BBC RADIO 2: THE MICHAEL BALL SHOW
SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2023
As I sat back and listened to our infinitely lovable guy this morning, I had to keep reminding myself that Michael Ball is also an actor. When Michael warmly welcomes us into his world on Sunday mornings, he makes it all look so easy. But this is a man who brings a wealth of experience to the job. When he teases the contestants of ‘On the Ball’ or giggles non-stop with Orna or interviews guests like a seasoned journalist, it’s easy to forget that this is the same man who can stand center stage and move an audience to tears. Or make them double over with laughter. Who won two Olivier Awards for playing a blood-thirsty killer and an overweight, hilarious and touching woman. When Michael Ball sits down behind that microphone on Sunday mornings, he wears a dozen hats, every one of them vital and all earned over his lifetime. This not only takes hard work, it takes great intelligence.
“Hello, my lovelies. You got me for 2 hours. I’m on form. I’ve got it all sorted. There’s nothing going to break my stride.” To which Michael plays the song, ‘Nothing’s Going to Break my Stride.” And we’re off on another Sunday adventure!
This week’s theme music? “I love this! MISS MARPLE!” he shouts with glee and a stream of giggles. “This theme music is making me smile all over my face.” I adore Michael’s choice of words. It’s what a little kid would say. We haven’t seen the little boy in Michael in weeks!
Michael’s very touching with the Family Album this week. Afterwards he reaches out to his audience, quietly admitting how much he loves hearing people’s stories. I think he truly loves this segment. Also the Sunday boasts. I’ve been remiss in not mentioning this often enough.
On the Ball. First contestant is Ben, a flight attendant. Poor Ben. I’ll say no more except that Michael tried to help him with clues. “Oh, dear,” was Michael’s simple statement afterwards. His mum, Sarah, is fun, and they talk about pranking people. Michael gives himself away as the jokester he is during this segment. Never, EVER play a joke on Michael Ball. That clever mind of his has too many ways to get even. Michael, you naughty boy!
And along comes Orna. When she asks how he is, he replies, “Tired. It’s been non-stop, but I’m loving it.” He’s talking about ASPECTS rehearsals, of course. Michael admits he loves having Orna with him, whining he’s been a bit lonely. Awww … Also, it looks like Michael’s dogs rolled in you-know-what this morning when he took them out. “What can you do?” he asks. “They like to roll in it.“ A heavy sigh. “They like to eat it.” So sorry to hear this, Michael.
Michael’s first interview is with Debra Stephenson. Best known for her roles in CORONATION STREET, BAD GIRLS & DEAD RINGERS, Debra is a gifted impressionist, singer and comedienne. She is currently touring with her show THE MANY VOICES OF DEBRA STEPHENSON, where she imitates some of the greats: Billie Holiday, Shirley Bassey, Celine Dion & Britney Spears, among so many others. She keeps Michael laughing with her stories and impressions, completely charming him. I was struck again by what a great interviewer Michael is. He not only asks all the right questions, he’s also an ace at pulling a guest back into a conversation, at keeping the show rolling. An interesting tidbit: Michael says he’s never heard anyone do an imitation of him. Debra replies, “That’s because no one can sing like you!”
James Purefoy is Michael’s second guest. A veteran of films, including FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS, he’s about to star in the 5-part much-awaited TV series MALPRACTICE, debuting April 23rd on ITV1 & ITVX. It’s a nail-biter, he tells us, about a very good doctor who makes a mistake. James talks about researching his role, something rarely discussed in interviews and SO important. This is an extraordinary actor-to-actor conversation that Michael does so well, even discussing ‘classically trained actors’ – a subject near and dear to my heart. It is one of the best ‘actor’ interviews I’ve heard in a VERY long time. I will listen to it repeatedly. Bravo, Michael. Bravo!
Michael’s background and talent as an actor comes into play with both of his interviews this morning. Talent can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. It can only be honed with training or experience. Michael is both a trained actor and has years of experience. His innate ability as an actor comes from his gut, and his instincts are razor-sharp. These gifts come into play in every area of his career, including the radio. But where he shines brightest is when music enters the picture. Michael Ball doesn’t just sing. He tells a story. Each song is a monologue set to music. This is what sets him apart from so many others. He moves us when he sings. He makes us FEEL. Think of “Gethsemane.” We get swept up in his emotions, his fear, confusion, despair & rage. Michael Ball ceases to exist. He becomes Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, questioning God about his fate and, in the end, facing the inevitability of his death. I’m going to use my own phrase here because I can’t think of any other way to describe what Michael does so brilliantly: He “inhabits the skin of a character.”
There’s no doubt that Michael is just being himself, a regular guy, on the radio each Sunday, which is why his show is such a success. But from now on I’m going to keep in mind that this man is also the toast of the West End. It will be a long time before the UK sees another Michael Ball. If ever.
“With one look I can break your heart.
With one look I play every part.
I can make your sad heart sing.
With one look you’ll know all you need to know.
With one smile I’m the guy next door
Or the love that you’ve hungered for.
When I speak it’s with my soul.
I can play any role.”
*^SUNSET BOULEVARD. Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton.**