Relative values: Tenor Alfie Boe and his mother Pat


Pat and Alfie share a joke as he sings and plays for her. Laughter and song were the norm in the Boe family household

Alfie Boe, 36, the youngest of nine, who went from garage engineer to tenor at the English National Opera, and his mother, Pat, 77

Pat: There are worse things than having a lot of babies. Not having them, for a start. As each of my nine came they were welcomed and I thought they were magical. With every one we became a happier family. Alf is the youngest and he was very, very precious — they all are, but I knew he’d be my last because I was on the menopause when I had him. I just desperately wanted another boy, and I prayed for him. When I got pregnant I knew this was the lad I’d wanted and I knew I was going to call him Alf, after his dad, because I loved him that much.

When I was in the hospital, the doctor said: “You shouldn’t be having all these babies.” And I said: “On your bike!” When I was much younger they told me I shouldn’t have any children at all, because I’d had TB — but we trusted in the good Lord and we couldn’t have done better.

We went from a two-bedroom council house when I had Joseph, John and Anne, to a three-bedroom, where I had Terese, Pauline, Michael and Francis. Then we moved to a four-bed before Maria and Alfred came along. I’m still in that house now. The children are gone, but the love is still there. I feel it when I open the door.

I wasn’t over-strict — we spent more time laughing and singing than anything else ­— but I was organised and there were rules. If their dad came home from work and someone was sat in his chair, they’d jump up. Dad was master of the house and everyone respected that. He was very good to me. I had a washing machine — one of the very best, a Hotpoint top loader — and

I never had to economise on bread and milk. At teatime there was room for everybody — and extras — because as well as all mine we always had their friends. Oh, there were arguments. I can’t remember what they were about, but I didn’t ignore them. After a meal, the baby would be put down and we sorted out whatever problems there were round that table.

When your life is filled with noise and activity and excitement, as mine was, you never imagine the day will come when you’ll be alone. You think it’s going to last a lifetime. But it doesn’t. Even with nine of them, it’s fleeting and it’s gone.

He’s a lovely boy, is Alf. Whether it’s because he’s had so much love showered on him or whether it’s because he was born like that, I don’t know. But he knew he was loved and he’s always had so much to give back because of it.

I knew Alf had something special. I knew long before anyone else, but I didn’t know what would happen. Sometimes it takes time and you have to sit back and advise and love and care, and this is what I did. And this is what his dad did. Alfie hadn’t just talent, he had the willingness to work and keep at it, and that’s what singled him out. Because opera’s different to your run-of-the-mill music. It takes a heavy toll. You have to train, you have to keep fit.

He suffers terrible nerves before a performance, but it’s because he demands the best from himself that he never gives half measures. He puts every ounce of energy he has into everything he does.

He was forever singing and dancing on the back patio when he was a little boy, and I’d get the cine camera out and film him. At three years old he’d carry his sister’s tennis racket around. I’d say: “Sing Mull of Kintyre for me, Alf, while I’m cooking the dinner.” And he’d say, very solemnly: “I’m tuning my guitar.” He had us in stitches.

And he’s the same now — singing and laughing and joking. He loves company and he loves people. He likes things to go smoothly, he likes everyone to be happy, and he’ll go out of his way to make them happy. He’s like his dad in that way.

But life is a lot more complicated for him than it was for me. He’s working here and his wife and his baby are in the States, and it’s hard for him to be away from them. I see the strain in his face. But what can you do? It’s what he’s chosen and they’ll have to make it work.

We do a lot of chatting on the computer — the whole family keeps in contact that way. If it comes into my head to ring one of them, I will, and sometimes it’s just the right moment — one of us needs something from the other — and it’s beneficial to both of us.

I let all my children go a long time ago, and that’s the hardest part, especially with the boys, because they tend not to come back unless their wives bring them. But Alfie’s wife is beautiful. He’s chosen well. If you love your children, they’ll love you in return. Mine love me, I know they do, and because of that I’ve been able to send them on their way happily.

Alfie: Every Sunday when I was growing up, we’d all sit round the dinner table listening to my dad’s favourite tenor, Richard Tauber. But I couldn’t wait to leave the table.

It wasn’t until years later, when I started to study music, that all these memories came flooding back and I really connected with it. Both my grandmothers could sing and all my brothers and sisters have good voices. I used to sing along to my brother’s Maria Callas records when I was little, and then when my voice broke I’d impersonate Pavarotti in the front room when no one was in the house.

But there was never any sense within the family that singing was something you could do for a living. Not because my mum didn’t believe in me — she loved to hear me sing — it was just that nobody knew how you went from singing in the front room, just because you loved it, to making a career out of it. There was absolutely no encouragement at school either — careers day consisted of the army, the fishing board and the local priest coming round.

I ended up working as a trainee engineer at the TVR garage in Blackpool. A customer came in one day and heard me singing along to West Side Story on the radio and he said: “The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in London is auditioning for new members. You should try.”

I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I’d only been to London once in my life on a school trip and I couldn’t imagine why they’d see anyone like me anyway. But that night I was sitting having my tea and reading the theatrical newspaper The Stage, and an advert for the D’Oyly Carte company jumped out at me.

I took the day off work, went down to London and walked into this audition full of women in ball gowns and guys in dark suits. I was dressed in jeans and my big boots — I looked like a lumberjack — and there was only one song I could sing, one of my dad’s favourites by Lehar called You Are My Heart’s Delight. But I got through and they took me on for a national tour. My mum was over the moon when she heard. My dad was in tears. It was a moment I’ll never forget because I felt I’d achieved it for them.

If you ask Mum, “How did you afford to keep nine kids?” I guarantee that she’ll say: “God provided.” But the reality is we lived a very, very simple life. She asked for nothing and she and my father went without themselves so we could have what we needed. Over Christmas our house always used to smell of paint because my dad used to make toys for us. He’d lock himself in the shed and build doll’s houses and trucks and bikes, and my mum would paint them. Farah trousers and Lacoste deck shoes were all the rage at school and

I didn’t have any of those. But my mum bought me an Adidas tracksuit, which was hideous, because she knew I wanted one so badly. She’d changed a lot by the time I came along. The house was a tightly run ship and she had more time to spend with me. But we were all given the same values — respect for older people, and treating each other well. And that’s something I’ve tried to stick to.

With every child people used to ask her: “When are you going to stop?” We’re strong Irish Catholics, but it had nothing to do with religion; she and my dad just wanted a huge family. What I remember most was laughter. Everyone was on a high.

In the holidays you’d come down in the morning and sit out in the garden and eat ice lollies my mum had made. I remember food being cooked all the time and dogs running around. It was a really happy household.

Mum’s changed a lot since my father died. Her world has been rocked. She likes simplicity now. She likes to be in the background. She was married to my dad for 47 years, and without him her confidence has gone. He was a simple guy: he worked at the ICI plant in Thornton in Lancashire for 30 years, retired at 55 with health problems, probably due to the chemicals, and died at 63.

My dad never complained, never came home and said: “I’ve had a hell of a day.” He was such a joyous guy, always full of fun, I don’t remember him ever starting an argument. I think because of him it was the norm in our house to give rather than to take.

I’d do anything for my brothers and sisters and I love them all to pieces, but I can’t deny there are things that drive me crazy, and I know they’d say the same about me. But that’s family. You accept each other’s failings. I’ve stayed closest to my eldest sister, Annie. She’s a darling. You can tell her anything and she’ll be there to give you a hug or sort it out. She practically raised me and she’s still like a second mother to me. Maybe since making records and doing the odd TV show, some of them might think I’m not the same. They don’t say anything, but I can tell.

My wife, Sarah, is American and America is my home now, but not all of them came over for my wedding, which upset me a lot and it upset my mum. Most of them still live around the Lancashire area where we were brought up, and I think change scares them. In some ways Mum has grown a heck of a lot more than they have. She’s moved with the times. She’s been to New York to see me on Broadway, in Baz Luhrmann’s La Bohème, and she’s been to Salt Lake City to stay with Sarah and me. And I make the effort to go home to Fleetwood to see her as often as I can. There’s such a competition to be my mother’s top dog. But there’s no top dog in the family, she treats us all the same.

I love to work, that’s the thing, and I’m just so grateful to have been given the chance. I get that from my dad. I knew if I wanted to be an opera singer I had to take it the whole way, learn the languages and get my voice trained. That was a long haul and it did separate me from my family — physically, emotionally, in every way possible. But I don’t have airs and graces. The truth is, when I get up on stage, I sing my heart out and I give everything I’ve got, but when I come off, I’m just plain Alfie Boe from Fleetwood.

• Alfie Boe’s CD of Franz Lehar songs, Love Was a Dream, is out now. He sings in Katya Kabanova (March), and in The Pearl Fishers (June/July), with ENO at the London Coliseum

Source: The Sunday Times (7th Feb 2010)

24 Comments to “Relative values: Tenor Alfie Boe and his mother Pat”

  • We enjoyed every minute of your concert at the Bridgewater Hall.
    and also meeting you and your mother Pat. It was a very special night, you must be the only Opera singer that can hold an audience spell bound and then make them laugh. Thank you ALFIE.

  • Great article and a great family!

  • Alf, I think this is beautiful ! Your MUM tells a wonderful story.
    I learn as I read this article and I am so proud of you and Sarah.
    Best to all the family !

  • This is a lovely write up. You are an amazing person. All my life I have known you and you have never changed, so loving to all and always up for a laugh. Love you so much. God bless you always. xxxxx

  • Hey, such a lovely article!
    Just wanted to say how amazing you were in the 25th anniversary show of Les Miserables in London last week. I was lucky enough to be there in person and it absolutely magical!

    Congratulations on making an amazing show even better, you were a fantastic Jean Valjean.

    Thanks very much.
    Elise Pearce

  • We love Alfie, his family and we are thankful for his success. How possibly could he just be our Sarah’s husband, Gracie’s dad and our very family friend–Life is good!

  • Alfie, Brits living in the US, and only just “discovered” you while catching your sensational performance on “Les Mis”.while on a trip back to UK. Have ordered a copy of the dvd. Waiting to get your latest CD. When and where will we be seeing you live in the US

  • you were brilliant in La Bohem on Sky Arts the other night as were the rest of the Cast I also love your new Album too and hope you will come to Scotland on your tour soon.

  • You are an inspiration! We love music because something stirs us inside and once this happens we usually love that music always.

  • I’ve linked to your incredible “Four Valjeans” performance on my blog and it’s making people cry their heads off. We’re positively in love with you. Happy that you’re here in Utah for some of your time. My daughter is seeing you at BYU- Idaho. I’d come, but I’m afraid I’d scream like a 14 year old girl. THAT would be embarrassing. :} Thanks for sharing your lovely music with us.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed Les Miserables on DVD rental here in Gainesville, Florida. Can’t believe I have never heard of it before, caught a portion of it on PBS channel. Watching it a second time now while typing this. In my efforts of trying to see if there might be more performances of Les Miserables, I saw the article on you and your mom. While reading it, she answered to my heart, I thought about my own four sons and how I raised them with my husband. Sometimes I fear now my values and convictions to do what I thought best might alienate me from the wives, as I am no longer the voice in the heads of my sons. It was a privilege to guide and raise them, but all great things must come to an end. Thank you Pat for your truth, so refreshing to hear someone speak from the heart and not from script, about being a mom, most especially to adult children. It helped more than you know. Absolutely loved Les Miserables. I will look for the DVD and also Bring Him Home, Alfie released this year. Best of luck on all your future endeavors Alfie Boe. My best to your wonderful mother.
    Sincerely, Janine Woodliff

  • GA Public Television was having a fund raiser & played the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis at the o2 Arena 5 times during their campaign. I watched it all 5 times & still can’t get enough! I’ve ordered the DVD…can’t wait for it to arrive! I’ve always loved the story & the music of Les Mis, but since Alfie Boe has made it his own, I’m overwhelmed by him. His voice is pure perfection & surely can come only from God. I been reading all I can find about him on the web, & I’ve learned that he is a very special person. I look forward to listening to him & his incredible music for the rest of my life…Then I’m SURE I’ll hear it again in Heaven!

  • I heard you as Alfredo in La Traviata a couple of years ago .. just listened to Desert Island Discs .. and cried. I sentimentally imagine a shared Norwegian ancestry (your own father reminded me of my own.. uncomplaining, generous, humorous). Thanks for sharing brilliant music choices and such a candid life narrative.

  • What a wonderful article. It answered many of the questions I had about Alfie’s family and how he came to be endearing to so many. Such an incredible talent without “the airs and graces.”

    I love his mom, Pat. So… “Bring Him Home” to her, lovely Sarah, as often as you can.

    All the best to you and your family. With Love, Lori

    P.S. I love to sing.

  • On a HOT Friday morning, I bump into this article on “Pat and Alfie”…I was stunned. Then I read it…then I cried…..I had so-o-o hoped to raise my family this way , but …(I’m the eldest of 8)…. It is quite a wonder-filled story to read of Mr. Boe’s family, and growing-up…No wonder he’s such a delight!!….But his music…oh, my….I will never hear him in concert, but have been able to save my bucks, and purchase 2 albums, and got the “25th” dvd as a gift; so-o-o-, every morning, it’s Start Your Day w/ Boe….and every evening it’s Taps w/ the Boe….that voice….I offer my prayer for continued joy and success..and….God bless Alfie, Sr., and Pat!!!!!

  • Marybeth..I do the same thing that you do…each day I start it with alittle Alfie and end it with another Alfie. I call them my fixes!! Some of his singing brings me to tears and others..via You Tube…brings smiles and laughter.. Makes my day each day.

  • What a treat to have just discovered you, Alfie! I searched for music from Downton Abbey and there you were with such a combination of warmth and passion in everything you sing……an absolute joy to the ears, heart and spirit. I do believe the endless love and support from your Mum has been tremendous in helping you become the human being you are today. The most important part of my life is being a Mother and showering my children with loads of hugs and laughter, so I sing praises to your dear Mother! I hope to one day experience a live performance and until then shall continue to follow online. All the best, Bunny

  • I echo your comments Bunny and Marybeth. I too have recently discovered Alfie’s talent and start and end the day listening to the music, especially while I’m gardening or at the gym. it is amazing how many talented people are the youngest in large families: this is true of both John Travolta and Hugh Jackman. Maybe it’s because they learn how to play to their audience at an early age. Alfie’s mother seems like a lovely person and I hope she doesn’t get too lonely in her empty nest. when my mum was alive, we would often think about ringing each other at the same time: I would phone and she’d say ‘I was just thinking about you!’ Must be a talent with mothers. thanks formthe article.

  • With every article you find yet another amazing aspect of the life behind the voice. No wonder it is so pure and effortless. The love of family, and the backing of family brings out the best, and Alfie is the shining example for us all. Alfie, your Mum is a GEM…

  • What a wonderful article. Mrs. Boe, you have a remarkable son. The values you have taught your family. The love. You are a remarkable woman and have an amzingly talented son. Thank you for encouraging him to share his gift with the rest of us. One can see when Alfie performs he isn’t just singing, he is feeling every word of the song he is singing. A rare talent indeed. I don’t know you, ma’am, but I love you and I adore your son. Thank you. Love Beverly Xx

  • First saw you when Les Mis. was transmitted “live” from the O2 arena to cinemas for the 25th
    anniversary – Great! Last night we saw you sing at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert once
    again we were spellbound. We hope to see you on your tour next year either at Brighton or the Albert Hall, can’t wait!! We loved your dancing to!! Jean & Noel XXXX

  • I just heard the remarkable voice of Alfie Boe on Better Connecticut. He sang Being Alive, and it was perfection. You just wanted to embrace him and never let go. He was amazing. He is a star, and
    has a very bright future ahead. Wish that his father was alive to see his success, as in reading the
    article about his family, his father was such an important person in his life. A beautiful mother that
    wanted each and every one of her nine children, and loved them all equally. He made my day with
    his fabulous voice and charming personality. God be with you Alfie, and keep on enjoying all of
    God’s Blessings. Can’t wait to hear you sing again and again.
    THANK YOU for your talent. Love, Mrs. Gloria M. Vrabel. XOXO

  • This article explains alot. Lovely mum and wife for wonderfully down-to-earth Alfie. I should have never been concerned about US fame (knicker throwing from the ladies in Chicago, etc) ever getting the best of Alfie and destroying his family life. He has a great foundation for keeping his priorities straight. All the success to Alfie and family. Can’t wait to see him again live… at the Weinberg Ctr in Frderick, MD, USA on February 8, 2013. Hoping to get him to Chautauqua, NY, sometime soon…a very special summer place I believe he and his family would love.

  • The first time I saw Alfie was watching him on television in “Les Miserable 25th Anniversary in Concert”. What struck me as much as his voice was the kindness and innocence in his face. Now I know that his face reflects who he is. I live in Salt Lake City and saw him yesterday live, in concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and now I know that his voice is as genuine as his face. He is a remarkable man from a remarkable family. Thank you both for sharing your wonderful story. Our world needs more families who live the principles of sacrifice, of loving and giving and sharing. They are where happy people are grown!

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