Christmas: a season of unpredictability. Be it food poisoning from an uncooked turkey or a racist comment from that uncle you only see once a year, it’s the time of year when literally anything can happen.
Want further proof? Well, Chris Kamara has released the unlikeliest Christmas album of 2019. Stepping out from behind the Sky Sports desk/gantry for the first time, ‘Here’s To Christmas’ sees the veteran pundit and all-round telly legend join forces with a 22-piece orchestra to rattle through a selection of seasonal classics.
But how the hell did it come about in the first place? We caught up with the man himself to get the low-down.
Hello Chris Kamara, you’ve released a Christmas album. You might say it’s… unbelievable.
“You can say that! But if I say that people will say: ‘Who do you think you are?!'”
Chris Kamara, an unlikely chart star. How the hell did that happen?
“My agent rang me last October and said that [BBC talent show] All Together Now wanted me to go on. I said: ‘I’ve got the perfect song for that! Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. After 30 seconds, the 100 judges can stand up and they’ll all join in the with la-la-las, it will be great.’
“But the organisers wanted me to do a ballad and I said: ‘No, I’ve seen the show and I’m not doing that!’
“They eventually won me round to sing a ballad, but I said it had to be ‘Your Song’ by Elton John, and the organisers said yes. I did the song, and then Adam Greenup from Silva Screen Records decided my voice would be perfect to sing with a 22-piece orchestra for Christmas. And here we are.”
The album proves that you’ve got this unlikely set of massive pipes on you. When did you first learn you had them? Was it belting out a tune in the dressing room?
“Ha! Well if you sing in the dressing room you get absolutely slaughtered by the lads, but I do remember a time when I was at Leeds [he signed for the club in 1990] and I hadn’t really met my team mates yet.
“I signed from Stoke in the first week of January and [manager] Howard Wilkinson had said we’re off to Dublin because we had a friendly over there.
“We headed there on the Tuesday afternoon after training and I was with the likes of Gordon Strachan, Vinnie Jones and Lee Chapman, but I didn’t really know them. That evening, Howard took us to a restaurant where they had a pianist playing.
“I popped off to the loo and said to the pianist: ‘Can you play Elton John – ‘Your Song’?’ and he asked if I could sing it. So I came back from the loo and sang it and Gordon Strachan, who was the captain, said: ‘Welcome to our new signing, Chris Kamara!’
“It bought me a bit of credibility with the lads – they knew I must’ve had some bollocks to sing!”
There’ll be the inevitable critics who might say you should stay in your lane. How do you deal with those guys?
“Obviously before they’ve heard it, it’s a thing I can’t control. All I’ll say is listen to it! Every single person I’ve played it to has said they weren’t expecting it!
“It’s been an amazing experience to sing with that band, too. I’m not the nervy type, but stood in front of them knowing they’ve played at the Royal Albert Hall I’m thinking: ‘Crikey, will they accept me?’ They were fantastic.”
Are there any other footballers out there hiding their vocal talents?
“I don’t know! It was a surprise when I was asked to sing these songs and I’m sure there must be other players out there who can hold a tune. But it’s another thing to get that opportunity – actual singers would love to sing with a big band and there’s me getting the chance to do it on my first album.
“We’ve got an original Christmas song on there too, ‘Here’s To Christmas’. It’s been over 20 years since a festive song took the Number One slot – so why couldn’t we have a shot?”
So there’s not going to be a Rat Pack style follow-up with you and Jeff Stelling?
“Hahaha, no! I don’t think Jeff can hold a tune to be honest. Well, I know he can’t. But when they were talking about the idea of me doing a novelty single like ‘Unbelievable’, I was thinking of getting him involved.
A tough one: would you rather bag a Christmas number one, or Leeds get promoted back to the Premier League after 15 years?
“I’m neutral! When I was a kid it was my dream to play for Leeds, and I did that. But y’know I have to stay neutral. All my mates are massive Leeds fans because I live in Wakefield, but my best friend in the entire world is the Middlesbrough chairman.
“I’m not gonna risk this by alienating other football fans!”
And, just finally, your message of hope for 2020 for the NME readers.
“Well, we just hope that this Brexit nonsense gets sorted out. Once that’s put to bed, the country can settle down. I’m proud to be British, but this uncertainty is damaging and people want to get back to normal.
“This country was fine in my opinion before Brexit, so let’s all settle down.”
Chris Kamara’s Here’s to Christmas is out now on Silva Screen Records.