Carl Marsh hears from this all-round entertainer and housewives’ favourite as his latest TV show, Michael Ball’s Wonderful Wales, arrives onscreen after a springtime spent jaunting across the nation.
Having watched the first Wonderful Wales episode, I thought it reflects how powerful the Welsh community spirit is – something we should be proud of, and something that’s become more vital during lockdown. As I expect you saw on your travels.
We filmed in March and April , and things were starting to open up in a controlled way, which was good and bad. Good because there were fewer people on the roads – it looks stunning, and the places that we visited didn’t have tourists, so they opened up for us.
There was the difficulty, of course, with the constraints – how we could relate with people, always having to keep a distance, where we could stay. But for me, having been in lockdown – like everybody – to find myself out on the road suddenly… it was such a release. In the last episode, I’m on a rib on the Menai Straits, and then I’m on a river, out in Cardiff Bay. And I could shout at the top of my voice! I do feel privileged to be able to have done it.
I also got a much better view of what the real community was like: what the place looks like, the struggles that have been going on. The changes in the Valleys were extraordinary, which I’ve been aware of – because of the family, I’ve seen that change. So it was an ideal time to do it for me personally, and then for getting the best view of Wales.
When you say the Valleys has changed, is this more due to the circumstances of the last 18 months?
In some ways, I think what you touched on before is what’s happened – there was a unifying effect from COVID. The fact that you did have to look after, and look out for, people in your street, in the community, and the people around. They were all united against a common enemy. And that’s what the Welsh psyche does so well.
I tried to work out why it was, and I think it’s because it’s a tough country. To make a living there is hard – you know, working down coal mines, slate mines, farming, fishing. It is a tough terrain that you have to master. And in order to do that, you need people to be working together; and the atmosphere, you know, going down into the pits, all these blokes crammed in together. And that’s where the banter comes from, the music, the sense of unity. And that’s what I was always aware of growing up, whenever I was there.
For some, it was a bit claustrophobic – everyone was in and out of each other’s business, and if you didn’t wash down your step in the morning, then there was something wrong with it [laughter]. So there wasn’t much privacy, but I kind of like that, you know – it makes you feel secure. People would look after you if you needed to help.
How do you think you would have fared as a miner…?
I would have been shit! [Laughs] I think it’s fairly obvious. It’s interesting: my gran was insistent that, even though my gransha worked down one, my uncle Tom didn’t go down one. So, he worked landslide where he drove the trains, and was in the army for a little bit. Of course, gransha died because of going down the mine – he had pneumoconiosis – and she was really, really, absolutely adamant that [Tom] wasn’t going to go down there. So, I would have been useless. Absolutely. I would have been good in the top 10 tenors, but that would have been the limit.
I’ve got to close this interview by asking you about the cockles scene in the series, where you ate one raw…
I was a natural. When the bugger gave it to me raw, I thought it was like an oyster, and you are meant to eat them that way! But no-one is meant to eat raw cockles, apparently! Nobody! And I’m chucking them down myself… and I’ve got to say, they are really nice. I had three, as we had to do three takes [laughter]. I was absolutely stitched up!
Michael Ball’s Wonderful Wales is available to watch now on Channel 5. Info and streaming: here
words CARL MARSH
The latest and best from Buzz direct to your inbox.
Subscribe for weekly curated picks of what’s happening across Wales.