Tenor Alfie Boe heads for Thetford Forest

From a chance discovery while working in a car factory, tenor Alfie Boe, who performs at Thetford Forest this weekend, has gone on to become one of Britain's most popular singers. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Every so often you hear an amazing story that is the result of incredible twist of fate. The break into opera of the hugely popular tenor Alfie Boe is exactly that.

'I was working in a factory when I was about 17, spraying cars,' he explains. 'One day I was just singing along to the radio when this client came in and told me that I should audition for this opera company he knew about.'

Alfie, who has joined an amateur operatic company aged 14, encouraged by his sister's promise it would be a good way to meet girls, went along to the audition and got the job, and the rest as they say is history. 'I have never been able to find the guy since,' Alfie laments. 'I had seen an advertisement for this audition in the local paper and a friend of mine had told me about it too, but at that point I guess I just needed that extra push. The anonymous man was it.'

Since then Alfie has never looked back. Now an award-winning tenor is one of the country's most popular artists with acclaimed sell out concerts and two Top-10 'platinum' selling albums in the last 12 months, he has travelled extensively and given audiences across the world the opportunity to hear his beautiful voice.

'I was accepted into the Royal College of Music and I never thought it was a place I could see myself going to,' he admits. 'But three years later, I was completing my masters at the National Opera Studio so it definitely led to great things.'

Alfie's big break from opera into the mainstream came from Australian film director, Baz Luhrmann, famous for Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet.

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'I heard that he was holding auditions for a production of La Boheme that he was putting on — on Broadway of all places; so I tripped over to Waterloo to sing for him,' he recollects.

In fact, Luhrmann had seen a video of Alfie performing the very role he was to audition for at Glyndebourne and was so impressed he gave him the job.

Alfie went on to perform on Broadway for nine months and bagged himself a Tony award along the way. 'That job is so special to me as it was a fantastic production and those jobs are so few and far between. I was very lucky.'

Since then he has toured across America, enjoyed critically acclaimed performances at the Royal Opera House and famously taken the lead role in Sir Cameron Mackintosh's 25th anniversary concert performances of Les Miserables. His albums Alfie and Bring Him Home, which feature his interpretations of classical pieces and popular standards, have won him a large classical-crossover fan base.

Next week he is back in the region to headline the latest concert at Thetford Forest. His forest debut will see him performing from his current albums as well as from classical and proms repertoire.

It is going to be a real privilege to perform at such prestigious outdoor venues with beautiful trees as backdrops,' he said. 'I love playing open air venues. I have played a lot over the years and it is especially fantastic and magical if the weather is nice. The atmosphere is always really special.'

His Thetford audience will see him perform with a full orchestra and special guest Laura Wright and can expect a set list heavily influenced by his eclectic music tastes — something which he has always been keen to reflect in his career.

Alfie, who grew up in Fleetwood, near Blackpool, in a bustling household with eight sisters and brothers, and gained his love of music from his father.

'Whether it was country, big band, rock, opera or the really great singers, he was interested and I definitely learned a lot about music from him,' he says.

'I don't class myself as an opera or classical singer anymore, just a regular singer who sings all different styles,' he says. 'I think maybe because of that I do attract a different crowd to people who might not usually consider coming to see someone classed as an opera singer.'

His career reflects his determination not to be typecast and to follow his own musical tastes such as Elvis, Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin – he once even admitted not being terribly fond of watching opera.

'I don't like musical snobbery. I want to introduce people to new styles of music. I don't see any division between different types of music.'

That probably reflects the fact he has been involved in the Official Team GB song for the Olympics and Paralympics — a version of the Queen classic One Vision duetting with Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh.

However when asked if there is any role in particular that he has always dreamt of playing it is a major operatic role that he names.

'There are so many that I would like to do — I guess it just has to be the right time at that stage in your life. And for me, Don Jose in Carmen would probably be the one I would most like to land.'

t Alfie Boe, Thetford Forest, July 13, �35.50 (subject to booking fee), 03000 680400, www.forestry.gov.uk/music

t His latest album Alfie is out now.

t Further listening: www.alfie-boe.com