RW: It's a good way to do it cause I'll be absolutely straight with you. I would never eat salad, ever. My mother and father used to stick salad in front of me all the time and I'd say "I don't want salad. It's for rabbits. (laughs) Do you see a fluffy tail anywhere on me? I don't want salad." But I've kind of got into it. And then for dinner, I go a little bit heavier so maybe a steak, or maybe some fish. We got one of those "lean mean grilling machines"
MF: Right, the George Foreman grill.
RW: Go George!