Nathan Carter is undoubtedly the dictionary definition of modern, mainstream Country and Irish music, but the star, whose musical ascendency seems unstoppable, doesn’t baulk, doesn’t become precious or throw a showbizy hissy fit, when I am ask him to sign a packet of Wagon Wheels.
‘‘Sure, no problem,’’ he laughs, ‘‘I’ve never been asked to do this before.’’
Nathan Carter fans (and they are legion) will immediately get the reference to the Wild West-themed biscuit consumed by generations of children, as Carter’s version of Bob Dylan’s Wagon Wheel helped launch him to stardom in 2012.
He’s happy to autograph them for a News Letter giveaway.
But the real reason the singing sensation has travelled from his home in Co Fermanagh to Belfast is to talk about his festive television show The Nathan Carter Christmas Special, which will be shown on BBC One Northern Ireland, on December 28 at 10.25pm.
Recorded in the Grand Opera House in Belfast, the show is a musical and visual treat for viewers of all ages, with music, chat and dance. It was filmed in front of an enthusiastic 900-strong audience, (including his very proud family, mum Noreen, dad Ian and granny Ann).
‘‘The audience was great. It was mixed with young kids right up to grannies and grandads.
‘‘It just felt really good and fair play to them, we were singing Christmas songs in September so it was a bit strange, but they were a really good audience and I think that translates onto screen,’’ says the 27-year-old star.
On the show Nathan chats to guests, and reminisces about Christmas celebrations in the Carter household and, of course, there’s no shortage of music, as Nathan sings some of his favourite songs,
He also performs some very special duets with his famous musical guests, including former Spice Girl Melanie C, American singer Curtis Stigers, Irish singer Una Healy, formerly from pop band The Saturdays, and his brother Jake, with whom he enjoys a bit of light-hearted banter.
Carter says singing with Melanie C was a ‘‘boyhood dream come true.’’
‘‘She was very easy to work with. She was lovely. I’m from Liverpool as well, so we knew a few mutual friends.’’
Others taking part in the show include the Canadian family group The Fitzgeralds with their unique blend of traditional music and step-dancing and, of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a children’s choir so Nathan is joined by the St Patrick’s Primary School Choir from Drumgreenagh. The Co Down schoolchildren were overall winners of the Junior section of the BBC Radio Ulster School Choir of the Year in 2016.
Carter is a natural in front of the cameras, with his casual, chatty, clever manner, but he does admit to nerves.
‘‘For me it’s a lot more intense than doing a gig. With the TV show there is a lot more to take on board - trying to look as energetic as possible and then remembering the autocue and remembering the interview questions for the guests and then worrying about the music and singing the songs. But when you see the finished article, it looks great.’’
This year Nathan will be spending Christmas, not in his native Liverpool, but in Enniskillen, where he shares a house with Jake.
‘‘This is my first ever Northern Ireland Christmas.
‘‘My mum and dad are coming over to us this year. Normally we would go to Liverpool and have a big dinner with all my aunties, uncles, cousins, but this year it is just the four of us.’’
And will the two Carter boys do the cooking?
‘‘We are going to try,’’ he laughs. ‘‘It can’t go that wrong, but it probably will. Dad’s actually a better chef than my mum, so he’ll probably muck in and help a bit. One of my fans who comes along to a lot of the shows - her family has a butcher’s in Cookstown so she’s kindly said she’ll supply the meat and a few trimmings.’’
And as for presents he says he’s asked his mum and dad for a new suitcase.
‘‘My suitcase is absolutely wrecked. It’s done maybe 100 flights this year.’’
Isn’t that a fairly restrained request for a star who can pack out arenas?
‘‘I’d love a new car maybe, but I can’t see that happening,’’ he laughs.
And when it comes to his own Christmas shopping, he’s unashamedly 11th hour.
‘‘I do it online, but I leave everything to the last minute.’’
But one rather special present he has secured is for his beloved gran and grandad.
‘‘I’m singing on a cruise ship in February and luckily enough I managed to get them a couple of places on that - so that’s their Christmas present. Engelbert Humperdinck and Charley Pride are also on the bill, so my nan will be in her element watching them.’’
Carter is undoubtedly the pin-up boy for Country and Irish, so how does he feel about his heartthrob status?
‘‘I normally tend to go very red and get embarrassed. I don’t really see it myself to be honest, but I guess it’s a compliment.’’
Of course, what everyone knows is if he is courting at the minute (in the past he has been romantically linked to Lisa McHugh).
‘‘Not at the minute, no, but I’m always open to offers,’’ he laughs.
‘‘I have a busy lifestyle and a busy career and that sort of takes over.’’
But he says one day he would definitely like to settle down and have kids.
‘‘It would be nice to eventually settle down. but I love what I do at the minute - it’s a passion as well as a job - actually it’s not really a job. I consider myself very lucky to be able to be able to do what I do and make a living out of it.’’
Are there any downsides to the music business?
‘‘Being on the road sometimes gets a bit tough. We would do five nights a week and be living on a tour bus, which you can’t sleep on. Apart from my nan who sometimes comes on the road,there’s 13 lads - so there’s a lot of snoring, the bus moving, the toilet just stinking after the first two days, it’s not great like,’’ he laughs.
And of course being on tour isn’t really conducive to a healthy diet.
‘‘I try and eat as healthy as possible, but that doesn’t really happen. I love Chinese. And I love a pint of Guinness. I’m a member of a gym in Enniskillen and I get there once a week - that’s about it. My new year’s resolution is to try and go more.’’
He also loves going to the cinema and has a boat in Fermanagh, which he goes out on a few times a year. And if he wasn’t a singer he’d probably be in property development.
‘‘My dad’s a builder and I take a keen interest in buying property, so I probably would be doing more of that. But I can’t see myself ever not being involved in music.’’
lThe Nathan Carter Christmas Special will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland, Thursday, December 28 at 10.25pm, and on Saturday, December 30 and on BBC Radio Ulster at 1pm.