​Musical star Michael Ball: ‘Caring less about what others think is one of the gifts of age’

Michael Ball.Michael Ball.
Michael Ball.
​Michael Ball is reminiscing about his long-term working relationship with musical theatre impresario and composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, reflecting on his genius, outbursts, and his quest for perfection.

The subject comes up in Ball’s memoir, Different Aspects, which charts his life and career from the first Aspects Of Love – the Lloyd Webber musical staged in 1989, which made Ball a star and secured his number one hit Love Changes Everything – and ends with the ill-fated attempt to revive the show in the West End earlier this year.

“I hope he won’t mind me mentioning that I’ve seen Andrew very, very frustrated when things haven’t been going well. It’s the perfectionist in him. He lives by a code, hates cutting corners and despises seeing bad theatre,” Ball writes.

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Today, he says working with Lloyd Webber over the years has been fantastic and that he’s been incredibly supportive.

“He took me under his wing, he’s funny, he’s really demanding, he knows exactly what he wants. But he is open to contribution from an artist. If things aren’t going the way he wants, then he makes that known – and you deal with that,” Ball says, laughing.

The recent re-imagining of Aspects closed after three months this summer due to poor ticket sales, and while bitterly disappointed, Ball also seems philosophical. By his own admission, and despite his passion and enthusiasm for each project he takes on, at 61, he has mellowed.

“I’m mature, I’m pragmatic, I’m confident. Yeah, I’m still hungry, but that’s tempered with experience and understanding. I know the pitfalls and the pleasures.

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“You do hit a point where you start caring less about what others think. That’s one of the gifts of age. If things don’t work out, as with this show, you move on to the next thing. It’s disappointing for everybody, but it’s no reason for you not to have a go at doing things. Because there’s so much else going on in my life, this was just a moment in time.”

Ball is canny enough to have his fingers in a lot of pies. He is doing a major UK tour, On With The Show, next year, is executive-producing the screen adaptation of his debut novel, The Empire, about the on and off-stage dramas in the eponymous fictional theatre, and has his regular BBC Radio 2 show on Sundays.

He hopes to make another album with his friend and fellow performer Alfie Boe next year, and that they’ll tour together in 2025.

Famed for roles in Les Miserables, Hairspray (he reprised his Olivier Award-winning role of Edna Turnblad in 2020), Sweeney Todd and The Phantom Of The Opera, he has plenty to write about.

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The memoir is peppered with anecdotes involving a host of famous names, from Joan Collins and Judi Dench, to Eartha Kitt, who snored through a show.

He also recalls how Roger Moore pulled out of the original Aspects two weeks before opening night, unable to cope with the technical demands of singing.

There are references to Ball’s mental health at the time, how his hectic workload made him feel isolated and how the experience of a previous breakdown, when he left Les Miserables in the mid-Eighties after suffering crippling stage fright, lingered.

These days when he needs to pull back, he’ll walk the dogs, take some time off to reboot and watch some reality TV – although he’s not intending to appear on any of the popular shows any time soon.

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“Married At First Sight Australia is possibly the greatest bit of television that’s ever been created,” he enthuses. “We discovered it during lockdown. I’m absolutely obsessed.

“I’ll be watching Big Brother when it comes back. I love Strictly Come Dancing – it’s the greatest piece of entertainment.”

Would he consider a stint in the jungle with I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here?

“I want to go on the journey, but I think I would worry too much about potential repercussions from it because I’ve seen so many people come a cropper. You don’t know what’s going to happen – and there is life afterwards.

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“I’m quite private, and certainly the family are, and so it’s not just yourself you’re thinking about, it’s everyone else.”

It was the first Aspects Of Love – a story of romantic entanglements across three generations of a family and their artistic companions – which led to Ball meeting the love of his life, journalist and TV presenter Cathy McGowan, who interviewed him in the run-up to the show’s launch.

He says she has kept him grounded throughout his showbiz career.

“She’s wise. She’s kind. She’s pulls no punches. She came into my life and I came into her life at a really important time for both of us. It’s a really good partnership.”

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She has advised him on his work choices on numerous occasions, he agrees, smiling.

“We will talk about it fulsomely. Ultimately, of course, it’s my decision. But I trust her guts. And sometimes it’s just not worth the aggro,” he says, laughing heartily. “The thing that p***** me off, though, is that inevitably she’s usually right.

“We clash about things far less than we used to. I’m that most insecure of turns, I just want to say yes to everything.”

He says McGowan’s helped him realise he doesn’t always have to say yes, which was a difficult journey.

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“I hate disappointing people, and I get excited by other people’s enthusiasm and by the idea of something that I think would be an incredible challenge, not thinking that I take on too much.

“My career wasn’t that advanced when Cathy and I got together. So she taught me that lesson pretty quickly.”

He cherishes their home life in Barnes, south west London. “I love that little nest of security and I love having my friends around and just talking.”

He says he has learned to look after his mental health more effectively.

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“I recognise the signs when I need to pull back. I understand myself, and I’m around people who understand me. They see when I need to sit back and take stock, I’ve armed myself with a greater understanding of what I need to get by.”

Tell-tale signs include him becoming physically tired and lacking enthusiasm.

“Thoughts get overcrowded, you’ve got too much plumbing in the cupboard, everything is a problem and nothing has a solution. There’s a feeling of being overwhelmed.

“That’s when you need to have time to take stock, to sit and talk. It’s why Cathy is so important. It’s knowing when to walk away and say, ‘You know what? I need a week off’.”

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The stage fright still comes and goes, but it’s no longer crippling.

”I know the signs, It’s when you’re on opening night, or there’s something that’s heightened within something that you know so well. You start having that feeling, and then it’s like a wave.

“What I’ve learned to teach myself to do is to surf the wave, and not let it crash over me.”

Different Aspects by Michael Ball is published by Blink on October 12, priced £25.