Plenty of strings to this Boe
BEING friends with Matt Lucas, performing with members of McFly, and stripping off to sing opera, Alfie Boe is not your average singer. The classically trained tenor started his working life polishing cars but joining a local amateur operatic company at 14 changed his life forever.
Now he is known for rave reviews and sell-out performances in Les Miserables, his opera performances as well as classical albums.
He is now touring with his albums Alfie and Bring Him Home and is set to perform in a series of open-air concerts including one at Westonbirt Arboretum, backed by a four-piece band and an orchestra.
Alfie sounds tired when we speak, probably due to a morning of interviews, and when I ask him what sort of things he will be performing in the forest his first answer is just one word – songs. Thankfully, he expands on this but it's clear he doesn't like to give too much away.
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He says: "It will be songs from my albums Alfie and Bring Him Home and there will be a few surprises. I have a few things in the offing for later on but I don't want to give too much away. I like to give my audiences a surprise."
Certainly in his previous concerts he has teamed up with the likes of Melanie C, Robert Plant and Tom Fletcher from McFly and he says he enjoys mixing different genres.
From opera to musicals and performing as a soloist it is also hard to pigeonhole Alfie and he seems frustrated at the thought.
"I would call myself a singer," he says bluntly. "I don't like to call myself anything else or put myself into a category. People like to put you in a box and tell you what you are but I don't think that's right."
Growing up the youngest in a large Catholic family in the British seaside town of Fleetwood near Blackpool, Alfie was encouraged at school to get a trade. At the age of 11, he took a Saturday job at the local garage to earn extra pocket money.
At 14, he joined a local amateur operatic company, encouraged not so much by the chance to sing, as his sister's promise that it would be "a good way to meet girls".
He says: "It's a long story and one you'll find in nearly every interview written about me but I was 14 years old when I started with the company and that was how I managed to break into the profession."
But it was at the age of 19, performing with D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, that he realised he could make singing his full-time career.
He says: "It was then when I thought I stood a good chance of making a decent living out of singing. I had joined the D'Oyly Carte and had toured with them."
From then on Alfie's career has been a whirlwind of sell-out musical performances. He trained with the Royal College of Music in London, a course which he left to take part in Baz Luhrmann's New York production of La Boheme, and subsequently toured America.
Operas for the English National Opera also followed as well as releasing a number of albums.
Then, last year, he did a six month stint in Les Miserables, in the role of Jean Valjean and at the request of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, performed again in the 25th anniversary concert alongside comedian Matt Lucas, whom he now counts as a close friend.
"This was a great experience for me. I have no qualms in saying that it was the best thing I've done in my career, from beginning to end. Getting to perform the role in the West End; and then the O2 – it was an experience I'll never forget."
But the pressure is still on for the series of solo concerts he is planning, in which he will perform songs from his albums.
He says: "There is pressure on everything I do and nothing differs. You have to be on form all the time and I try to perform the best I can."
With 18 years of performing under his belt he says he is looking forward to performing at Westonbirt.
"I've done open air concerts for years," he says. "I've done prom gigs and concerts so I'm used to it. It is going to be a real privilege to perform at such prestigious outdoor venues with beautiful trees as backdrops."
As we close, I return to the question of Alfie's multifaceted career, and whether he plans to go in a specific direction in the future.
He says: "I'm not sure what is next. There is a lot going on and things to take into consideration but I can't really say much about that yet. I am touring with my albums and then who knows. I don't tend to look for roles I find that they discover you."
Alfie Boe plays Westonbirt Arboretum on Saturday, July 21, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £35.50. Tel 0300 0680 400.