Michael Ashley Ball (born 27 June 1962, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire) is an Olivier Award winning English actor, singer, and radio and TV presenter who is best known for the song "Love Changes Everything" and musical theatre roles such as Marius in Les Mis?rables, Alex in Aspects of Love, Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Edna Turnblad in Hairspray for which he won the 2008 Laurence Olivier Award for best actor in a musical.
Ball was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England, of a Welsh mother, and an English father. Ball's father trained as an Austin apprentice at the Longbridge plant and went on to become a successful business man; 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 about nine years younger than himself. 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, Stratford-upon-Avon of King Lear, which impressed him as a youngster of about 14 years old. He joined a youth theatre, which led to him 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 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; however, she died suddenly of a heart attack about one week before Ball's debut in The Pirates of Penzance. His parents were also proud of him and they were relieved that his singing had brought a sense of direction to his life.
In 1984, after leaving drama school, Ball's first part was in Godspell at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and then 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 all 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 Mis?rables, but he caught glandular fever and he took about six or seven weeks off-sick owing to the associated tonsillitis and post-viral fatigue. When he returned to work he was still suffering from fatigue, and on stage he started getting panic attacks ? overwhelming anxiety, a rapid heart beat, 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 he left Les Mis?rables.
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 also 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 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 2005, with 10 days' notice, he replaced Michael Crawford as Count Fosco in The Woman in White after poor health forced Crawford to depart the role.
Other performances include singing at the BBC's St David's Day concert, in the role of Marius at the Les Mis?rables: The Dream Cast in Concert, the tenth anniversary concert of Les Mis?rables in 1995, and the fiftieth birthday party of Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Royal Albert Hall in 1998. At Webber's 50th birthday party he sang the song "Gethsemane" which is sung by Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, though he is not well-known for that role. He is a lyric baritone. Ball also sang the role of Valjean at a special concert performance of Les Mis?rables for the Queen and her guests at Windsor Castle.
In 2004, he co-starred with Petula Clark in a production of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at the Cork Opera House in the Republic of Ireland, which was later broadcast by the BBC. Ball sang three tracks from his album, Since You've Been Gone: "Home" and "One Voice", as well as two duets with Clark.
In November 2005, Ball returned to Broadway as Count Fosco in The Woman in White, which transferred from London's West End. However, he was forced to leave the show due to a reported viral infection caused by the fat suit required for the role, which reportedly raised Ball's body temperature by several degrees during the show. (The suit is also thought to have been the cause of Michael Crawford's premature departure from the show in London.) The show closed early, in part due to the health problems of Ball and leading lady, Maria Friedman.
In September 2005, Ball made his New York City Opera debut as Reginald Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience. Ball 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. Ball 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, Ball was awarded the 2007 Best Actor in a Musical Olivier Award for his portrayal.
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 United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 1992 held in Malm?, Sweden, singing the song "One Step Out of Time", which finished second. In October 2005 Ball released his album Music, which entered the UK Albums Chart at number 11, and spent ten weeks in the top 75. It was the 99th best selling album of 2005.
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 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.
Ball has also turned his hand to presenting both on TV and radio. Michael had his own tv series 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 also co-hosted This Morning for a small period whilst 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. In April 8 Michael took over Michael Parkinson Sunday slot on radio 2 and is currently contracted to broadcast "Michael Ball's Sunday brunch" between 11am-1pm at least until April 9.
Ball kicked 2007 off by co-judging the second series of ITV1 reality television show Soapstar Superstar. This was broadcast between Friday, 5 January and Saturday, 13 January. Ball spent the week in Manchester filming the series. Critics of the show have compared him to "a poor mans Neil Sean". However he was widely considered a truthful judge who gave constructive criticism to contestants.
To finish 2006, Ball presented two more National Lottery Shows for the BBC on 27 December and 30 December. Ball presented This Morning again on Tuesday 19 June and Wednesday 20 June 2007 with Fern Britton. It was the first time his new beard for Kismet was seen on national television. Ball made a guest appearance on This Morning on Friday 13 July 2007 to sing "Happy Birthday" to Britton On 28 July 2007, Ball and Elaine Paige took part in a celebrity version of the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which aired on ITV1. The pair won ?64,000 with a combined effort.
Radio and concert
In 2006 Ball appeared at the summer concerts at Aberdeen, Bath, Southport, Oakley Hall and Cardiff. In August, Ball sat in for Michael Parkinson on his Radio 2 show. He was interviewed for Radio 3's "Stage and Screen" programme, and recorded a tribute to Anthony Newley at Hackney Empire, also for Radio 2. Ball then took part in 'Proms in the Park' at Singleton Park, Swansea. He sang two tracks from his forthcoming album, One Voice; the title song and Hero. Ball also sung show stoppers, "This is the Moment", "Anthem" and "Love Changes Everything". Soon after, Ball joined Petula Clark in concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London.
Ball also took part in a Christmas concert for the Royal Theatrical Fund at St Pauls Church in Covent Garden, London. Ball sang Christmas classics "O Holy Night" and "When a Child is Born". At the end of the year Ball sat in for Johnnie Walker on his Sunday afternoon BBC Radio 2 show. Guests included Ronan Keating, Petula Clark and Matt Lucas on Christmas Eve. At the end of February 2007, Ball chose the 'Tracks of his years' for Ken Bruce's show on BBC Radio 2. Ball choose his favourite tracks in the week beginning 26 February.
Ball also took part in a full extensive United Kingdom Tour during March and April 2007. To promote this Ball took part in interviews with ITV's This Morning and a newspaper in Liverpool. There were 23 dates on the tour covering England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The tour started with two nights in Belfast, before a number of shows in the north of England and 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.
His six part series Ball over Broadway was aired on Radio 2 from late April. For this show he traveled to New York to review shows and interview directors, stars and producers. He has also presented one-off specials for the network including tributes to Jerry Herman and Anthony Newley . and has been a guest presenter on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Ball is presenting two special new year shows for BBC Radio 2 as regular presenter Ken Bruce takes a break.
Ball has also confirmed Summer Concerts in Derby, Wales and Peterborough. Ball will be joined in Wales by Sound of Music star Connie Fisher who will duet 'All I Ask of You' from Phantom of the Opera with him. Ball is also expected to sing numbers from Les Mis?rables, Jekyll and Hyde and Aspects of Love in Wales. To promote the concert at Repton School, Derby Ball gave an interview in April with BBC Radio Derby. On 14 August 2007 Ball took part in the Popmaster Quiz on Ken Bruce's BBC Radio 2 show. On 22 August, Ball appeared on BBC Radio Four's 'Front Row' programme to discuss his imminent concert for the BBC at the Albert Hall.
In August 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 Monday 3 December singing "You Can't Stop the Beat" with the rest of the cast from Hairspray.
In 2008 Ball will continue to appear as Edna Turnblad in the musical Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre until April 29, 2009. He appeared on Jonathan Ross's BBC Radio 2 Show on January 19 and on the BBC Radio 2 Elaine Paige show on February 3. Michael appeared on the Alan Titchmarsh Show on February 26, discussing his Olivier Award nomination. He appeared in a number of summer concerts, including the Hampton Court Music Festival on June 14.
On March 2, 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.
From April 6 Ball took over Michael Parkinson's "Sunday Supplement" on BBC Radio 2 every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Michael won the 2008 What's on Stage Theatre Awards for "Best Actor in a Musical". He also won the 2008 Olivier Award for "Best Actor in a Musical", his first Olivier Award.
Ball continued in Hairspray until July 25, 2009, making it the longest West End show in which he has ever appeared. He was replaced by critically acclaimed comedian and all round performer Brian Conley. He took a holiday between March 9 and March 15 to promote his new album on television and radio. He will continue with his Sunday Brunch radio show until April 2010. He was a guest singer at the 2009 South Bank Show Awards in January 2009.
Ball's latest solo album Past and Present is to be released on 9 March 2009 by Universal Music. The album will include a compilation of previously released material celebrating Ball's 25 year anniversary in the music industry. There will be 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.
Ball is scheduled to perform in a one off open air concert in the Summer, celebrating his 47th Birthday at West Wycombe Park, on Saturday, June 27. He will be touring the United Kingdom with an orchestra and six West End stars in the Autumn, celebrating 25 years in the music industry. His concert at the Royal Albert Hall on September 19th will be filmed for DVD release on November 23rd.
Ball will perform in a 'One-off' Christmas Concert on Saturday 12th December in aid of The Shooting Star Children's Hospice which he has recently started supporting. All profits made will go to this charity. Details for this event are available at www.shootingstar.org.uk
Ball will once again play the role of Edna Turnblad, this time in the Hairspray UK Tour throughout 2010. Ball will perform in the Cardiff Millennium Centre for four weeks in March and April, Glasgow for two weeks in April and May, Southampton for three weeks in May, Manchester for three weeks in July and August, concluding in Edinburgh for four weeks in December and January 2011 at the Edinburgh Playhouse.
Ball lives with his partner, the former presenter of Ready Steady Go!, Cathy McGowan, who is almost 20 years his senior. They met about 1991 and they have lived together since 1992. In 2000, in the middle of the night during a house fire, McGowan undoubtedly saved his life by pulling him out of their house from the spare bedroom, where he was sleeping after some nightcaps to help him sleep . Ball is stepfather to Emma, McGowan's daughter.