Born in 1974 in Salford, Greater Manchester, England; married Helen; divorced, March of 2001; children: Rebecca, Hannah. Addresses: Business--Russell Watson, c/o P.O. Box 77, Manchester M41 7RS, England. Website--Russell Watson Official Website: http://www.russellwatson.com.

Russell Watson's talent--cited as mimicry by some critics--has gracefully bridged the gap between working-class London and the operatic stage. Although lacking in classical training, he has earned a reputation as the "people's tenor" of the music world. Watson's phenomenal record sales attest to the popularity of his work.

Watson was born in 1974 in the port town of Salford, Manchester, England. The unlikely tenor was the son of a factory worker. He quit school at age 16 to work as a bolt cutter and took to moonlighting in bars as a singer. Watson, who grew up with diverse musical influences, was familiar with both the pop styles his father liked as well as the classical tunes favored by his mother. As a struggling tenor, Watson performed frequently at workingmen's clubs, where his repertoire included popular songs, such as covers of Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley hits.

In his early twenties Watson married his longtime sweetheart, Helen, and the couple had their first child--a daughter named Rebecca--in the late 1990s. Although the club work was difficult in combination with his day job, Watson nonetheless enjoyed it. As his family grew, he also appreciated the extra income to augment his salary of 90 (less than $200) per week.

During one stint at the Wigan Road Working Men's Club, Watson seized on a suggestion by the club owner and revised his repertoire to include opera, beginning with the Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma." The popular piece from Turandot had become a mainstream hit in 1990 when Luciano Pavarotti performed it at the World Cup competition in Rome that year. Watson added the song to his repertoire and sang it at the Wigan Road club soon afterward. It was clear immediately that Watson had found his niche as a performer, because his rendition brought the bar crowd to a standing ovation. He added the aria to his repertoire and thereafter sang it repeatedly to standing ovations.

The overwhelming and unanticipated reaction to his classical renditions set Watson's career onto a new course, resulting in a complete reversal of fortune. After singing the British national anthem in 1999 at Wembley Stadium before the Rugby League Cup Final, he performed on another occasion before the Lancashire Cricket Club during an evening match. The turning point in his career came on May 16, 1999, when, at the request the management of the Manchester United Football Club, he performed at the club's Old Trafford Stadium after the season final game. His performance of "Nessun Dorma" captured the crowd's attention and was rewarded with yet another standing ovation. To celebrate the home team victory, Watson returned to the field after the game and performed "Barcelona" for the receptive crowd. One week later he appeared to a crowd of 95,000 at Nou Camp Stadium in Barcelona before the European Cup Final. Once again a standing ovation followed.

A five-album deal from Decca records ensued, and the young singer was quickly dubbed "the people's tenor" in testament to his rags-to-riches success. He performed at London's Hyde Park and Twickenham stadium, and recorded the England Rugby Team Song for the Rugby World Cup in 1999. A single track of his popular "Barcelona" was released in July of 2000.

His debut album, The Voice, released in September of 2000, became the largest-selling classical debut in the history of British music. Showcasing "the breadth of Watson's range and his irresistible passion for singing," according to a press release included on his website, the album sold 450,000 records in the first three months after its release and monopolized the number one slot on the British chart for 50 weeks in succession--an amazing feat for a classical artist. On the album Watson performed a collection of well-loved songs, both classical and popular, including arias from Turandot, Rigoletto, and Fedora, several Italian songs, Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Trouble Water," and other contemporary hits. It was toppled from its place atop the charts only by his second album, Encore, released in October of 2001, which sold 600,000 units in less than two months. In the wake of this unprecedented success, Watson earned a new nickname and was dubbed "The Voice" by his fans.

Boyish and unassuming, within three years of his debut appearance at the Manchester soccer field, Watson's performances soon expanded to include some of the world's most enviable venues: He headlined at London's Royal Albert Hall, gave a Christmas performance for Pope John Paul VI, and a command performance at the White House for President George W. Bush. Watson's unprecedented success led one critic--Norman Lebrecht of London's Daily Telegraph--to cite Watson as an "industrial strength tenor." Michael Wright coined the title "tabloid tenor" in the Sunday Times of London to describe Watson's unique raw vocal talent, while the paper's Geoff Brown facetiously referred to him as an outright "chart-hogger."

An unanticipated and unfortunate consequence of Watson's sudden rise to fame was the failure of his marriage, which by that time included a second child, a daughter named Hannah; the couple divorced in March of 2001. Watson now spends much of his time in a London flat and maintains a residence in Irlam, Lancashire, west of Manchester.

Late in the spring of 2001, with his career on a steady track and a mere two years after his performance at Trafford, Watson was honored with two Classical BRIT Awards for his debut album. He had by that time come under the tutelage of voice coach William Hayward, putting to rest much of the criticism about his lack of training. In October of 2001 Watson received a ten-year appointment as a special ambassador of world peace and goodwill from the secretary-general of the United Nations. He gave an inaugural concert in that capacity on November 9th, at Hollywood's Kodak Theater. There, with representatives of the international press as witnesses, he was presented with a certificate designating the honor.

by Gloria Cooksey

Russell Watson's Career

After moonlighting in pubs, debuted at Old Trafford stadium during a soccer match, 1999; signed with Decca, 2000; concerts: Royal Albert Hall, White House, Vatican; sold more than two million records in fewer than two years.

Russell Watson's Awards

Special Ambassador, United Nations, 2001-2010; Rover Classical, Album of the Year, 2001; Classical BRIT Awards, Album of the Year and Best Selling Debut Album, 2001.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 7 years ago

I heard from my sister that she hrad Russull in aitalian station, so I went to the record store, here in USA and like me I find. What a voce, you have. I have 2 DC, but i like to get some new one. Good Luck in the future show. Maria

over 7 years ago

Have a Wonderful Birthday Russell! Enjoy your day! Kristie

over 7 years ago

True Inspiration...Beautiful Voice

over 8 years ago

A very likable guy, I warm to him for his naturalness, in spite of such a sudden rise to fame, which would go to many another head; and, of course, his voice is pretty spectacular. However, I am somewhat bemused to read above that he performed before Pope Jean Paul VI! To my knowledge, there've been only two Popes Jean Paul, the first barely having had time to take "office", so how come "the sixth"? I hope he remains healthy now, and lives to give continued delight with his remarkable talent for many decades.

almost 9 years ago

My wife and I are great fans of yours. We've read Finding my Voice. Inspiring. My wife also has just had a second operation to remove a regrowth of a pitiurity tumour.She also has been very ill and has to face 5 weeks of radiotherapy. Your book has given her confidence. Thanks. Ken & Jeannie Bruce

almost 9 years ago

Went to see russell live at the Quarry in Shrewsbury 06/09/2008, What a performance He was outstanding. All Angels performed also they were fantastic, pleased to say the weather held up for the whole of the performance. I pray that Russell stays well, and continues to remain so.

about 9 years ago

Great voice from a talented person

about 9 years ago

You are my soul when it comes to music. America would love for you to come here and provide us with an evening of the most precious songs. Please get well, as I know you are doing, and plan a concert in our country. We will all share your voice and character. You have a great cheeky personality. Thank you for being you.

over 9 years ago

Russell i hope to see you back in Melbourne Australia again soon.I loved your consert here and was one lucky lady to get your signed autograph. You singing i walk with god made me cry that night. I only heard today about your brain tumours and am totally shocked, I hope you make a full recovery and go on to follow your dreams. Get well soon Love N light Brenda

over 9 years ago

I have been a fan of Russell Watson for a long time, I hope you soon have a full recovery and will soon be thrilling us again with your fantastic voice.but take time in your recovery,you are far too precious a person to lose,God Bless you Russell. Regards Linda xx

over 9 years ago

My wife and I are old fans of yours. We are very sorry about your medical condition. Keep the faith ( which mean believe without logic or proof), we are praying for you. However, you mu8st ask the virgin Mary to cure you, ask her don't be shy. You are welcome to come to Calgary Canada and stay with us to recuperate, you would have to live like us old normal foks. May God grant you a speedy recovery. Best regards Marianne & Faiq Majid

over 9 years ago

I heard Russell Watson at the Albert Hall this year. It was wonderful, a dream come true! I have all his recordings and I have loved his voice from the beginning. I am so sad about his recent problems, and the sudden opperation and I am praying for him with my family. Do get well soon Russel, we all love you and are very proud of you in England. Have a good recovery and allow yourself time to get really well.

almost 10 years ago

I've missed Russell Watson. I expected to see and hear you everywhere in America with your talent. What are you doing now?