American teen sensation Justin Bieber has his Beliebers, Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch has his Cumberb*tches and opera favourite Russell Watson has his Russellers.

“Maybe it should be Russlets or something like that instead,” he laughs,” but I do like the name Russellers. Although if it’s raining they could be Rusty Russellers.”

Dubbed the “People’s tenor”, Russell is back with a vengeance after battling two near-fatal brain tumours and he has a new album out and a UK tour planned for this year.

The dates will see Russell heading all over the country including Birmingham Symphony Hall on March 24. “The Russellers have already snapped up all the front row tickets for most of the dates,” he points out with a grin.

The tour follows on from his album Only One Man which features songs specially written for the Salford singer by Les Misérables and Miss Saigon masterminds Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.

The epic film version of Les Misérables with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe has grossed more than $500 million to date.

The musical powerhouse of Claude-Michel and Alain notoriously do not normally write songs for anyone but Russell’s own life story convinced them to make an exception this one time.

Well, he was discovered singing Nessun Dorma in a working men’s club in Lancashire and has gone on to sing for the Pope, win four Classical BRIT Awards and sell more then eight million records worldwide.

He’s also had simultaneous number ones in the USA and the UK, sung the theme tune to TV’s Star Trek: Enterprise and battled his way back to health.

Russell says he told Claude-Michel his life story from A to Z and he told him (Russell adopts a thick French accent): “I wiIl write for you. I love your story. You have a very good story. If this story was put into a movie no-one would believe it. You have lived two lives.”

Russell jokes: “I told him it feels like three. It was an amazing experience meeting him. We went down to the studio and there were all these awards hanging up on the wall and Grammys around and someone knocked on the door to deliver an envelope and he tossed it in a corner and I joked ‘Was that another Grammy?’ Luckily he laughed.”

Russell never dreamed the Les Mis creators would work with him when his manager first suggested the project.

Tenor Russell Watson performing songs with composers Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and accompanied by pianist Robert Emery.
Tenor Russell Watson performing songs with composers Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and accompanied by pianist Robert Emery.
 

“He rang me up and said ‘I’ve had this idea. We’ll make a record with Schönberg and Boubil – the Les Mis guys.’ Yeah, I said, I know who they are. Why don’t you get on the phone to Barak Obama as well and say I’m with Claude-Michel and Alain and we want him to come and have a drink with us?

“They are the world’s most famous composers. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been around 13 years and there’s always talk of doing this and that and 99 per cent of the time they just don’t happen.”

Russell, 47, says his album has a Parisian flavour and includes four or five pop songs that would not be out of place on Radio 2.

He’s also become good friends with 69-year-old Claude-Michel who believes he would make a perfect Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. He even arranged for him to meet top producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh to talk about the role.

“I went along to meet Cameron Mackintosh at Cameron Towers,” says Russell. “I never really get nervous. I am quite confident with what I do, but I was there to basically see the guy who runs the West End and I was quite nervous.”

He says they talked about the role and taking part in workshop sessions to see how the songs worked. “That’s about where we are right now,” says Russell, “maybe by the end of 2014 it could possibly happen.”

Meanwhile, the tennis enthusiast will be getting plenty of practice on the court before this year’s tour.

“I don’t just like tennis. I am addicted to tennis,” confesses Russell. “It’s hard to play on tour, but I once flew back from Asia and got into Heathrow at something like 3am in the morning after a 24 hour flight.

“I headed home to Manchester and the first thing I said was ‘I NEED to play tennis.’ I played and then went to bed. I was shattered but I needed that game before I could sleep.”

* Russell Watson plays Birmingham Symphony Hall on March 24. For tickets, tel 0121 345 0600 or visit www.thsh.co.uk