By Jeremy Miles
He started out as just another actor but early roles in musicals swiftly catapulted Michael Ball to a level of stardom he could never have dreamt of.
With the cream of West End and Broadway shows under his belt, a string of hit records and a career on the side as a radio and TV presenter, Ball seems to have it all. He's starred in everything from Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera to Aspects of Love and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He's recorded 14 albums and women of a certain age have been known to go weak at the knees at the mere mention of his name.
Yet checking out his latest album I couldn't help noticing that alongside the Barry Manilow, Andy Williams and Michael Buble covers he'd slipped in a couple of classic rock ballads - Since You've Been Gone by Rainbow and Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss A Thing.
So inside the cheery housewives favourite is there a frustrated rocker struggling to get out?
I talked to Ball as he prepared to bring his latest UK concert tour to the Bournemouth International Centre tomorrow night. He considered the question for a nanosecond, burst into laughter and told me: "Frustrated rocker? I'm not that frustrated actually. I get to sing with a proper microphone, not just a hairbrush." Warming to the image he joked. "I put on the spandex, back-comb my hair and stick on the disco glitter, damn right I do!"
Seriously, though, Ball says that whether he's on tour with a series of live shows or putting an album together, he always tries to include a number of songs that people aren't expecting.
"I love party songs, I love rock n' roll going right back to Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. There's some great Ray Charles and Blues Brothers numbers and then there's Queen - the best rockers in the world. I put in stuff like that and get away with it. It's great."
When he completes his current concert tour, Ball will be exploring yet another aspect of live performance when he appears with the English National Opera in a new production of Kismet.
He is as surprised and delighted by the dazzling variety of projects that come his way as anybody.
"It's why I love this job and the business I'm in," he tells me. "This whole past year has been extraordinary. There was the chance to present Soapstar Superstar, then the radio work and the album. Now there's the tour and then the ENO."
Different shows bring their own specific demands but Ball says he's happy to adapt.
"The thrill of singing in front of a live audience, whether in a musical or a concert, is the best buzz you can get."
He admits that, compared to the team spirit found among the cast of a big musical production, doing a concert tour can be lonely. However, it has its compensations.
"Even though I have a great band, fantastic backing singers and people doing sound, lights and setting the stage all of whom are hugely important - the show wouldn't happen without them - its me that people come to see.
"I take all the praise and I take all of the responsibility. There's no one to play off except the audience, but the rewards are enormous. I don't have to share the glory with anybody.
"But doing a show like Kismet which will be huge, with a chorus of 40, a fabulous cast and a big orchestra you're just one part of it and you have this wonderful camaraderie with your fellow performers. You're also being someone else, you're hiding behind a character."
Ball says he has no problem switching between being the sole focus of attention on a concert tour and a team player in the theatre.
He says his career has been built on being offered different opportunities.
"I basically learnt everything by doing it and then of course you find that if you're any good they ask you to do it again. I started as an actor but the first job I got was a musical so then I found that I'd become a musical theatre actor, then a musical theatre actor who had a hit song and an entertainer who released albums and did concerts. It's been bizarre but it's been enormous fun."
Michael Ball brings his latest concert tour to the Bournemouth International Centre on Wednesday March 28.