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It’s one thing having a hero; it’s quite another meeting them in the flesh. Will they live up to your expectations? Will you be able to communicate to your idol how they’ve touched your life without turning into a blushing, bumbling wreck? You see, the thing is, my hero – Pavarotti – changed my life.
This is how. There’s something about being an England football fan that teaches you how to deal with disappointment. The worst part is when your team gives you just a glimmer of hope. That’s what happened during Italia 90.
England were in the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since they won football’s most prized trophy back in 1966. Turin was the venue for England to face West Germany. It was 1-1 after extra time, which meant the match went to penalties. Need I go on? OK – we lost 4-3 in the shoot-out. Nerves shattered, and hoarse from shouting, I sat staring silently at the television not quite believing England were out of the tournament.
And that’s when it happened. As Des Lynam tried to lift our spirits, then said “Good night”, the World Cup anthem started to play. Luciano Pavarotti, once a promising goalkeeper for Modena and a lifelong Juventus fan, began to sing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma.
The tears flowed down my face as thick and fast as Gazza’s had done in the match. For the first time, classical music had moved me. I bought my first Pavarotti CD and set off on the path of discovering the best-selling artist in classical music history.
Fast-forward 12 years and there I was in the gorgeous Italian town of Pesaro interviewing Pavarotti, my hero, for Classic FM. There was so much to ask him. Was it true he nearly became a gym teacher?
“I was on the point of doing it,” he told me. “I became a teacher, then I sold insurance for a while. We had to decide, was I going to become a gym teacher or stay in Modena to sing with the tenor Arrigo Pola? My father, who was a tenor, suggested we go to Rome, but Mama said, ‘Let’s stay in Modena’. And guess what? I stayed in Modena!”
Pavarotti’s professional debut as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème in 1961 led to worldwide bookings, including with the Royal Opera, where he replaced Giuseppe di Stefano in Bohème at the last minute. A barnstorming London debut established him as an operatic legend.
For millions of us, though, it was Pavarotti singing that now-famous Puccini aria that ignited a passion for a whole new world of music and, in my case, led to me working for Classic FM.
We all have a favourite Pavarotti moment, but what is his?
“When I hear myself sing,” he said. “Not because I’m a megalomaniac, but because singing tells you that you’re alive. It’s telling you that you are happy. It’s beautiful to sing. Singing is my life!”