Russell Watson is often dubbed the Billy Elliot of opera. There is one crucial difference between the two, however. Screen ballet star Billy Elliot always wanted to be a dancer, whereas Russell became an opera singer by accident.
Born in Salford, Greater Manchester, on November 24, 1966, Russ was just a child when he first realised he could carry a tune. The talented youngster never intended to become a professional, though, until tough times forced him to seek a second job.
With a wife and young family to support, his work as a bolt-cutter wasn't providing enough money to keep them afloat. So the struggling factory-worker took to singing in nightclubs to earn some extra cash. With a couple of friends playing the organ and drums, he managed to secure regular gigs around northern England, playing a selection of Elvis and Neil Diamond numbers.
Then came the night at Wigan Road working men's club when a casual remark changed his life forever. The secretary, much impressed with Russell's singing, suggested he include Nessun Dorma, the dramatic aria from Puccini's Turandot, in his set.
It was without a doubt the best advice Russell ever received. The audience went crazy for his powerful rendition, inspiring him to include opera numbers in all his shows. Then the chairman of Manchester United football club invited him to sing at Old Trafford. That gig resulted in his debut album, The Voice and the rest, as they say, is musical history.
The road to stardom hasn't been without its difficulties, however. Success and the pressures it brought eventually proved too much for his family, and Russell split from his wife soon after releasing his first album.
The pair have two daughters, Rebecca - born in 1996 - and Hannah, who arrived in 2001, and Russell still views fatherhood as his most important career. "I see my children whenever I can. It is very important to me it is more important than anything. Any spare time I have I am with them, and I am the first to admit that I spoil them silly," he says
Rusell went on to find love again with new York receptionist Roxanna Valerio, whom he met while on tour in the states in 2001. He proposed but it was not meant to me. The couple went their seperate ways in 2005.
While some purists bemoan his lack of training, Russell dismisses assertions he cannot sing. "My voice may not be mechanically correct, it might not be robotically correct, but that's what gives it a more popular touch," he insists. Given the fact that his first two albums Encore and The Voice sold over three million copies, "popular touch" would seem a fair evaluation.
When it comes to his critics Russell seems to apply the same down-to-earth approach to them as he does to his career. "The music industry seems always obsessed with categorising a piece of music," he says. "My view? I just sing songs, luv."
Despite endless invitations to glitzy show biz parties, however, the tenor prefers to stay home. "Being surrounded by other celebrities telling me how wonderful I am is not my idea of fun," he says.
There was a blow in store in his professional life in 2007 - after having had a brain tumour removed the year before - he was diagnosed with a second growth. This was successfully removed in emergency surgery.