A song changed everything, and Michael Ball is still rolling along

He might have come in for his share of flak over his appearance at last year s Proms. But Michael Ball says popular culture can have the most powerful effect and, after 20 years, he still loves being a part of it. Katie Masters talks to him. It s almo

He might have come in for his share of flak over his appearance at last year's Proms. But Michael Ball says popular culture can have the most powerful effect and, after 20 years, he still loves being a part of it. Katie Masters talks to him.

It's almost 20 years since Michael Ball's hit single, Love Changes Everything, was released.

In that time, he's met and moved in with long-term partner TV presenter Cathy McGowan, started a charity to raise money to fight ovarian cancer, released a plethora of albums, had his own Prom, worked for the English National Opera, become a radio journalist, sung in front of the Queen, won a Laurence Olivier Award for best actor in a musical - and still that song is trotted out.

Ball promises it will feature when he appears at the Kenwood Concerts on Saturday August 2, alongside soprano Lesley Garrett.

"Obviously it will be in there," he says. And laughs.

Ball, 46, laughs a lot - and it's warm and engaging and makes you feel - even on the other end of a phone - that this is a likeable man. He's a cut-to-the-chase man as well.

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"I'm an entertainer. Music and performing is what it is. Lesley and I are alike in that. We don't take things too seriously and there's not a huge ego going on."

Although that isn't to say he's unaffected by the way some people respond to him.

"I am kind of incredulous about the way people will knock something just because it's popular, just because it isn't to their taste.

"I think if you work really hard - and I work really hard and I've worked hard all my life - I think a certain amount of respect should be accorded to people who do that, who've stuck at their craft, whether you like what they do or not."

"Last year, with the Prom, there was so much controversy leading up to it, before I'd even set foot on the stage.

"Everyone was saying, 'This is dumbing down' and 'not what the Prom is for'.

"I'd never come across that amount of antipathy before.

"I had to think, 'Head down. I'll put together the best show I possibly can and try to prove them wrong.

"And then to be able to - and this sounds a bit flash - walk out in front of the fastest selling show the Proms had, even before the Last Night sold out, it was just brilliant.

"I don't want to imply that I have any kind of reverse snobbery. I appreciate all sorts of work.

"But if you're going to talk about which mediums can have the greatest effect, it's the popular ones.

"Nothing was more powerful than the original Live Aid. That was the most popular music form of the time - rock - highlighting something that none of us were aware of. It wouldn't have worked if it had been Opera Aid."

Ball is avowedly popular. He describes his fans as people out for a good time and happily, genuinely, chats about his turn on the Eurovision song contest in 1992 - singing One Step Out Of Time - as a turning point in his career.

"Without Eurovision, my first album wouldn't have been so successful. I wouldn't have done my first solo tour - that was the start of all that side for me."

He'd done an acting course at the Guildford School of Acting, during which he discovered how good he was at singing.

For his final year show, he reasoned he had more chance of impressing an agent in three minutes with a song than with a monologue and corralled all the girls into backing him on a 50s slow rock number called I'm So Tired. That landed him an agent and a part in the musical Godspell at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in mid-Wales.

A leading role in Pirates Of Penzance in the Opera House, Manchester, followed. And six years later, he was performing Aspects Of Love on Broadway.

"When I got back from America, I realised I was at a crossroads.

"I could stay in musical theatre - but at that time, the shows themselves, Les Miserables, Phantom - were the stars.

"I had to make a name for myself outside the theatre to have any kind of box office success and artistic control.

"I thought, 'If I don't do it now, I'll never do it.'

"So at that point, I went into making records and doing television."

Ball says honestly that he always wanted to be known.

"Everybody who goes into the business wants to make a name for themselves - because that means you're doing your job well.

"And there's no other job I could have done and been remotely happy.

"Keeping people entertained - it's the best feeling there is. It's a feeling of acceptance, a feeling of being useful, of being wanted, of giving pleasure.

"When you've got an audience with you, it gives you a feeling of power, of control. But not being controlling, that's a different thing.

"I've always wanted to stretch myself. To try things outside of the box in which I'd initially put myself of musical theatre.

"You have to keep taking risks to move forward - or you just stagnate."

"Every job I do, there's a risk. People judge you on the last thing you've done.

"But as you get older you care less about what people think about you.

"I used to be very vulnerable to criticism but you develop a thicker skin. You learn that what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. You learn the final, ultimate philosophy: This too shall pass. And you get on with it."

o Michael Ball will be performing with Lesley Garrett at Kenwood House on August 2. For tickets, call 0870 386 1115.