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Singer Michael Ball on a surprise birthday meal on the glamorous Cote d’Azur.
I was in my forties when my partner, Cathy, surprised me with the trip of a lifetime. It wasn’t even a special birthday, but she gave me a card saying: ‘Pack a bag, we’re going on Friday. Dress cool, it’s going to be warm.’ When she said: ‘Bring your passport,’ I knew we were going somewhere fabulous.
Cathy wouldn’t give anything away, so it was only at the airport that I discovered my step-daughter Emma, her husband Dean, and our grandchildren, Connor and Grace, were all in on it. The six of us flew to Cannes, and a car met us at the airport and we drove to the little village of Eze, on the Cote d’Azur. We were staying at La Chevre d’Or – an amazing place that Cathy and I had always talked about visiting. For years, we’d been saying: ‘One day we’ll do that!’ So she knew how much I’d love it.
The rooms are like little houses, dotted around a village, on top of a mountain. Cathy and I had an amazing room, right on the cliff edge, with a wonderful view of the Mediterranean. We had a lovely meal on the Friday night, and the next day Cathy said: ‘We’re going out for dinner, so don’t eat too much during the day.’
I thought my birthday surprise was spending the weekend in this lovely place, but on the Saturday night, we walked up to the restaurant Cathy had booked. It was La Chevre d’Or’s Michelin-starred restaurant, and it was spectacular.
There was beautiful white crockery, stunning glassware, white linen napkins and the most comfortable dark red, plush velvet seats – not in a corny way, in a very stylish French way! We sat on this open terrace, surrounded by works of art, looking out over the bay of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
I’m mad about food – I eat anything and everything – so we had the tasting menu, which was like a nine-course meal. We had extraordinary snails, beautifully prepared seafood and the most incredible belly pork. I’m not normally a lover of pork, but it was crispy on top with an aniseed taste running through it. It arrived under a dome that was smoking. It blew my mind! They paired the wine and took care of everything, which was magnificent.
For dessert I had a delicious Champagne soufflé, then we sat and relaxed on the candlelit terrace, talking about the meaning of life, while I drank some amazing Armagnac, and smoked a cigar – which I’m not normally allowed to do!
Connor and Gracie were brilliant. They’re grown up now, but Connor was nine at the time, and Gracie was seven. They were so well behaved and they went for it with the tasting menu, but as we were there until one or two in the morning, I think they nodded off at some point!
The staff were very chilled – they knew we were having a special time. In the end, only one person remained, and he said: ‘Enjoy yourselves!’
After carrying the children down the mountain, Cathy and I tootled back to our room. My birthday’s at the end of June, and the weather was extraordinary, so we sat on our terrace with a bottle of Laurent Perrier Rosé, before collapsing into bed.
In the morning, I woke up feeling fine. And when I pulled back the curtains, there was the Mediterranean, sparkling in front of me. After coffee and a croissant, I was ready to go! We flew home that day, and afterwards, Cathy put a book together of all the pictures we’d taken. I’ve been back since, with my musical partner in crime Alfie Boe. We were filming there, and it was so lovely showing him where I had the most exquisite meal, with the people I love.
Michael Ball’s album We Are More Than One is out now (Decca, £10.99)