What got Michael so excited to film Wonderful Wales With Michael Ball? Well, not many will know this but Michael Ball’s mum was born in the Cynon Valley, where his grandfather was a coal miner. That's why the world-famous singer is more than delighted to head back to the country in this new four-part series coming to Channel 5 on Friday July 9.
In Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball (now retitled Michael Ball's Wonderful Wales), Michael receives "a welcome in the hillsides" as he explores the historical traditions and treasures of Wales, its cultural heritage, and Celtic pride, the Welsh language plus the stunning landscapes and scenery of Wales.
With a dramatic backdrop of majestic mountains and vast valleys, Michael not only discovers his own Welsh ancestry, but meets the people of Wales to hear untold stories of a country, plus myths and legends. Michael will also be performing with a choir at the end of every episode with the stunning Welsh landscape as a backdrop.
We caught up with Michael Ball for a chat, zooming into the London Coliseum, as he was taking a break from rehearsals for a limited summer run of Hairspray, where he reprises his legendary role of Edna Turnblad. Read our full interview about Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball below...
Wonderful Wales With Michael Ball start date...
Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball (now called Michael Ball's Wonderful Wales) starts on Channel 5 on Friday July 9 at 8pm, and the remaining three episodes of the four-parter should run weekly from then. We don't yet know if the series will be shown worldwide but we'll update when we hear.
Michael Ball on what appealed about this Wonderful Wales series...
Michael Ball says: “If I’m honest, I just wanted to get out of the house after lockdown! Seriously, it was lovely seeing family and friends, going back to the places I know and love, and discovering the rest of this incredible country. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun! I laughed a lot, but it was very moving as well. I hope that by watching the series viewers will understand why I love Wales so much.
"I’m so excited about returning to the ‘land of song’, the land of my Fathers…well, actually my Mothers! Some of my fondest memories growing up were spent in the mining village of Mountain Ash with my gran. Some of the best audiences I’ve ever performed in front of, and some of my most memorable nights out, have been in Wales.
"Wales is a country of staggering beauty, extraordinary history and proud, passionate people. I can’t wait to see my family again, make new friends, visit places I’ve never been to before and share with everyone the glory of Wonderful Wales.
"I really went back to my roots and found the street where my gran lived and I had spent so much time as a kid. On a whim I rang the doorbell and out came Auntie Jean — 94 years old —and Auntie Nora, four doors down, who's 90. That was just wonderful."
Michael Ball on what Wales and his Welsh roots means to him...
Michael says: "I’ve always had this connection to Wales. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but Wales has been this constant in my life. And without question what I do, the singing, comes from the Welsh side of my family. My gran, Agnes Lillian Davies, was a fabulous singer and always encouraged me. I remember her saying, ‘don’t overdo it, Michael, leave them wanting more!’ The saddest thing was her passing a week before coming to see my big break, the Pirates of Penzance in Manchester – that broke my heart."
Where Michael Ball was keenest to visit in Wales...
Michael says: "Well, I know the Valleys and Cardiff, but I’ve never actually travelled around the rest of the country! That was one of the reasons I wanted to do this show and, gosh, it didn’t let me down. It’s just breathtaking! But it’s not just about the scenery, it’s also about the people… they’re just so welcoming."
Michael Ball on developing a bit of a Valleys lilt on entering Wales…
Michael says: "Oh gosh, all I have to do is speak to someone who’s Welsh or go across the Severn Bridge and I just can’t help it. It’s such a beautiful accent, it’s so lyrical and so musical. I don’t speak the language, though, and actually neither did my gran and grancha, but I know a few phrases and how to pronounce the words!"
Michael Ball on singing with a Welsh choir every episode
Michael says: "Yes, we had this idea that every episode ends with me singing with a choir and I wanted it to be real, I wanted us to sing live. But it was actually quite difficult, especially with planes going over or people passing by going, ‘hiya Mike!’ in the middle of a take! I did get recognised a bit, although I wouldn’t say I’m a national treasure in Wales at all – a local trinket perhaps!"
Could Michael Ball do some more travelogues, maybe with Alfie Boe as travelling companion?
Michael Ball: "That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Me and Alf travelling around the world… you never know! But it’s really not a job, it’s just a really nice holiday with a really cool home video camera, so yeah, I’m up for doing more!"
Michael Ball on being excited about being back on stage again after lockdown and how Hairspray is going?
Michael says: "Well, the only exercise I’ve had for the last 16 months is opening a can. So coming back to the dance routines I’m like, woah, I’ve really got to get match fit again! The weirdest thing is that I’m my gran – she’s who I modelled Edna Turnblad on, to the extent that when I’m playing her I’ll wear her perfume, Madame Rochas, on stage. In a way it’s a little tribute to her and to my Welsh roots."
More on Wonderful Wales With Michael Ball
Welsh independent company Wildflame Productions was commissioned to make Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball for Channel 5.
Llinos Griffin-Williams, Executive Producer, Factual & International Co-Productions at Wildflame, says: “Michael Ball is the perfect star with which to travel through the ‘Land of Song.’ As well as explore the origins of all the things he thinks he knows about Wales – from castles to coal mines, daffodils to dragons, the valleys to the top of Snowdon – Michael will be uncovering surprising secrets and hidden history.”
Michael has also released an album We Are More Than One
Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball episode guide...
Here's a brief look at each episode of Wonderful Wales with Michael Ball, which we'll update with new information as soon as we can...
Episode 1: Friday July 9, 8pm
Michael heads to south Wales to find out more about his own heritage and family history. His mother grew up in the Cynon Valley, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were both coal-miners. He visits the area that supplied coal, or ‘black gold’, to power the Titanic, heading deep underground before meeting one of the few survivors of the 1966 Aberfan disaster at the memorial site. He also stops at Mountain Ash, the home town of his beloved grandmother and where he spent many childhood holidays. He also goes down a mine, tries cockle picking in the Loughor Estuary and treads the boards at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre. He ends the episode by singing with the famous Treorchy Male Voice Choir.
Episode 2: Friday June 16, 8pm
Michael is heading over to west Wales, starting his journey above the River Tywi at the majestic Dinefwr Castle. There, Michael learns about Lord Rhys, one of the forefathers of the arts culture in Wales.
Making his way to the coast, Michael joins wildlife expert Lizzie Daly on a boat trip around Ramsey Island in search of the fastest bird in the world, and for a bit of seal-spotting. Visiting the seaside town of Tenby, Michael learns about myth and legend from a local storyteller, and much more about our ancient ancestors’ ingenuity at Pentre Ifan burial chamber with Dr Iestyn Jones.
Renowned for its award-winning food, the Harbourmaster in Aberaeron sees Michael trying a tricky dish — a souffl — before he shoots off to Laugharne to meet some special relations of the legendary Welsh writer Dylan Thomas, famous for his classic Under Milk Wood. Michael then learns more about the nation’s patron saint from Wales’ first female bishop in the smallest city in the UK, before ending his trip at the coast for with Llanddarog choir for a special performance.
Episode 3: Friday June 23, 8pm
Michael is in Mid Wales, making his way to the north of the country. First up is a the seaside town of —Aberystwyth. He has extremely fond memories here as it's where he did his first paid acting job back in the day, and Michael meets a friendly face from his summer performing in the hit musical Godspell.
Michael then spots some red kites before checking in to restaurant Ynyshir on the Dyfi estuary for a Michelin-starred experience hosted by multi-award-winning chef Gareth Ward.
It's then on to the stunning coastal fortress of Harlech before travelling to the town that ‘roofed the world’ —Blaenau Ffestiniog —and taking a steam-powered railway trip across the Glaslyn estuary to Porthmadog. In nearby Portmeirion, Michael explores its Italian architectural delights before giving a powerful performance there with the Glanaethwy choir.
Episode 4: Friday June 30 8pm
The legendary singer is in north Wales for the final leg of his Welsh adventure, exploring the mountains of Snowdownia, taking in the seaside town of Llandudno and even steering a boat across the 126ft-high Llangollen aqueduct. There’s also a rousing rendition of Anthem from the musical Chess, which Michael performs with the Fron Male Voice Choir at Erddig Hall near Wrexham.
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