Entertainment & Arts

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe: 'We wanted to do a tribute to Wham!'

Image copyright Decca
Image caption Michael Ball and Alfie Boe are two of the best-known performers in the West End

"It was this or Nando's. So we thought we'd do this."

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, two of the nation's favourite singers, have joined forces for a new album, packed with Broadway hits and songs from the big screen.

They first became friends when they performed Kismet together at the London Coliseum 10 years ago, and have harboured ambitions to make a record ever since.

"We've talked about it for ages," says Ball. "And the way this business is, the schedules didn't come together until now."

Sitting down for a chat in the boardroom of their PR company, the stars tease each other relentlessly as they discuss their upcoming tour, the greatest hits of Wham! and their role in the demise of Woolworths.

Image copyright Decca
Image caption "We've got each other's backs," say Michael Ball and Alfie Boe as they prepare for a 28-date UK tour

Serious question first: Why didn't you call this supergroup Ball and Boe?

Michael: Or Ballboe! Ballboe Baggins! We missed a trick there. But we call each other different things.

Like what?

Michael: He's Captain America.

Alfie: [Groaning] Oh, no.

Michael: He is. He's like Captain America. Look at him. It's ridiculous.

Have you been working out?

Michael: [Sarcastically] Has he been working out? Good God!

Alfie: A little bit, yeah. Once I hit 40 I decided I had to work out. I feel good for doing it.

You've been friends for a long time. Why make an album now?

Michael: It's not that sudden. We've talked about it for ages but now felt like the right time.

In what way?

Alfie: We're both broke!

Image copyright PA / Rex Features
Image caption Both singers have starred in Les Miserables and perform a medley of songs from the musical as the curtain-raiser for their album

How did you decide what songs to record? By text, in person, or on Facebook?

Michael: All of that. There were endless lists.

Alfie: Lists flying back and forth like crazy. What I find fascinating about choosing songs for an album is other people's ideas… They could hear you sing the song, and you listen to it and think, 'I don't think that would work' but it does.

What's the one that surprised you?

Alfie: Anthem [from the musical Chess] is one that got me. I was a big non-supporter of that song because it had been done before.

Michael: I've done it before as a solo song.

Alfie: That was what put me off.

Michael: But I just knew that two voices would turn it into something totally different. And I'm very glad it worked out.

What else have you covered?

Michael: Never Walk Alone is an interesting one. It's a title that everyone knows and it has been done to death and I couldn't see a reason for doing it again. But it was around the time of the Hillsborough inquiry and Alfie's a lifelong Liverpool fan. He said, without being mawkish: 'What if we had the Kop choir singing on it?' So that's what we've done. It's really rather special.

Alfie: We wanted to honour the victims and their families' long, long fight for justice.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael says he didn't think Hamilton could live up to the hype but found it more than deserved it

Were you tempted to do any of the raps from Hamilton?

Michael: No, but it's amazing. I can't wait for it to come to London. It's a game changer on every level. The style of the music and the staging and everything is so different from anything that's gone before. But also the casting: You've got a black George Washington, and we all know that George Washington wasn't black - but you don't even think about any racial barrier. It's so current and right and life-affirming. It'll be utterly huge here.

Alfie: One thing it's going to do is bring a brand new audiences to the theatre.

Michael: Because, God knows, we've got rid of most of them.

When you're looking through the musicals, there aren't many songs that are duets for two men. So how did you rearrange the songs?

Michael: Exactly like I described. We took a really famous song, like Music Of The Night from Phantom. Alf has done a version of it, I've done a version of it, so the only way of doing this is to actually restructure it and rewrite it - to use counter-harmonies and melodies that are unexpected.

Alfie: And that was the approach for Anthem. That was why it was so appealing to me, because we'd done something different to it. Not to put down anyone else's version of the song.

Michael: Again.

Alfie: Oh God. I've got to be on the bus with this guy for the next two months.

Michael: Actually, we've got you a Robin Reliant.

Who gets to be in charge of the DVD player on the bus?

Michael: We've got two. But I think we'll just be snuggled up together watching romcoms.

Alfie: In our onesises.

What's your onesie? A bear? A dinosaur?

Michael: I'm a Dalmatian. It's got big floppy ears.

Alfie: And I'm a Hobbit. I've got the feet for it. They called me Frodo as a kid.

Michael: I'm going to make it my life's mission to get a picture of them and it's going to be Instagrammed.

Image copyright Decca
Image caption "I can't sing like Alfie," admits Michael Ball. "I'm in awe when I hear that pure control and that power"

How will touring throughout November and December impact your Christmas preparations?

Michael: I once did a season in Blackpool at Christmas and had to do all my shopping there. In those days there were five Woolworths and that was about it. So I bought lots of lovely, lovely gifts. Would you like a foot spa?

Surely, even in the heyday of Woolworths, nobody needed five in the same town?

Alfie: Oh, come on. I used to queue up outside Woolworths to get all my albums.

Michael: And I used to queue up for the pick and mix.

Alfie: My auntie used to go in there and just help herself to the pick and mix.

That's what closed them down, apparently.

Alfie: 'We've had to shut down over all the peanut brittle that we've lost!'

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "The greatest duo of all time" - allegedly

The concert is at least twice as long as the album, so how will you fill the time?

Michael: We're going to sing really slowly.

Alfie: One thing that's interesting is that, with the music we've chosen to fill in the "gaps", we've been influenced by the same stuff, by Elvis and big band music and Bond.

Michael: He wouldn't do Wham! I'm so disappointed. I had this whole thing worked out.

I guess you wanted to be George Michael and make Alfie the Andrew Ridgely?

Alfie: Exactly. Andrew didn't sing and that was why he wanted to do it. I was just going to stand at the back and look stupid.

Michael: I just wanted to wear shorts. With shuttlecocks down the front.

Which Wham song would you have done?

Michael: A medley. Wham! were the greatest duo of all time… Throw out all the names you want, but they were the best. So you'd start with a bit of J-j-j-jitterbug, and go into a bit of Club Tropicana, then [sings], Wham, Bam, I am, A Man. It would have been awesome. Don't knock it.

Really, though? The best duo of all time?

Michael: No. Really not. But it appealed to my sense of humour.

Alfie: I'm sure by the end of the tour we'll be doing some sort of Wham! tribute. The whole second half will be Wham!

Image caption The idea for an album of duets was sparked by a performance at BBC Proms in the Park

Does touring in winter mean an increased risk of getting the flu?

Alfie: The worst thing is if people come up to you at a meet and great and say: 'I didn't know whether I was going to make the show tonight because I've got a terrible cold,' as they're shaking your hand.

Have you ever worn a face mask, Michael Jackson-style?

Michael: Been tempted. I've had a Dettol bath.

When the tour finishes, do you envisage a second album?

Michael: Oh my goodness, I don't know. Do you want another?

Alfie: I don't want this to be the last time we work together.

For a moment, it sounded like you were going to say, "I don't want this to continue".

Alfie: Yes. This is never going to happen again.

Michael: No eye contact, you've been told. Don't look at me.

Alfie: Just follow the smell.

Together, the debut album by Alfie Boe and Michael Ball, is released by Decca on 4 November. Their UK tour starts the day before, in Cardiff.

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