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Michael Ashley Ball, OBE (born 27 June 1962) is an English actor, singer and broadcaster, who is known for his work in musical theatre. He made his West End debut in 1985 playing Marius in the original London production of Les Misérables, and went on star in 1987 as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. In 1989, he reached number two in the UK singles chart with "Love Changes Everything", a song taken from the musical Aspects of Love, where he played Alex. He played the role in London and on Broadway.
In 1992, Ball represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing second with the song "One Step Out of Time". In 1995, he reprised the role of Marius in Les Misérables: The Dream Cast in Concert. His other West End roles include Georgio in Passion (1997) and Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002). He has twice won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. He won in 2008 for his role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, and then in 2013 for the title role in the revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Ball was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2015 Birthday Honours for his services to musical theatre.
Ball was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire to a Welsh mother and an English father. His father trained as an Austin apprentice at the Longbridge plant and went on to become a successful businessman, although he had originally wanted to be an actor. Ball's maternal grandfather was a coal miner. His maternal grandmother was protective of the family. Ball has a sister, Katherine, almost a decade his junior. He moved to Dartmoor with his parents when he was three years old. He has never had singing lessons, but as a boy he learned to sing by singing along to music: for example, songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson and Frank Sinatra. When he was 11 years old he went to Plymouth College, an independent boarding school, because his parents thought this would give him a good education, but he did not fit into the academic and sporting environment at the school at that time, and he was unhappy there.
Ball was interested in the theatre and his father took him to see shows in the school holidays, including a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre of King Lear, which impressed him as a youngster of about 14 years old. He joined a youth theatre, which led to his studying drama at Guildford School of Acting, where he found an environment that suited him. As a student he went busking on Saturdays in Guildford town with a female student friend to earn a little extra money. He graduated in 1984. After his graduation, Ball's singing career rapidly got off the ground. His maternal grandmother, having a musical ear, was proud of Ball's early singing achievements; she died suddenly, however, of a heart attack about one week before his debut in The Pirates of Penzance.
See also: Complete list of stage credits
In 1984, after he had left drama school, Ball's first part was in Godspell at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, after which he worked for a few months in rep in Basingstoke, but his first major break was a star part in the production of The Pirates of Penzance at Manchester Opera House; at an open audition he was selected from about 600 applicants who formed a queue to do singing, acting, and dancing interviews, which were held in three separate rooms. His next important role came when Cameron Mackintosh cast him as Marius in the original London cast of Les Misérables, but he caught glandular fever and he took 6 or 7 weeks off sick to recover from the associated tonsillitis and post-viral fatigue. When he returned to work he was still suffering from fatigue, and began to get on-stage panic attacks -- overwhelming anxiety, a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and problems with vision. These also started happening at other times, such as when he was going to work. For most of the next nine months he lived alone in his flat feeling depressed; he did not seek therapy and left Les Misérables.
Thames Television invited Ball to sing during the Miss England contest, a live televised event, and he sang well enough despite suffering from anxiety. When he viewed a recording later, he realised that no one would have noticed how nervous he was, and he became less worried about his anxiety problem. At about that time, Cameron Mackintosh asked Ball to play Raoul in the second casting of The Phantom of the Opera in London, which was necessary after Michael Crawford (who played the Phantom) and Steve Barton (who played Raoul) left the London show to appear in the Broadway staging in New York City. Mackintosh thought that Ball would not be under too much pressure as Raoul, and that the part was right for him.
Ball played Alex in Aspects of Love, both in London and New York, and Giorgio in the London production of Stephen Sondheim's Passion. Alone Together was his one-man show first performed at the Donmar Warehouse (which was reprised in 2004 for the Singular Sensations season at the Haymarket). In 1998 Ball performed at three big concerts: The Fiftieth Birthday Concert of Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Royal Albert Hall (released on DVD), Sondheim Tonight at the Barbican Centre (released on CD) and Hey, Mr. Producer: The Musical World of Cameron Mackintosh (released on CD and DVD). In 2002 he took on the role of Caractacus Potts in the Sherman Brothers musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was largely considered his comeback role.
In 2004, he co-starred with Petula Clark in a production of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at the Cork Opera House, later broadcast by the BBC. Later the same year he was a guest star at Clark's Concert, also broadcast by the BBC. He sang three tracks from his latest album, Since You've Been Gone; "Home" and "One Voice", as well as two duets with Clark. Other performances include singing at the BBC's St David's Day concert, in the role of Marius at the Les Misérables: The Dream Cast in Concert, the tenth anniversary concert of Les Misérables in 1995. A lyric baritone, Ball also sang the role of Valjean at a special concert performance of Les Misérables for the Queen and her guests at Windsor Castle in 2004. In 2005, with 10 days' notice, he replaced Michael Crawford as Count Fosco in The Woman in White after poor health forced Crawford to give up the role.
In November 2005, Ball returned to Broadway as Count Fosco in The Woman in White, which transferred from London's West End. He was, however, forced to leave the show because of a viral infection supposedly caused by the fat suit required for the role; this reportedly raised Ball's body temperature by several degrees during the show.
In September 2005, Ball made his New York City Opera debut as Reginald Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience. He spent the first quarter of 2006 on complete vocal rest, following the illness that caused him to leave The Woman in White on Broadway. By the middle of July, Ball had taken part in the Royals Court's celebratory performance of The Rocky Horror Show. He took a leading role in Kismet in June and July 2007 for the ENO, and appeared on Channel 4's Richard & Judy on 22 June 2007 to promote this production. He then appeared as the solo artist in a controversial 'Musical Theatre' Prom on 27 August 2007 for the BBC at London's Royal Albert Hall. Ball performed a wide range of musical theatre numbers, including several by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show was broadcast live on BBC Four, as well as on BBC Radio 3.
From October 2007 - July 2009, Ball made his West End return starring as Edna Turnblad in the hit musical Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London. In March 2008, he was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal. He also won the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Edna Turnblad. He recently starred in a new production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End, alongside Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Lovett. The show premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre for six weeks starting 24 September 2011 before transferring to London in March 2012.
Ball is a concert artist: he tours frequently around the United Kingdom and has also performed concerts in Australia and the United States. He has also had success in the charts with his recording work. Since reaching Number 2 in the UK Singles Chart with "Love Changes Everything" from Aspects of Love, Ball had lesser success with follow up singles, but in the main has concentrated on releasing albums, all of which achieved gold status within weeks, and in the case of The Movies album in 1998, platinum in seven weeks (released 26 October, confirmed platinum status on 12 December).
Ball represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest 1992 held in Malmö, Sweden, singing the song "One Step Out of Time", which finished second. The single reached number 20 in the UK, while an eponymous album released in the same year reached number 1. This began a run of top 20 albums released over the next two decades. In July 2006, Ball was a guest artist on Julian Lloyd Webber's album Unexpected Songs and in November of that year released a DVD containing all the best songs from his Live in Concert DVDs. This is split into five sections: Musicals, Love Songs, Personal Favourites, Party Time, and Unplugged. The DVD also included a brand new "Unplugged" session which Ball recorded especially with four other musicians in the studio. It was released on 20 November 2006. Ball took part in many promotional activities at the end of the 2006 to coincide with the release of his album One Voice. This involved singing the song "Home" on ITV's GMTV, This Morning, and the BBC One programme The Heaven and Earth Show, hosted by Gloria Hunniford.
A new compilation album entitled Michael Ball: The Silver Collection was released in July 2007, along with the DVD version of his 1995 film England My England. Towards the end of 2007, Ball recorded his 15th solo album for release on 15 October of that year. The album features songs all written by Burt Bacharach and is entitled Back to Bacharach. It was released along with a performance DVD of his 2007 tour, One Voice Live, filmed at London's Hammersmith Apollo. Promotional activities took place throughout October and November 2007 for these releases including appearances on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Loose Women.
In February 2013, Ball released his album "Both Sides Now" featuring the song "Fight the Fight" from Tim Rice's new musical From Here to Eternity.
November 2014 Ball released new album "If Everyone Was Listening". He will next year go out on the road touring from 7th April-May 3rd.
Television and radio:
As an actor, Ball briefly appeared as Malcolm Nuttall in Coronation Street in 1985. Ball has also turned his hand to presenting both on TV and radio. Ball had his own TV series, Michael Ball, in 1993 and 1994 a Christmas Special in 1995 and a 3 part series in 1998 filmed by BBC Wales Ball in the Hall. These three episodes were combined together to make a special which was then broadcast on BBC 1. Ball has presented The National Lottery and Children in Need. He co-hosted This Morning for a short period while the usual presenters took a break.
Ball had his own series on TV and radio, Ball over Broadway on BBC Radio 2, which is in its fourth season, The Greenroom, and several specials for BBC Radio 2 on subjects such as Nat King Cole, Cameron Mackintosh, and Cy Coleman. On television, Ball presented two more National Lottery Shows for the BBC on 27 and 30 December 2006. Ball kicked 2007 off by co-judging the second series of ITV reality television show Soapstar Superstar. This was broadcast from 5-13 January. Ball spent the week in Manchester filming the series. Critics of the show have compared him to "a poor man's Neil Sean". In 2010 Ball took part in the BBC Wales programme Coming Home about his Welsh family history. In 2013, Ball returned to Radio 2 with a new show, Michael Ball on Sunday, with an evening show with a range of music genres covered. On 10 April 2013, Ball co-hosted The One Show for the first time as a stand-in presenter. On 24 November 2013, he guest starred as himself in the British sitcom Toast of London. On 29 December 2013 Ball Starred in Christmas Catchphrase.
On Friday 3 January 2014 BBC Four broadcast a special tribute programme to the lyricist Don Black, "Diamonds are Forever: A tribute to Don Black" which took place at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Ball sang two songs on this show; the first was the song Born Free which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was a hit for the British male singer Matt Monro in 1966. Black wrote the lyrics for this song and the music was composed by John Barry for the film of the same name, Born Free. The second song Ball sang during the programme was Love Changes Everything, a song that Black co-wrote with lyricist Charles Hart for the musical Aspects of Love, composed by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. This song was released as a single by Ball in 1989 and stayed in the British pop charts for fourteen weeks. The BBC Concert Orchestra provided the orchestral backing for Ball on both songs for this performance.
On 26 December 2014, Ball starred in That Day We Sang, reuniting him with his Sweeney Todd co-star Imelda Staunton.
Ball has a regular show on BBC Radio 2, Sunday Night with Michael Ball, and is a cover presenter on the station as well. He covered for Ken Bruce on the mid-morning show for two weeks, from 7 April.
Ball embarked on an extensive British tour during March and April 2007. There were 23 dates on the tour covering England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The tour started with two nights in Belfast, before a number of shows in the north of England and the Midlands. Ball then headed to Glasgow and Aberdeen before returning for shows in London, Birmingham and Northampton. Ball took a trip to his old home in Plymouth before embarking on the final leg of his tour. It saw Ball perform in Ipswich and Northampton before ending his tour in Cardiff. He made his debut with the English National Opera in the lead role of Hajj/Poet in a new production of Robert Wright and George Forrest's Kismet after this tour.
In August 2007 he made his BBC Proms debut with An Evening with Michael Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, which marked the first time a musical theatre star had been given a solo concert at the classical music festival. Ball appeared in the Royal Variety Performance at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool on 3 December 2007 singing "You Can't Stop the Beat" with the rest of the cast from Hairspray, the musical he was appearing in at the time. He continued in the role of Edna Turnblad in the musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 29 April 2009. On 2 March 2008, Ball appeared as the guest on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs, during which he talked about his early life and his career, including his struggle with stage fright in his early career, and a little about his personal life. He performed a number of summer concerts, including the Hampton Court Music Festival on 14 June 2008. From 6 April 2008, Ball took over Michael Parkinson's Sunday Supplement on BBC Radio 2 every Sunday from 11am to 1pm, a timeslot now shared with Weekend Wogan with the two shows alternating every 12 weeks. Ball won the 2008 Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Actor in a Musical. He also won the 2008 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical, his first Olivier Award.
Ball's solo album Past and Present was released on 9 March 2009 by Universal Music. The album includes a compilation of previously released material celebrating Ball's 25-year anniversary in the music industry, as well as six new tracks, including "You Can't Stop the Beat", from Hairspray. Ball appeared on a number of television and radio programmes to promote the album. He toured the United Kingdom with an orchestra and five West End stars, (Louise Clare Marshall, Louise Dearman, Emma Williams, Adrian Hansel and Ben James-Ellis), in the autumn, celebrating 25 years in the music industry. His concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 September 2009 was filmed for DVD release. Ball performed in a 'One-off' Christmas Concert on 12 December 2009 in aid of The Shooting Star Children's Hospice which he supports. All profits made went to this charity.The Shooting Star Children's Hospice and CHASE Hospice Care for Children joined together to become Shooting Star CHASE in 2011 and Ball is a patron for this charity.
On 14 February 2010, Ball stepped in as a guest judge for Robin Cousins on ITV1's Dancing on Ice. while Cousins was in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. On 10 February 2010, Ball recorded a TV pilot for ITV1 which was commissioned as a full series in the summer entitled The Michael Ball Show.
The 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Misérables was held at The O2 Arena in North Greenwich on 3 October 2010 at 1:30 pm and 7:00 pm. It featured Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Norm Lewis as Javert, Lea Salonga as Fantine, Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras, Hadley Fraser as Grantaire, Katie Hall as Cosette, Matt Lucas as Thénardier, Jenny Galloway as Madame Thénardier, Samantha Barks as Éponine, Nick Jonas as Marius, the role Ball delivered in the original London production. Casts of the current London, international tour and original 1985 London productions took part, comprising an ensemble of 300 performers and musicians. Ball and Colm Wilkinson anchored the encore, with four Jean Valjeans singing "Bring Him Home": Wilkinson from the original London cast, John Owen-Jones from the 25th Anniversary touring production, Simon Bowman from the current London cast and Alfie Boe, who sang the role in the concert. The original 1985 cast then led the ensemble in a performance of "One Day More". After speeches from Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the performance concluded with pupils from school productions of Les Misérables entering the arena. The evening concert telecast live to cinemas across the UK, Ireland and globally. A Blu-ray and DVD version of the 2010 broadcast was released on 29 November 2010 in the UK (PAL DVD (Region 2) and Blu-ray). It was released in North America on DVD and Blu-ray on 22 February 2011.
Ball co-hosted the Olivier Awards with Imelda Staunton on 13 March 2011 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. His latest album Heroes was released on 14 March 2011. It entered the UK charts at number 10.
In 2013, Ball was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the Arts from Plymouth University
Ball lives with the former presenter of Ready Steady Go!, Cathy McGowan. They met around 1989 and have lived together since 1992. In the year 2000, she saved his life by dragging him out of a house fire.