Alfie Boe, the most popular tenor in the UK, was born in Blackpool in 1973. He grew up in Fleetwood, Lancashire and his talent for singing was discovered while he was working in a car factory. He was encouraged to audition for an opera company and has since become a successful alumnus of the Royal College of Music. Boe has starred in Les Misérables, won a Tony award for his role in Puccini’s La Bohème on Broadway, and achieved crossover success with his collaborator Michael Ball. His new solo album, Open Arms – The Symphonic Songbook, will be released on October 27th.
I have a strong memory of the day this picture was captured. At the time, I was three years old and my favorite activity was pretending to be my father in the small red car. I would spend hours practicing parking, reversing, and driving around. I even imitated my dad by getting out of the car, locking the door, and walking away.
Being the youngest of nine children, I often had to entertain myself. I would use my imagination to come up with different adventures, like pretending to ride a horse on a wall that resembled a cowboy saddle. I also enjoyed climbing trees, building forts, and walking along the fences in our garden as if I were in the circus. Growing up, I didn’t have access to video games or other forms of electronic entertainment. Instead, I found joy in exploring and playing in nature. My mother was older when she had me, so my sisters took on the role of caring for me, which they still do to this day.
Growing up with three brothers and five sisters had a significant impact on me. Despite living in a small house, it always felt like a grand space. We shared bunk beds and had only one bathroom with a single toilet. Our shower was just a detachable head connected to the tap. While our living situation may have been simple, it instilled a strong sense of confidence in me. I was constantly surrounded by diverse personalities and had to adapt to various social circles. I also had the opportunity to interact with my parents’ friends during dinner, where I would try to entertain them with funny walks, dances, and silly faces. It was a joyful environment filled with delicious food, laughter, and entertainment. Additionally, I was exposed to a wide range of music genres such as country, skiffle, and big band. Whenever the swing record “Moonlight Serenade” played, we all knew it was time to party.
As a child, I never found myself in any difficulties. I had no intention of being rebellious or defying my parents. Even during my teenage years, I avoided disobeying my mother. She instilled good discipline in us and taught us the difference between right and wrong. Although I may have sneaked some chocolate from the box, I made an effort to stay on the right path.
With that being mentioned, I never had a good experience with school. I wasn’t the well-liked student in the class or the one considered popular. While singing was something I enjoyed, I wasn’t aware of my talent. As a boy, my voice was high-pitched like a soprano. However, when I turned 14, my voice changed and I discovered that I had a distinctive quality to my singing. Prior to this, I would secretly sing along to my dad’s Elvis and Pavarotti albums. Once I recognized my unique style, my love for singing grew even more.
I constantly fantasized about being a performer. I would envision myself playing the drums in a packed arena, surrounded by a band rocking out. I would use my pillows as makeshift drums and play along with imaginary music. One day, my dad called up to me, telling me to come down for dinner and clean up my things in the living room. I thought I had left my school bag out and quickly shouted back that I would take care of it. However, when I went downstairs, I was surprised to see a real drum kit set up in the middle of the room. My dad had gotten it for me and it was an incredible feeling.
I realized that I needed to have a backup plan in case my dream of becoming a rock star didn’t work out, so I decided to pursue a career in the motoring industry. However, I wasn’t very good at it and often avoided work. One day, a customer overheard me singing in the car factory and suggested that I go to London and pursue singing professionally. They told me about an audition being held by a company called D’Oyly Carte. That night, I went for a singing lesson and my teacher mentioned seeing an advertisement for the same audition in a stage newspaper. I searched all over Fleetwood for a copy of the newspaper, but couldn’t find one anywhere. Eventually, I found a small newsagent who had a copy and bought it for 25p. The newsagent commented that no one ever asked for that newspaper and they were going to discontinue it, making me feel lucky. The newspaper opened perfectly to the advertisement, which I took as a sign. I took a day off work and traveled to London for the audition. Despite my foreman’s disapproval, I was accepted and given a position in the company. That was 30 years ago and I have been singing ever since.
At the beginning of my career in opera, I was amazed by the diverse backgrounds of people in the industry. There were individuals who had been police officers and teachers before pursuing this path. This made me feel like I belonged and I was grateful to be living out my dream. It wasn’t about the money, it was about being on stage and sharing my voice with an audience. I strived for perfection and made sure to follow the instructions of the musical director to make them proud. I took my role very seriously.
I have experienced many amazing opportunities since then, including performing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. While there have been more positive moments than negative ones, I have also faced some failures, with certain albums not reaching the same level of success as others. However, I have learned from these experiences and persevered. I do not consider my career a complete success; I am concerned about becoming too comfortable. My main aspiration is to keep singing well into my 80s, entertaining audiences with whatever unique sound I may produce at that age.
My father only saw me perform at the D’Oyly Carte and the Royal College of Music. He passed away when I was 23, but he was able to attend my graduation. I remember looking out at the audience while receiving my certificate, and noticing that he had fallen asleep. Little did we know, it was due to his brain tumor. Sadly, he didn’t live much longer after that. My mother, who is now 91, is nearing the end of her life due to her dementia. It’s uncertain if she recognizes me at the moment. However, this is just a part of life. My parents were married for 47 years and I believe that they will be reunited eventually.
When viewing this image, I see a young boy who admired his father and lacked nothing. I am forever thankful for my upbringing and still sense my father’s presence every day. There are moments when it feels like he’s no longer here, like he’s vanished. I wonder, am I on my own? But I understand that those are the times when he is actually nearer than ever.