I’M A Celebrity star Russell Watson has revealed how becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s “lucky mascot” helped kick off his incredible career.
The singer had been gigging in working men’s clubs before he was asked to perform at Old Trafford in 1999 as Manchester United beat Spurs to win the Premier League.
Sir Alex then asked Russell — who was born near the Red Devils’ ground in Salford — to play at the Nou Camp in Barcelona where they famously overcame Bayern Munich in injury time to clinch the European Cup and complete an historic treble.
The footie boss, 78, was knighted by the Queen in the same year for services to the game.
Russell — who is due to take part in this year’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here — says: “There were two big moments for me with Manchester Utd that were really key.
“The first was when I was invited to sing at Old Trafford for the last game of the season when we beat Spurs 2-1 and won the Premier League.
“I sang Nessun Dorma, but before I went on the club secretary, Ken Ramsden, said to me, ‘If we win, I want you to stay and sing Barcelona to send us off for the Champions League final’.
“But that was only if they won, because if they hadn’t the stadium would have been empty.
“Fortunately we did and there is this great moment where Sir Alex Ferguson is being interviewed after the game for TV and just as he finishes I’m singing my last note of Barcelona. The timing was beautiful.”
He adds: “The next day I got a call from Ken saying, ‘You did well son’. It was as if I had just played one of the working mens’ clubs instead of Old Trafford.
“He then told me, ‘In fact the boss absolutely loves you and we were wondering if you were available to come out with us to sing at the Champions League final?’.
“I did not have to wait and check my diary to say yes. What a moment. They even flew me out with all the 1968 European Cup-winning side. It was magnificent.
Russell went on to sing the operatic classic O Sole Mio before once again giving his version of Freddie Mercury and Monsterrat Caballe’s duet Barcelona.
But his lucky mascot status looked to be on a shaky ground as United trailed the German giants throughout almost the whole match until they won with virtually the last kick of the ball from current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
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Russell says: “I sang in front of 92,000 that day — the biggest audience of my life. And it was all down to Sir Alex asking me to come out and represent Manchester United. I think he saw me as a lucky mascot — I’m so glad that remained the case when we beat Bayern at the death.”
The following year the singer burst onto the music scene with his opera pop crossover debut album The Voice. Dubbed ‘The People’s Tenor’ he performed around the world and even recorded a duet with Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder with their own bizarre version of Barcelona in 2001.
He also sang the opening theme Where My Heart Will Take Me for TV series Star Trek: Enterprise. The track was also used as a wake-up call in space for real onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
But disaster struck when in 2006 and 2007 when he had operations to remove two brain tumours which left him with a deeper voice.
Met my match in charity contest
RUSSELL reveals how he oncesang at Celtic Park – before cheekily asking Gordon Strachan for a game.
He performed before the Celtic Legends v Manchester United Legends charity match in 2011.
He recalls: “I was booked to sing before the match so performed Nessun Dorma when Gordon came over afterwards and said, ‘That was brilliant, Russell’.
“I took my chance and said, ‘Thanks, but I’d love to have a kick of the ball now’, and he ended up getting me on the pitch.”
But it wasn’t long before it descended into a grudge match when Russell clashed with Westlife heart-throb Nicky Byrne who was playing for Celtic.
He says: “Now I’m not the best footballer in the world. I’m
a bit clumsy. So my first act in the game was a sliding tackle on
Nicky Byrne from Westlife who I completely took out.
“It was a charity match but there was nothing charitable
about it at that moment.”
The only plus point was it also left him with looks younger than his age due to hormonal imbalances he suffered at the time of the tumours. Now his latest album, simply titled 20, mark his incredible two decades in the music business.
However, in 2012 he took one heck of a risk when the Englishman — who has performed God Save The Queen at Wembley — recorded our unofficial anthem Flower of Scotland.
He jokes: “It takes a brave man to do that, but it’s such an inspiring song and being a Watson I have a lot of Scottish heritage. I felt I did it justice.
“Whenever I’m touring around Scotland now I put the kilt on, in Watson tartan of course, and always sing Flower of Scotland.”
Russell has two daughters from his first marriage — Rebecca, 25, and Hannah, 19 — but now lives with his second wife, Louise Harris, 31, in Cheshire.
And the crooner reveals he also spends many of his holidays in Argyll and Bute with his missus and their three dogs — a greyhound called Blaze, a Saluki named Poppy and Muffin the shih tzu.
He says: “Blaze was a rescue dog and I read about Poppy, who had been thrown out the back of a van at 70 miles per hour and broke her legs. I said to my missus ‘This is our next dog, let’s get her’. So we have the huge greyhound, the medium saluki and tinny Muffin.”
“My wife and I absolutely love Scotland. But more than anything our dogs adore Scotland too.
“We often go to Argyll Forest and stay at Castle Lachlan.”
He adds: “We will also travel to Inverary and go into the George Hotel because we like the open fires and they let dogs in as well.
“But my all-time favourite walk anywhere in the world is Pucks Glen in Dunoon. It’s almost like walking through fairytale land.”
Russell now hopes to follow his beloved Man Utd by getting back to playing again soon. And he admits he can’t wait to be reunited with the club’s legendary former manager.
Russell says: “I’ve done many of Sir Alex’s Christmas charity shows over the years. Last Christmas I finished with Bring Him Home from Les Miserables.
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“He also presented me with my first platinum record for my first album and handed that over to me on the pitch at Old Trafford — yet another memory I’ll never forget.
“So I’m hoping it won’t be long before I can get out and tour again because I’m desperate to get back to Scotland.”
Russell Watson’s album 20 is out now.
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