Advertisement

Michael Ball: Singer and West End star who is taking over Steve Wright’s BBC Radio 2 show

Michael Ball: Singer and West End star who is taking over Steve Wright’s BBC Radio 2 show

Michael Ball will take over from the late Steve Wright as the host of BBC Radio 2’s Sunday Love Songs programme from June.

The singer, author and West End star currently presents for Radio 2 on Sundays between 11am to 1pm.

His predecessor, Wright, was one of Radio 2’s most beloved and longest-serving hosts, who continued presenting Sunday Love Songs even after stepping down from the channel in September 2022. Wright died aged 69 in February this year.

Ball, 60, is another popular voice on Radio 2, and first rose to fame in 1985, when he made his West End debut as Marcus Pontmercy in the original production of Les Misérables, the musical based on the 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo.

Born in Worcestershire to a Welsh mother and English father, Ball took an early interest in acting; his father, who once also aspired to a career as an actor, took him to see shows during the school holidays.

He was cast in Les Mis just one year after graduating from the Guildford School of Acting, with a breakout role in a production of The Pirates of Penzance at Manchester Opera House. His Les Mis role, however, was marred by a bout of glandular fever that forced him to take several weeks off; when he returned, he began experiencing on-stage panic attacks.

“The first couple of times, it came from nowhere,” he said in a 2022 interview with the Press Association. You’re doing what you know, you’ve rehearsed, you’re well into the run, full of confidence, and then something happens in your head. It’s almost like another voice going, ‘You don’t know the next line, you don’t know what’s going on.’”

Michael Ball performs ‘Aspects of Love’, 2023 (Getty Images for The National Lo)
Michael Ball performs ‘Aspects of Love’, 2023 (Getty Images for The National Lo)

He continued: “You have a physical reaction. Your heart starts pounding, you start getting tunnel vision, sweating, you can’t breathe. Your mind goes into a panic and it’s fight or flight. Then you have to deliver the next line and the next line and the words to a song, and all your body is saying is: ‘Get out of here’. It’s overwhelming and so public.”

In an interview last year, Ball spoke of how that experience led to him going through a period of depression where he didn’t speak to anyone for nine months, and became agoraphobic.

His career picked up again when he was invited to sing during the live televised Miss England contest, where he realised that he could still perform well despite his nerves.

Ball went on to perform in a number of major productions including The Phantom of the Opera, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. His rendition of “Love Changes Everything” from the musical Aspects of Love was a No 2 hit in the UK in 1989.

Michael Ball at the 2013 Oliver Awards with co-star Olivia Staunton (Getty Images)
Michael Ball at the 2013 Oliver Awards with co-star Olivia Staunton (Getty Images)

More recently, he has achieved praise with his performance as Edna Turnblad in the musical Hairspray, and for the title role in the 2013 revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, both for which he won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

He reprised his Edna Turnblad role in the 2021 revival of Hairspray, and last year played the other male lead, as Sir George Dillingham, in a revival of Aspects of Love. He has been cast to reprise the role of Javert, whom he first played in 2004, in Les Mis: The Arena Spectacular World Tour, in September this year.

Michael Ball (left) as Edna Turnblad with Leanne Jones (Tracy) in ‘Hairspray’, 2007 (Getty Images)
Michael Ball (left) as Edna Turnblad with Leanne Jones (Tracy) in ‘Hairspray’, 2007 (Getty Images)

Ball released his self-titled debut album in 1992 through record label Polydor, which featured “One Step Out of Time”, the song he performed while representing the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden. Ball came in second place, beaten by Ireland’s contestant Linda Martin and her song, “Why Me”.

He has also recorded five albums with fellow singer and actor Alfie Boe, with whom he starred in a production of Les Mis. Three of them reached No 1 on the charts, including 2016’s Ball & Boe: Together; Ball & Boe: Together Again the following year, and Together at Christmas in 2022.

While he and Boe remain friends outside of work, Ball told PA last year that they are “not Ant and Dec”.

We don’t live next door to each other, and we are very different in so many ways, but we just get each other,” he said.

Michael Ball with Alfie Boe at the Classic Brit Awards, 2018 (Getty Images)
Michael Ball with Alfie Boe at the Classic Brit Awards, 2018 (Getty Images)

Ball explored his Welsh heritage in a 2021 documentary for Channel 5, Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball.

During the programme, he visited the site of the 1966 Aberfan disaster, where 116 children and 28 adults were killed by an avalanche of coal waste that engulfed the village primary school. Ball’s uncle was one of those who went to the scene to try and rescue survivors.

He also opened up about his grandmother, who helped inspire his singing career, as he visited her former home in Cadwaladr Street in the village of Mountain Ash.

“She was a real central character within the community,” Ball recalled. “She was the one who organised things, the one you went to when you had a problem, the one you would have a laugh with.

“She recognised, from an early age, my love of performing – and she always encouraged me to do that. It was never, ‘Oh, sit down, be seen and not heard’; she would push us forward.”

Ball was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2015 for services to musical theatre.

Michael Ball with his OBE after being presented with the honour by the then-Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, 2016 (Getty Images)
Michael Ball with his OBE after being presented with the honour by the then-Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, 2016 (Getty Images)

He lives in London with his partner of 32 years, journalist and broadcaster Cathy McGowan, whom he has described as his “rock”.

“She’s been there for all the ups and the downs. We have a wonderful family and are private about it,” he said. “She’s not remotely interested in fame. She’s immensely proud of what I do and is great at giving advice, she has no ambition herself, only for me. We have a real life. I do the shopping and the cooking.”

He added: “If you’ve got people in your life who are intuitive, sensitive and understand what makes you tick, and who you are able to talk to, that’s what I need. Cath sees the warning signs in me. She’ll say, ‘Right, we’re backing off now’.”

Ball will begin presenting Sunday Love Songs for Radio 2 in June.

“Steve [Wright] made Love Songs ‘appointment to listen’ radio,” Ball said in a statement after the news was announced. “I’m beyond excited and more than a little nervous to be tasked with the chance to continue with his extraordinary legacy.

“Beautiful, moving, relaxing and uplifting music to lift the soul on a Sunday morning, coupled with the stories, suggestions, requests and precious memories from you, the listener, will ensure that this won’t be just MY show, but OUR show.

“I hope you will join us as we continue to share the love.”