Michael Ball explores the Wonderful Wales

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Friday: Michael Ball’s Wonderful Wales; (Channel 5, 9pm)

The Welsh have traditionally been famed for their voices, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that West End legend Michael Ball has his roots there. Although he was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, his mother hailed from Wales.

Many of his fans will no doubt be hoping he’ll give us a song (or two) in his new series Michael Ball’s Wonderful Wales, which finds him exploring his own heritage while also learning more the history of the country.

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Michael is certainly looking forward to taking a trip down memory lane. He says: “I’m so excited about returning to the ‘land of song’, the land of my Fathers…well, actually my Mothers! Some of my fondest memories growing up were spent in the mining village of Mountain Ash with my gran. Some of the best audiences I’ve ever performed in front of, and some of my most memorable nights out, have been in Wales.”

Michael enjoying himself on a speed boatMichael enjoying himself on a speed boat
Michael enjoying himself on a speed boat

A few of the places he’s visiting will certainly be familiar. He says: “I really went back to my roots and found the street where my gran lived and I had spent so much time as a kid. On a whim, I rang the doorbell and out came Auntie Jean — 94 years old —and Auntie Nora, four doors down, who’s 90. That was just wonderful.”

However, it’s not all about his relatives. Michael says: “Wales is a country of staggering beauty, extraordinary history and proud, passionate people. I can’t wait to see my family again, make new friends, visit places I’ve never been to before and share with everyone the glory of Wonderful Wales.”

It’s a mission that begins in tonight’s episode, as Michael heads to south Wales for his own version of Who Do You Think You Are?

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His mother grew up in the Cynon Valley, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were both coalminers. Now Michael is going underground himself when he visits the area that supplied coal to power the Titanic.

There’s also a poignant moment as he arrives in Aberfan, where in 1966 a colliery spoil tip collapsed, engulfing a junior school and a row of houses, and claiming the lives of 28 adults and 116 children. The presenter meets one of the survivors at the memorial site, as he learns more about the impact of this terrible tragedy.

From there, it’s on to the breath-taking Gower Peninsula for lesson in cockle harvesting with three generations from Selwyn’s Seafoods. Let’s hope he does a good job, as the cockles will then be cooked up by Michelin-starred chef Hywel Griffith at his restaurant in Oxwich Bay.

Michael is back on familiar ground in Cardiff, as he calls in at the world-class theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre. He points out the ‘best seat in the house’- the one he dedicated to his Welsh grandmother, who was a huge inspiration to him. Later, he visits the Cardiff Bay area in style via speedboat and returns to the subject of mining, as he meets with Tiger Bay residents to learn about how the area was once the epicentre of coal exporting to the whole world.

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