Music

How a Miss England gig helped Michael Ball overcome panic attacks

The legendary performer hid in his flat for months until “the naffest, worst gig on earth” acted as a turning point

Michael Ball Credit: James Hole Park

Watching Michael Ball perform in front of millions might be commonplace now – but the legendary performer insists there was a time when nerves and panic attacks meant he couldn’t even leave his flat.

Ball, speaking to The Big Issue in his Letter To My Younger Self, tells of how “the demons took over” after he was struck down with glandular fever when he was 23 and starring in Les Misérables.

Yes, it’s the naffest, worst gig on earth. And it’s live, with millions watching. But I thought, if I can get through this, if I can do this without anyone seeing how I feel inside, maybe that could help me

The time that followed saw him unable to get off the Tube without fearing he would have a panic attack and he struggled to open up to family and friends about it.

But his confidence boost came from an unlikely source.

“I hid in my flat for months,” said Ball. “But then for some weird reason, my agent phoned and said, “OK, you’ve been offered a slot on the Miss England show.” Of all things. While they’re counting the votes they need someone to sing to the audience. And yes, it’s the naffest, worst gig on earth. And it’s live, with millions watching. But I thought, if I can get through this, if I can do this without anyone seeing how I feel inside, maybe that could help me. So I did it. And it was a huge turning point.”

A role in Phantom of the Opera and a number-two hit with ‘Love Changes Everything’ followed and the rest is history, but the experience stuck with Ball, who admits that when he finally told others publically it had a huge impact on his life.

“Oddly, the sensitivity and empathy I gained from doing that made me a much better performer,” said Ball. “And it made me aware of how fragile people are. If we don’t get help we can just go under.”

Read more from Michael Ball in this week’s Big Issue magazine, available now from vendors and The Big Issue Shop.

Michael Ball’s new album Coming Home To You is out now;
He tours the UK from April 20; michaelball.co.uk

Image: James Hole Park

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