Recommended second chance
Sing For Your Life
In 2006 tenor Russell Watson received the devastating news that he was suffering from a brain tumour, which grew back following surgery, leading to a further operation the following year. So he leapt at the chance to get involved with Channel 4’s Stand Up To Cancer campaign, by working with fellow sufferers The Big C Choir for the documentary Sing For Your Life…
How did you get involved in Sing For Your Life?
Channel 4 roped me in. They were putting this show together involving The Big C Choir and I loved the idea. Having had my own personal issues with cancer I have an affinity with people who are suffering because I have been through a similar thing myself. I’ve built a real attachment to them.
Do you find it more upsetting when you meet people in that position because of your experience?
I don’t think so, like I said I have an affinity with them, I can relate to some of the issues that they have. I told them that when I was ill, I wasn’t thinking about myself, I was thinking about my children and my family, how they would manage without me and how they would react to me not being there, rather than it being all ‘Poor me.’
I think most people that you meet in that situation get a real awareness — it’s like a reawakening of your mortality. It changes your outlook.
You’ve just had The Classical BRIT Awards, at which you performed and were nominated. Is that an event you enjoy?
The Classical BRIT Awards for me represents a return from a time in my life that I wasn’t sure I would return from. It was a period when I was told by specialists that I wouldn’t sing classical music again. Because of the nature of where my tumour was, it was right at the front of my skull and all the cavities that affect the resonance of the voice. So when I sang, and went for the high notes I blacked out basically. I couldn’t reach the high notes or sustain them. So I started to sing a bit of swing and soul music for a while but my love has always been the classical repertoire. And it took me five or six years to get back to being able to sing the classical stuff, which I thought I might never do again.
You look very well but do you still have to keep a real eye on the cancer?
I go back every three or four weeks and have a kind of MOT for the body. I have a check on my kidney, liver, heart, everything. And I have to take a concoction of replacement hormones to keep me alive, I have to inject growth hormone, take hydrocortisone. I have to inject testosterone. I have to take tablets to stop other tablets having a negative effect. A lot of the ones I take can cause problems if you take too much, or if you don’t take enough.
Do you feel that being in The Big C Choir has had a very positive effect on its members?
Absolutely. The concept of a choir of people who have cancer, who are suffering and are very, very poorly — what they gain on a social level from being with one another is really incredible. One of the things I found incredibly difficult was that I didn’t have anyone to talk to except doctors. And you see the soothing effect of what singing can do.
Do your daughters Rebecca and Hannah give you advice on who they’d like you to work with?
I think it would be N-Dubz and Rihanna probably! One’s 18 on Halloween, and the other is 12. They are a pair of characters. It wasn’t easy when I was diagnosed. Six years on, they are very protective of me now. But if we go back six years, it was very difficult having two young children. Even though I was poorly, I still wanted them round all the time, which was difficult because I did get tired. But I wanted them there — I wanted to have my cake and eat it.
Channel 4, starts Monday