Alfie Boe - Fleetwood's most famous son
PUBLISHED: 22:40 03 July 2011 | UPDATED: 18:58 29 December 2017
Fleetwood's most famous son has taken the world of musical theatre by storm and will be singing to packed halls during a tour layer this year. Eileen Jones met Alfie Boe – and his mum
It was the song that turned a respected operatic tenor into one of the superstars of musical theatre. And now, as the song demands, they are going to Bring Him Home to Lancashire as part of a national tour.
Alfie Boe, once an apprentice car mechanic and now Fleetwood’s most famous son, will be taking to the stage down in Blackpool at the 3,000-seat Opera House, Britain’s largest theatre.
His last local performance in 2006 was a more modest affair in Fleetwood’s Marine Hall when he played to a full house of 600. Back then, there were few outside opera who recognised his name. Now he’s accorded star status - since Christmas he’s done dozens of TV and radio chat shows, from Aled Jones to Vanessa Feltz.
He’s teamed up for double acts with Little Britain comic Matt Lucas and his solo album, Bring Him Home, has already sold more than 100,000. Tickets for his nine-date national tour have been snapped up so quickly they have added a further 14 nights.
One moment defined Boe’s meteoric rise and it was that song Bring Him Home, the first he performed on stage as a 14-year-old. Years later, he took the lead role of Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary concert version of Les Miserables at the O2 Arena. The show was sold out and broadcast live to cinemas.
In an encore Alfie performed Bring Him Home, with three other famous tenors who had played the role. He stepped forward for his solo line: ‘You can take, you can give, let him be, let him live’ but added a key change which took the song into a new dimension. There was a collective gasp followed by a cheer that would grace a Wembley Cup Final. One critic said: ‘When he performed ‘Bring Him Home’ it was as if he was God’s anointed vocalist.’
Alfie is more modest. ‘It was a just a simple key change, a musical modulation. It just adds a surprising element,’ he explained when we met at the headquarters of Decca Records in London. ‘The reaction was incredible. But at that moment, I was thinking of nothing, feeling nothing, but the character, the words. I wasn’t really aware of the reaction till the end.’
Days later it was announced he would take over the role of Valjean in the West End for a five month run, starting in June. There’s talk of a film version and he’s now a recording star with sales that opera colleagues can only dream about.
The beard he grew for the Les Miserables role has gone, temporarily, while he performs in The Mikado. ‘It will have to grow back, of course,’ he said. Welcome news for the online fans who have dedicated a Twitter account to his whiskers.
Cameron Mackintosh spotted the young opera star back in 1994, and a letter from his production team (kept as a souvenir by his mother, Pat) recommended him for the part of Raoul in Phantom of the Opera.
Sadly, Alfie wasn’t available because his operatic career was about to take off on Broadway.
He was born in 1973, the youngest of nine children in a large and happy Catholic family which maintained the tradition of sitting down together as a family, especially for Sunday lunch. That’s when his father, Alf, would play operatic arias to the family.
Like most teenage boys, Alfie preferred rock, but he joined a local amateur operatic company, thinking it would be a good way to meet girls. He had never seen a live musical show until he starred in one, singing tunes from the big West End shows. Fate dictated that his first one would be that same showstopper.
At 16, he joined the chorus of amateur productions of Carmen and Il Trovatore in Preston. Those in the know suggested the tenor might go professional. ‘I really wanted to,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t know how.’
Instead, at 17, he became an apprentice mechanic in the local TVR car factory, where he spray-painted vehicles. To relieve the boredom, he would often sing. A customer who worked in the music industry heard Alfie and told him the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company was auditioning. To this day, Alfie doesn’t know who the man was.
He made the journey to London and got the job. For 12 months he toured before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.
Alfie worked in security to support himself and after graduation he continued training at the National Opera Studio before taking a detour into rock, singing with Lancashire’s The Clint Boon Experience.
Alfie was soon drawn back to the classical world, and joined the Royal Opera House’s Young Artists’ Programme. Six months into the two-year course came the moment that defined his operatic career. He ran across London to audition for the Oscar-nominated film maker Baz Luhrmann, and won a part in the New York production of La Boheme.
He starred on Broadway for nine months, stayed on in America to tour with Boston Pops, and met his future wife, Sarah. (They now have a two-year-old daughter, Grace.)
He’d come a long way from Fleetwood’s Marine Hall where his mum and dad met. ‘I reckon half of all the couples in the town met there,’ Pat recalls. ‘It had all the big names at the time. Alf had medals for ballroom dancing and he was a good singer.’
Alf died 14 years ago but happily he lived to see Alfie’s career take off and was in the audience to see him perform in HMS Pinafore.
Patricia Benson, one of Pat’s 41 grandchildren, dropped by when
I was there on a Sunday afternoon. The 23-year-old is a youth worker in Cumbria. She sees Alfie as a second dad.
‘He used to pick me up from school. I can always turn to him.’
With all her family now moved out, the house is usually quiet these days, so Pat has the radio on all the time and as we were chatting in front of the fire, Alfie’s voice suddenly filled the room. He was being interviewed by Elaine Page. We sat in silence, mother listening to her son, smiling, with her own memories.
Fleetwood is clearly very fond of Alfie and the affection is mutual. ‘I want to fly the flag for Fleetwood. It’s a good little town, it stands strong. It’s always stood on its own two feet. And every street has a memory for me.’
See Alfie on stage
Alfie Boe will play Valjean in Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre, London, from June 23 until November 26, but you can see him closer to home when he stages his national tour.
He plays at the Blackpool Opera House on December 17, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on January 27 and Preston Guildhall on February 3.