Chris Kamara wasn’t too fussed that he raised a few eyebrows with the announcement of his debut album.
The footballer-turned-TV star and pundit, beloved for his colourful commentary, enthusiastic reporting and comical gaffes on Sky Sports, has released a Christmas record, adding jazz crooner to his already brimming CV.
For those who know him best for his bumbling sporting errors and uttering his “unbelievable Jeff!” catchphrase to his Soccer Saturday co-star Jeff Stelling, for his hosting Ninja Warrior UK, or even for his years as a tough-tackling Leeds United player - it was certainly a bit of a bizarre one.
But, having displayed his vocal abilities on a celebrity version of BBC One talent show All Together Now last year, it was a bit of a no-brainer for Kamara to get behind the mic and show the world his more soulful side.
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“Once people hear it, they just love it, they absolutely love it, which is crazy,” Kamara insists, shrugging off any bewilderment that came after the announcement of his big band and swing-flavoured festive LP.
"The feedback is only negative from the people who haven’t heard it, so as soon as anyone hears it, it just changes their mind straight away.”
For all his confidence in his abilities, the 61-year-old TV personality, who lives in Wakefield, did feel dubious initially about taking the musical plunge.
“When I got the opportunity to sing with a 22-piece big band I’m thinking, ‘Right, flippin’ hell, these people have done the Royal Albert Hall and the London Philharmonic. This is how low they’ve come now with me singing in front of them!’” he jokes.
“But they were absolutely fantastic and they were saying to me it sounds great as much as I was saying to them how good their music is, so it was a two-way thing.”
Kamara was approached by a record label earlier this year after appearing on All Together Now, where he sang a rousing rendition of Your Song by his idol Sir Elton John.
“They thought my voice would be perfect for a swing album,” he says, adding: “I did think it was a wind-up initially. “I said, ‘This is Ant and Dec at their best, they’ll jump out at me!’”
Several months later he has recorded a festive album of nine Christmas classics, including Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Walking In A Winter Wonderland and Frosty The Snowman.
There is also one original song - title track Here’s To Christmas, written especially for him by Kelvin Andrews and Richard Scott, who has worked with Michael Buble and Robbie Williams.
The Christmas theme is one that is particularly poignant to Kamara, given that he only started to really celebrate the holiday season later in life. It was difficult for him when he was younger, “because my parents didn’t have a lot of money”.
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“My birthday is on Christmas Day, so to get one present, never mind two - one Christmas present and one birthday present - didn’t happen very often. In fact, it might never have happened at all, that I can remember.
“And then of course I was a professional footballer from the age of 16 until I was 38,” he adds. The Middlesbrough-born sports star started his football career playing for Portsmouth before moving on to teams including Bradford City, Sheffield United and Leeds - then moving into management.
“I had 22 years of playing football on Boxing Day, so I was never really in the party mood on Christmas Day because I was either in a hotel getting ready for a game or going to bed at 10 at night to prepare for the next day.” He adds with a smile: “I’ve made up for it since I retired, I have to say!
“But now Christmas means so much, now we’ve got grandkids and our own kids, we always make sure they have a fabulous Christmas. Christmas is all about family.”
Chris Kamara’s Here’s To Christmas is available now.