Not many teenage boys in the fishing port of Fleetwood, Lancashire, dreamed of a career as a singer. But not many teenage boys in Fleetwood grew up with a Dad who played his favourite operatic arias to his nine children during the family Sunday lunch. Alfie preferred football, girls and rock music. But something must have rubbed off from those afternoons around the dining room table because today, Boe is Britain’s favourite singer.
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 school my options were limited to just the armed forces, or engineering”, he recalls. “A lot of my friends joined the army or went to work on the oil rigs.”
At the age of 11, Alfie took a Saturday job at the local garage to earn extra pocket money, not because his family struggled, but because he was eager to work from an early age. “We never wanted for anything,” he stresses. “We always had food on the table and my Father worked hard for his family.” 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 had never seen a live musical show until he starred in one, singing tunes from the big West End shows. His first one – the showstopper from Les Miserables that forms the title of his new album: Bring Him Home. At 16, having sung his way through the shows, he joined the chorus of amateur productions of Carmen and Il Trovatore in Preston.
Already, locals with an ear for talent began to suggest that the talented teenage tenor might even go professional. “I really wanted to,” says Alfie. “But I didn’t know how.” Instead, at 17 he began work as an apprentice mechanic in the local TVR car factory, where he spray painted cars as they came off the production line. To relieve the boredom, he would often sing along to the radio, for some of his work mates, while at weekends he performed on the club circuit, singing ballads, show tunes and pop standards. “I even entered a few competitions”. At the time Alfie had no idea where his musical future, might lie. “It could have been pop,” he admits, “or even musical theatre. I had no idea I could possibly become an opera singer – probably because of my background.”
Yet that’s exactly what happened, thanks to a customer at the TVR factory who worked in the music industry and heard Alfie’s already-impressive tenor. The mystery man – who Alfie has never yet managed to track down since that day – told him the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company was auditioning for a tour and that he should apply. The apprentice mechanic bought himself a copy of The Stage and Television newspaper for further details and made the journey to London to join other hopefuls – and got the job. For 12 months he toured the country singing Gilbert & Sullivan, before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. Supporting himself with jobs that included a stint doing security at London rock venue, the Shepherds Bush Empire, Alfie graduated and continued his training at the elite finishing school of the National Opera Studio before taking an odd detour into rock’n’roll, teaming up with Lancashire band The Clint Boon Experience as “Opera Dude” on their acclaimed albums. But he was soon drawn back to the classical world, and returned to his operatic studies by enrolling on the Royal Opera House’s Young Artists Programme.
Six months into the two-year course, which required its students to attend every performance at Covent Garden, came the moment that defined his career. He heard that Oscar-nominated film maker Baz Luhrmann, director of the film “Moulin Rouge” was holding a London audition for his New York production of La Boheme. “I was at a five-hour Wagner production at the Royal Opera House and I sneaked off during the forty minute interval and literally ran across Waterloo Bridge to the audition,” he recalls. “Then I ran back afterwards – and got back into my seat ten minutes into the second half.”
His decision to leave the course to star on Broadway did not go down well with the opera establishment and was a difficult decision to make. After the nine-month Broadway run finished, Alfie decided to stay on in America and tour with Boston Pops, singing musical theatre songs from the Thirties and Forties. Travelling the length and breadth of the USA, he discovered the country. In 2006 Alfie released his debut album, Classic FM Presents Alfie Boe. It was followed in 2007 by two more albums, Onward, featuring works by British composers John Rutter and Karl Jenkins, and La Passione, an album of his favourite Neapolitan songs.
The same busy year, Alfie toured the UK with the Fron Male Voice Choir and was nominated for a Classical Brit, where he lost out to Paul McCartney. In 2008 he was nominated for two more Classical Brits, and returned to the Coliseum, where he had already appeared in Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kismet, in The Merry Widow and Der Rosenkavalier, before a going back to the Royal Opera House in Elektra.
2009 he released his fourth album, dedicated to his late father’s favourite composer, Franz Lehar: Love Was A Dream, and made festival appearances all over the world. Starred in a WNO revival of La Traviata and reprised his role as Rodolfo in Sir Jonathan Miller’s ENO production of La Boheme. Highlights of 2010 include two operas for ENO – The Pearl Fishers and Katya Kabanova and Romeo et Juliette at Covent Garden. In October, at the request of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, he took on the lead role of Jean Valjean in the sold-out 25th anniversary concert performances of Les Miserables at the O2 Arena in London. Immediately afterwards, signing to Decca / Universal Records and in December saw the release of his “Bring Him Home” album, certified “Gold”, now having sold in excess of 200,000 copies.
2011 started with a highly acclaimed return to English National Opera in La Boheme and then The Mikado and the album going Top 10. After the huge success of the 25th Anniversary performances, Alfie, at the request of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, repriseD the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables at The Queens Theatre, London from June 23rd to November 26th, just ahead of his sell-out UK “Bring Him Home Tour” which started on December 6th. In July he received the prestigious Silver Clef award for Classical Music. Alfie has also conquered the West End. After slaying 38,000 enraptured fans as Jean Valjean at the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary 02 concerts, the relentless standing ovations he received there continued throughout his five-month run at the Queen’s Theatre, where Alfie transformed the role, bringing a powerful new experience to musical theatre stalwarts. 2011 also saw Alfie enjoy Top 10 success with his first Decca album Bring Him Home, which has so far sold a quarter of a million copies, while the infamous video of him singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ in Matt Lucas’ kitchen enjoyed a similar number of YouTube hits.
His Desert Island Discs appearance – in which he paid tribute to Elvis, Bob Dylan, and those singers and bands that have inspired him throughout his life – caused tears in the studio (as he discussed his relationship with his father) and outrage from the opera establishment (for confessing he didn’t much enjoy being an audience member). His latest album, Alfie, further showcases his versatility and ambition, particularly with his Robert Plant team-up on Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’.
Meanwhile, Alfie released his autobiography in August 2012, which was published by Simon & Schuster and made it to number 2 in the Guardian’s bestseller list, as well as writing his own material, which he plans to develop while touring the UK, America and Australia over the coming months. “I’m enjoying writing my own songs,” he says. “When I first started in college years ago, I didn’t know how to read music; learning by ear was the only way I knew, and I think that way of learning is more emotional, because you depend on your natural instinct, rather than your technical one. I try to retain that spirit now. Because if you know the rules, you stick by them. If you don’t know the rules, you’re breaking them all the time.” Other 2012 highlights include an appearance at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert in London, as well as a highly successful UK tour and round of summer festival and outdoor concert venues…next a US tour in October!