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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Triumph of the tough tenor
Russell Watson
Watson performed outside the Albert Hall on Thursday
It has taken tenor Russell Watson just two years to jump from relatively obscurity to the winner's podium of the Classical Brit awards - buoyed by the biggest-selling classical debut album in British history.

Still in his late 20s, Watson, from Salford, Greater Manchester, has pursued an unusual career path by operatic standards.


Singing arias at working men's clubs was a tough school

Dickon Stainer, Head of Decca UK
While working on the shop floor of a Manchester engineering firm, he started to use his spare time for singing, performing arias in working men's clubs and local halls.

His reputation spread by word of mouth until he came to the attention of Martin Edwards, chairman of Manchester United football club.

Edwards invited Watson to sing at Old Trafford at United's end of season game against Tottenham Hotspur in 1999. The tenor brought the stadium to its feet with a barnstorming Nessun Dorma.

It was this performance that brought him to the attention of Decca Records.

Russell Watson
Old Trafford was a breakthrough for Watson
The head of Decca UK, Dickon Stainer, told BBC News Online: "Decca got wind of his talent and brought him down to London.

"To a certain extent his voice was untrained, but he knew what he wanted to do - he'd picked up a lot of experience over the years and singing arias at working men's clubs was a tough school."

Watson's national breakthrough was the release in September 2000 of the Universal/Decca album The Voice, which sold 450,000 copies in the UK in its first three months.

He has duetted with Sir Cliff Richard, performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra and appeared at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society.

Inevitably, perhaps, he has had his critics.

Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph's opera critic, called him "an untrained singer" and said: "People like the story of the chap from nowhere who makes it but I suspect he has a very short career in prospect.

Russell Watson
Watson: Criticism, but two Brits
"He is not properly trained so I would not expect his voice to last more than five years before it starts to give."

His vocal coach and mentor William Hayward, a former pupil of Sir Adrian Boult, demurs.

"I've been in the opera business all my life, and I've never come across anything like it," he has said.

Decca's Dickon Stainer sees a long future for the Salford tenor. "There'll be a new album in the autumn.

"It's likely that artists like Mel C, Lulu and Lionel Richie will be asked to contribute - but it will remain a classical album in spirit.

"Russell doesn't want to be marketed as a classical artist - he wants to be known as the lad from Salford.

"He is a genuine one-off."

And Watson's two Classical Brits will certainly do him no harm in his mission, as he puts it, "to give classical music back to the people."

See also:

02 May 01 | Arts
King of the high Cs
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