TENOR Russell Watson, 49, has performed for some of the world’s most notable figures, including the Queen, the late Pope John Paul II, former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, the Emperor of Japan and the King of Malaysia, as well as at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in 2002. He is the UK’s biggest-selling classical artist ever and since 2001, he has sold more than seven million albums, achieved six top ten album placements and received four classical Brit Awards.
Where did you buy your first home?
It was where I grew up in Irlam [a suburb of Salford]. I was in my early 20s and I spent about ten years there. It was an ex-council house and I bought it for about £38,000 in the early 1990s, just before a huge recession struck. The mortgage was originally about £160 a month. I was working in a factory at the time and that was quite manageable, but as the recession hit the interest rates went up to a ridiculous level — as did the mortgage. People couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages; I remember once driving round the block and about 70 per cent of the houses were for sale. There was a hell of a lot of repossessions at that time.
Did you regret buying?
There is always an excitement when you go off into the big world on your own and I don’t think anybody could have predicted what was going to happen at that time.
How did you fund it?
I was working in a nuts-and-bolts factory at the time. It was the most boring job devised for a human being in the history of the world. My job was to put nuts and bolts into a lathe. It was basically a production line. It was mind-numbingly dull.
I bet you miss those days?
Oh, yeah, I look back to them and wonder why I ever left the factory [laughs]. It was awful. My maximum wage was about £120 a week, but I tightened my belt and got through it. I always have situations in life when things seem to be catastrophic and then suddenly the sun comes out and everything seems brighter. I’ve been very fortunate in that respect. It’s been incredible highs and cataclysmic lows.
How would you advise someone thinking of buying for the first time?
I would always advise someone to buy a property. There is something about ownership that feels different from renting. A man’s home is his kingdom, so to speak. The best piece of advice is if you are buying for the first time, don’t aim too high. Keep within your financial boundaries. There’s no point living in a glamorous house if you can’t afford to go out.
Where do you live now?
I’ve been very lucky. I have been able to sustain longevity in an industry notorious for being a school of hard knocks. I have been able to afford to move to Cheshire now, to a beautiful detached property with six bedrooms and an acre of land, with my own recording studio, a pool room and a cinema room. Completely different from the two-up, two-down in Irlam.
Do you do recording at home?
In the past, we have done a lot of recording and mixing at home. My new album, True Stories, was recorded at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Music Village Studios in Rome.
Do you separate yourself from music when at home or do the two happily mix?
Getting the balance is very hard — the music industry can be all consuming. The first couple of years of my career, I was selling millions of records and, in 2002, I think I spent just four nights in my own bed.
What do you do to relax?
I like playing my PlayStation. I can switch off with computer games. It’s the same with sport — I like boxing training, too.
What got you into boxing?
I’ve boxed since I was a lad. I was born in Salford — there wasn’t much to do apart from fighting or football, and I liked both. In one of my old houses I used to have a full-size boxing ring underneath.
What album are you listening to at the moment?
As bizarre as it sounds, the last album I bought was the Mike And The Mechanics’ greatest hits. I tend to use music for certain occasions so when training I’ll have anything from James Brown to The Black Eyed Peas. Music is great for creating moods.
Do you sing in the shower?
Oh, yeah. But if I sing full belt in the shower it hurts my ears. I used to do warm-ups in the car and my old driver used to put a pair of ear plugs in, it was that loud.
■ Russell Watson’s new album True Stories on FOD Records is out on Friday
Interview by Oliver Stallwood
Area guide: Salford
It’s easy to think that Salford is an area of Manchester, but it’s not. The city has its own council, but does sit in the metropolitan borough of Greater Manchester. A one-time big player in the industrial revolution, Salford is packed full of terrace housing, but much of the city went into decline when the factories began to close. These days, however, thanks to a number of regeneration projects, Salford is becoming more desirable, but at the same time remaining more affordable than many parts of Manchester. Urban Splash and its creatively designed Chimney Pot Park development in Langworthy is a good example of innovative ways Salford is attracting new buyers. This demonstrated how run-down Victorian terraces could be successfully updated for modern living. The majority of sales in Salford during the last year were flats, selling for an average price of £143,479. Terrace properties sold for an average of £121,526, with semi-detached properties fetching £177,690. Salford has an overall average price of £148,330 (rightmove.co.uk).