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.
- Selected discography
- The Voice , Decca, 2000.
- (Contributor) Captain Corelli's Mandolin (soundtrack), Decca, 2001.
- Encore , Decca, 2001.
- Billboard, November 4, 2000; May 19, 2001.
- Daily News (New Plymouth, New Zealand), January 29, 2002.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), December 21, 2001.
- Evening Mail (Birmingham, England), December 22, 2001.
- Liverpool Echo, November 2, 2001; December 24, 2001.
- Maclean's, March 5, 2001.
- Sunday Times (London, England), December 23, 2001.
- Times(London, England), January 29, 2002.
- "Russell Watson," Pride of Manchester, http://www.unitedmanchester.com/Music/RussellWatson.htm (March 2, 2002).
- Russell Watson Official Website, http://www.russellwatson.com (February 25, 2002).