Chris Kamara: I thought the offer to make a Christmas album was an Ant and Dec wind-up
Footballer turned pundit Chris 'Kammy' Kamara may not be your first thought when it comes to Christmas music, but the Sky Sports News stalwart has given his all to his festive-themed debut record – as he explains to Lucy Mapstone
CHRIS Kamara isn't too fussed that he's 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, is releasing 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, hosting Ninja Warrior UK or even his years as a tough-tackling midfielder, it certainly might seem a bit bizarre.
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.
"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."
The TV personality, 61, says he is "too long in the tooth" to get too bothered by criticism, adding that he prefers to "treat everything with a positive" whenever he can, although his wife Anne was a bit on the fence at first.
"My boys are great, Ben and Jack, they're fantastic and they go, 'Oh yeah go for it dad, we always love everything you do'. Whereas my wife is the one person in the family who keeps my feet on the ground and goes, 'Oh, what are you doing now? Why are you doing that, you're opening yourself to criticism'.
"But I know she has heard the final result and she's pleased for me now."
He does admit to still finding it all "absolutely crazy" though, and he is overwhelmed by the positive reaction so far, which he says outweighs the negative.
"It's been absolutely phenomenal, and it isn't a case where I'm having to think about it – it's a case where you just go, 'Flippin' hell, how much love have people got for this?'" he laughs.
For all his confidence in his abilities, Kamara 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!'"
But it was not a wind-up, and 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, the title track Here's To Christmas, written especially for him by Kelvin Andrews and Richard Scott, who have worked with Michael Buble and Robbie Williams.
Unbelievably (Jeff), there have also been reports that he could be going up against a new posthumous track by George Michael for this year's Christmas number one.
"I took a screenshot of the newspaper yesterday and sent it to my wife with a couple of laughing faces," says Kamara, highly amused.
"It's like, is this really happening, is this for real? It's not a fight between Robbie Williams and George Michael, it's not a fight between Rick Astley and George Michael... it's a fight between Chris Kamara and George Michael!" he laughs again, shouting his own name gleefully.
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.
He says that the season was difficult for him when he was younger, "because my parents didn't have a lot of money".
"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 Swindon Town, Stoke City 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."
It may be too soon to think too far ahead but, if the record does well in the charts, is there a chance he might be tempted to carry on with his music career and release more albums?
"We've got things planned, that's one thing for certain," he says, revealing that the Royal Albert Hall is booked for a concert in November next year, adding: "But it all depends on how well the album does.
"I'm certainly not going to ask the record company to try again if this doesn't work, but the positive feedback they've had and that I've had suggests that we're going to do alright.
"I don't turn down any opportunities... I like to give things a go.
"If they work, great, and if they don't work out? Well, at least I've had a go."
:: Chris Kamara's Here's To Christmas is released today.