WHEN the MOD asked Russell Watson if he would head up their new charity push, Home Ground, the self-styled People’s Tenor couldn’t resist.
Despite getting up to five requests a day to become involved with charitable concerns – particularly since overcoming cancer – Russell, who has sold in excess of seven million albums, admits it was the impact on Service personnel and their families that made him say yes.
“I want to say yes to everyone,” he says. “Everybody’s got their own stories to tell and they’re all heart-rending, but with this one I thought it could make a real difference to a lot of people.”
Russell will release a single recorded with the Welsh Guards Choir, called The Home Ground Anthem to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. He will also headline a series of concerts with all proceeds feeding back to the Home Ground charities, which include The Haig Trust Coming Home Campaign, The Welsh Guards Benevolent Fund and the Falklands Veteran Foundation.
Simple changes, big differences
Coming Home has already helped several badly-injured Servicemen and women and their families by providing them with a home for life. Set up by the Haig Housing Trust, it funds special adaptations for homes, such as wider door frames, wet rooms or modifications to kitchens.
“I liked the presentation about what the funds that are raised represent, particularly with Coming Home,” Russell adds. “Soldiers coming back from Afghanistan who have serious injuries and not just physical but mental scars from conflict.
“A soldier who had been rehoused in a beautiful new home couldn’t have a shower because he couldn’t get his wheelchair through the bathroom door. Very simple things that we take for granted. Just widening a door arch can make a massive difference.
“These guys have gone into the Army for a career that’s been brought to a very abrupt end and then on top of that, a lot of them have serious injuries. Simple day-to-day tasks that they can’t do any more like driving a car or dropping their kids off at school can affect their lives, so it’s a great charity to be involved with. If we can make the smallest of differences by raising funds then I will do my best.”
Russell’s grandfathers both served in the RAF and his best pal Steve Gallagher was in the Army for 17 years, serving during the Falklands War. He believes whatever military connections you have, the lyrics of The Home Ground Anthem are sure to mean something.
“I think I’ve made a real link with it; it’s a great lyric, it’s a lovely song and the words are quite poignant,” he says. “There were a huge amount of casualties in World War One and I would suggest that almost all of us in the UK would have been affected at some point, so we definitely shouldn’t forget.
“We’re not glamorising or celebrating, we’re commemorating. In a lot of cases people were lost in our own families, albeit 100 years ago.”
The Welsh Guards Choir will be joining Russell for the charity concerts later this year. “They’re a good group of lads so I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of fun with them on stage,” he adds. “They were all very quiet at first and then once I got to know them I slowly worked out who the characters were.”
He’s enjoyed the banter, especially over who could drink the most on a night out when the boys forgot he hails from Salford and used to work in a factory! Russell has also sung with the Military Wives Choir.
Only One Man
Russell’s new album, Only One Man, is real “heart on sleeve” stuff and the lyrics are sure to hit home with Army families.
“If they relate to my music through their personal experiences then that’s great,” he explains.
“Music has this amazing power to help one reflect. You can be walking down the street and hear a song that reminds you of a special time [it] has this incredible power of taking you on a journey. I think the new record is in essence a journey – it has a start, a middle and a conclusion.”The Home Ground Anthem will be available to download from 17 March. Visit www.homegroundprojects.org.uk or www.atgtickets.com for details about tickets for the charity concerts.