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Internationally renowned tenor Russell Watson showed some Lancashire grit to battle two brain tumours. He talks exclusively to Emma Mayoh

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Its fair to say Lancashire tenor Russell Watson doesnt take himself too seriously. Just a few minutes into our chat and hes adopted more dialects than Jon Culshaw and divulged details of pictures of himself riding a unicycle naked. Sadly, the latter turned out to be untrue.

He also regales me with stories of an uncomplicated childhood growing up in Sunningdale Drive in his home town of Irlam, working a mundane 12-hour night shift at a nut and bolt factory and of the ten years performing in working mens clubs - including the time his former manager told him hed probably die if he left a particularly dodgy pub without giving them a song.

I walked in and there was a group of young chaps who looked like they could do me some serious damage, he said. I decided I was leaving but my then manager said if they saw me leaving with my speakers, theyd probably lynch me. It was the longest night of my life.

The ten years I did in these clubs were very tough but they also gave me a good grounding. There are lots of funny stories like a compere who spoke over this poor girl who was singing her heart out performing The Power of Love. The crowd werent listening so he came on 45the microphone and said I know shes cr*p but give her a chance. It was a brutal place to learn.

Russells bubbly personality and jokey nature is probably one of the things that helped him overcome two brain tumours. It is talking about this that also reveals the singers serious side. During this time he faced every possible emotion, endured endless amounts of treatment and even wished for death rather than have to put up with any more pain. Its an experience that has changed him forever. The 46-year-old said it was his family, including parents Nola and Tim and his daughters Rebecca and Hannah who he describes as his little protectors, who got him through his illness.

He said: There were times when all I wanted was for the pain to stop and I didnt care how. Its a really weird thing when you feel that terrible that youd be willing to be separated from the people who are your world. It was not a good place to be in. It was thoughts of Rebecca and Hannah losing their dad that kept me going.

With my second tumour I definitely felt like a victim. I thought I had got rid of it and it came back to bite me on the backside. It didnt seem fair. But I have come out the other side. I dont see myself as a victim anymore; Im a survivor and Im focused on the future.

Although Russell has always enjoyed singing, it was almost by mistake that he ended up with a career that earned him the titles of The Voice and The Peoples Tenor. He is known for performing classical pieces but he only started to do this after the secretary of a working mens club in Wigan suggested he should sing Nessun Dorma. He also said it was performing on the pitch at Old Trafford Football Ground that gave him the break that lead to him signing a five album recording contract.

To date he has sold millions of records and performed at venues across the globe as well as for Royalty, the Pope, American Presidents and numerous celebrities. But he still cant convince daughters Rebecca and Hannah to his way of thinking.

He said: They like what I do. Ive been a recording artist since before they were born. But they keep my feet on the ground too.

They are like my protectors because they have seen me go through some pretty tough times. But when it comes to music its all about High School Musical, Justin Bieber and Rhianna. Im looking at getting their rooms sound proofed.

Russell will also perform at Manchesters Bridgewater Hall this month as part of a tour that will celebrate great British anthems as well as be a tribute to the Queens Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The programme will feature pieces like Youll Never Walk Alone, Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia.

He said: It was an idea I had last year. To get the opportunity to do a tour dedicated to Great British anthems in the jubilee year is just fantastic. Everyone is feeling extra patriotic this year and to be a part of that is a great thrill for me.

Its also fantastic to be performing on home soil. There is always something special about being back home. Lancashire is where I am from and it is something I am very proud of. Many of my family still live there and its a great place to be.

See Russell Watson in concert on at Bridgewater Hall on May 31st. For tickets contact 0161 907 9000 or visit www.raymondgubbay.co.uk.
His new album, Anthems Music to inspire a nation, is released on May 28th.

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