Former tough-tackling midfielder Chris Kamara grew up in Park End, Middlesbrough, enjoying an (albeit brief) spell at his boyhood club during his playing career, and still calls the North home.
But while as a nation we have well and truly welcomed him into our hearts as the voice of Saturday afternoon’s thanks to his stellar punditry (or should that be Stelling?) and unbelievable gaffes, Kammy’s now taking the leap of faith to see if he can also become the voice of Christmas. We sit down with the North East native just as his first ever album, Here’s To Christmas, hits the shelves.
Music is a bit of a departure from what most people know you for. Why did you want to bring out a Christmas album?
I was approached and asked to do it. To be honest with you, I thought it was a wind-up at first! But I did All Together Now with Geri Halliwell and Rob Beckett, which was on the BBC last Christmas Eve. When my agent asked me to do that, I said: yeah, you know me, I don’t mind, but I’ve seen the show and I want to sing Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. You get 30 seconds singing on your own, and then the 100 people in the audience get the opportunity to stand up if they like the song, and if it’s a sing-along song they all join in, you see. The more people that stand up, the more votes you get. But the show wanted me to sing a ballad to mix it up a bit. At first I was like, not a chance! But my agent convinced me and I thought actually, yeah, why am I worried? I’ll just go along and do my best and have a laugh. So I went back to them and said: right, the only ballad I’ll sing is Your Song by Elton John, because he’s my hero. They thought that was great, so I went on the show. I got 74 people standing out of the 100, but Laurie Brett [Jane Beale in Eastenders] came out singing Simply The Best, so she blew everyone out the water!
Anyway, Adam Greenup from Silva Screen Records was watching the show, and he thought my voice would be perfect for a swing album for Christmas. Adam had the idea of me singing with a 22-piece big band, and said the label would choose nine covers for me and then would write one new song especially for the album. I remember thinking: oh God! The nine covers will be brilliant but the one new song won’t be anywhere near as good. But it’s absolutely magnificent! I couldn’t have wished for a better song to have been written for me.
Did you sing in the changing rooms before matches?
Not really, because I’d have got battered! But I always remember when I signed for Leeds in January 1990, I hadn’t even trained once with the team and I went in to meet the manager, and he told me we were flying out to Dublin the next day for a friendly. So the following evening they took us out to a restaurant in Dublin. I’d played against most of the lads but hadn’t properly met them before, and there was a pianist on in this restaurant. I went up to him and asked: you don’t know Your Song by Elton John by any chance, do you? He was like, yeah, can you sing it? And I said: well, I know the words, so you can tell me afterwards if I can sing it! Anyway, I sang it in front of the lads and got a big round of applause from them all, and when I sat back down Gordon Strachan, who was the captain at the time, stood up and said: ‘so there’s our shy new signing!’ But that’s the only time I remember singing in front of the lads.
So is Your Song your go-to song then?
Well it’s a ballad, so in that type of setting – in a restaurant with a pianist – yes, but normally it’s Brown Eyed Girl so that other people join in too!
What’s your all-time favourite Christmas song?
There are so many classic Christmas songs. I have become very familiar with Let It Snow since about April! Recording with the big band has just been amazing, so I’m in love with that one at the moment.
What’s Christmas like in the Kamara household?
On Christmas Day, all the family come over for their lunch, and then in the evening it’s an open house and we’ll play a few games and stuff like that. Hopefully this year we’ll also be celebrating having a Christmas number one as well! I’m only kidding (or dreaming)!
It’s also your birthday on Christmas Day – do you get a chance to celebrate?
It’s never been a great day to have a birthday! When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of money, so to get one present was amazing. But to get one Christmas present and one birthday present just never really happened. So since having kids myself I’ve always made sure it’s Christmas Day first, not my birthday.
What’s top of your Christmas list this year?
Just spending time with my family, I’ve got three grandkids now. Solomon was two in September, so I just can’t wait to celebrate Christmas with him, and Connie’s nearly two now as well, so she’ll be investigative and wondering what’s going on too!
Do you come from a musical family?
No, I’ve just always loved the piano. When I was younger I loved Gilbert O’Sullivan, Alone Again Naturally and all of those types of songs. And then Elton came along and that was it. But I love anyone who can play the piano and sing – Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, all those types of fellas.
Who would you most like to sing with if you could?
The only thing I’ve got left on my bucket list is to sing with Elton. I actually met him at Manchester City’s stadium, not last season but the season before, when his two kids were mascots. I’d been tipped off in the Press Room that he was around that day, so I went up to the gantry – I normally don’t go across until about 2.30pm on a match day, but I went over about 1.45pm! And as I got over there, Elton was in the Director’s Box with his husband, David, and his two kids, and he was pointing to where he used to stand when he was a boy. Just as he was doing that he turned round and saw me. A big smile came over his face and he came walking over towards me, and he went: ‘Kammy, I love your work! When I can’t stream the Watford games I watch Soccer Saturday, and I love you!’ So now I can’t tell him how much I love him, because he might think I’m just saying that! But yeah, last on the bucket list would be to sing Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me with Elton, and for him to say halfway through the song: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chris Kamara!’
Who are you enjoying listening to right now?
Well my wife thinks I’m a bit of a freak really, because I’m still into Queen, Dionne Warwick and all the older artists like that. We both like Take That to be fair though, so we’re in that together.
Are there any similarities in your approach to singing and football?
No, not at all. I’ve just been so fortunate, having played, coached, managed, gone into punditry, commentary, reporting, and then Ninja Warrior and all the TV shows that I’ve worked on – getting a part in two episodes of Emmerdale, which was another one off the bucket list. My life just gets better!
Do you have any plans to go on tour?
We’re going to see how it goes. The Royal Albert Hall has been booked provisionally for next November, but that’s on the proviso that the album does ok. If it’s to fail miserably then it’s pointless. But the record company seem pretty confident, so hopefully people think it sounds alright!
Here’s To Christmas is out now. To order your copy, visit www.chriskamara.com