Classical star Russell Watson is to be the voice of Lytham Proms this year - and, for the Salford born tenor, it’s a trip back to the happiest days of his childhood.
He says: “When I grew up, there wasn’t much money. The big moments of my childhood were trips to Blackpool Pleasure Beach at Blackpool or Southport. I remember whenever my mum used to say, We’re going to Blackpool, we’re going to the beach, or we’re going to Lytham and we’re going in the sand dunes, that would be when I would get really excited as a child.
“Many fond memories - and standing in the occasional..you know, hahaha! ‘What have you done now, Russell?’ ‘Muuuuuum!’”
Russell returns to Lytham seafront this Saturday, to lead the National Symphony Orchestra in the traditional Proms night of the three day concert, appearing alongside Britain’s Got Talent stars Jonathan and Charlotte, Gary Lovini and The Nocturnes.
The Proms are opened this year by a spectacular 1980s night on Friday, starring Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley before coming right up to date on Sunday with acts like Rita Ora, Conor Maynard and Stooshie.
For Russell, whose classical career first began singing in working men’s clubs in this area when the promoter suggested he should try singing “Neston Dormat”, it’s a big moment.
He says: “Lytham Proms as well is one of those concerts - it’s the proverbial icing on the cake. Those are the kind of calls you want.”
He’s lucky to still be here to get such calls. In 2005, his career - maybe his life - were threatened by a tumour at the top of his nasal passages.
Doctors operated but it returned frighteningly fast and began haemorrhaging, forcing him to undergo a second op.
He says: “It nearly killed me. But it didn’t, I’m happy to say - and I’m very very very lucky, very fortunate to be here.
“It took a long time to get over it. It’s six years now and I’m as healthy and happy as I’ve ever been and I live every single day, not as if it was my last, but to the optimum. I want to enjoy life, I want to breathe the air in, if it’s sunny, I want to walk out in the sunshine, if it’s raining, I don’t care if I walk out in the rain. Every day is a bonus.”
Doctors told him to face up to the end of his career. He says: “ I was told, ‘Forget about singing, and if you do sing, it won’t be the big stuff that you used to do because of the pressure that’s generated from singing the high notes so forget about it.’ That was my doctor.
“When I was going up for the high notes, I was blacking out. Everything was going black and I felt like I was going to faint every time I went for the high notes. But I wasn’t having that.”
He fought his way back to health. But, as he began to try to return, his singing tutor had good news for him. He recalls: “I started singing and he said, ‘My God, what’s happened to your voice?...it’s fantastic. It’s as open as I’ve ever heard it!
“A lot of the tumour had grown into my nasal passage so it was causing a blockage - and giving me a thinner nasally sound!”
A natural mimic, Russell would imitate the voice of singers he heard on the radio as a child.
His first ever gig was when he was still at high school, was singing for OAPs at a local community centre. He laughs: “We were paid in cups of tea and biscuits.
“I wouldn’t do it now! Lytham Proms would have to give me a lot of biscuits!”
Lytham Proms is on Friday, Saturday and Sunday August 2, 3 and 4. Tickets are still on sale at www.lythamproms.co.uk/