Phone number icon


Sign up for newsletter

Phone number icon



James Fox’s tribute show ‘My Life: The Music of Billy Joel’ is a highlight of Crystal Serenity’s world-class entertainment line-up. Here, the singer-songwriter tells our journalist Emma Love how he went from playing in Welsh working men’s clubs to performing for the Queen of England.

Written by

Emma Love

Emma Love

Published on Invalid Date


Most of us can remember a pop star we loved when we were growing up. Very few end up starring in a musical about them on Broadway. But that’s exactly what happened to Welsh singer-songwriter and pianist James Fox, who regularly performs his ‘My Life, the Music of Billy Joel’ show onboard Crystal Serenity.

“I saw my first Billy Joel concert on television when I was seven and I was mesmerized by it. That was the beginning of my obsession. Fast-forward 20 years and I’m in New York, playing with his band,” he recalls. “Obviously, there was a bit of singing practice in between.”

Raised in a musical family in the village of Gilfach, in the Rhymney Valley, Wales, Fox grew up listening to everything from Paul Simon and the Beach Boys to Iron Maiden.

“For years my dad was a drummer on the Welsh working men’s club circuit and he would take me along for soundchecks,” he says. At the age of 16 he followed in his father’s footsteps and began singing at Welsh working men’s clubs, seven nights a week. It was a musical apprenticeship that lasted a decade.

“As tough and endless as those 10 years seemed, it’s an experience that I call on all the time. If you’ve played Welsh working men’s clubs, you’re good to go,” he says.

A move to London where he became a session musician for 1990s pop bands such as Liberty X and Atomic Kitten led to his first break: Fame Academy, a British television talent show contest in which he reached the semi-final.

Fame Academy opened a lot of doors for me. I was asked to represent the UK at The Eurovision Song Contest. I sang ‘Hold on to Our Love’, which reached number 13 in the singles chart.”

Of the 200 million viewers that year, two were Sir Tim Rice and the late Bill Kenwright, who asked Fox to play Judas in the Jesus Christ Superstar UK tour.

“I thought I’d be the last person who’d go into musical theatre, but then I listened to the soundtrack and it was quite rock and roll.”

James Fox Crystal

Rice sent a fax to the producers of Movin Out’, the Billy Joel show on Broadway, putting Fox’s name forward in case they ever needed a singer. As luck would have it, they were looking for someone to play Billy for a North American tour. He auditioned with the band which was “absolutely surreal” and met Joel several times (Fox reprised the role on Broadway and in London’s West End). “The first time we met I was a quivering wreck. He’s so nice, just one of the guys.”

It was Movin Out’ which prompted Crystal Cruises to get in touch in 2014. With an Elton John tribute act already on Crystal Symphony, an homage to Billy Joel on Crystal Serenity seemed like a serendipitous match. “I knew nothing about cruising but thought I’d give it a go for six months – and I’m still here,” he says.

Other memorable moments over the years include playing the role of Sir Paul McCartney in the Beatles musical Let It Be, performing in front of Queen Elizabeth II, and supporting the late Tina Turner on tour.

“I was her opening act for a gig at the Natural History Museum in London. Unfortunately, I was introduced as Jamie Foxx so the place erupted, and then there were groans of disappointment when I walked on and took my place at the piano,” he recounts with a laugh. “I wasn’t the Academy Award-winning actor they were expecting.”

For two decades, he also regularly swapped the West End for war zones, performing for the British Armed Forces everywhere from Iraq to Kosovo and the Falklands.

“They were the best, most deserving audience. When you’re in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan singing Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis, and all the guys are in tears, repeating the lyrics back to you, that’s when you realise the power of music.”

These days, when he’s not onboard Crystal Serenity, he can be found in his home studio writing and recording music. But ultimately, for Fox, everything comes back to being on stage.

“I’ve been very lucky – I’m grateful to do music as a job,” he says. “Writing and recording is a labor of love but it’s the connection with the musicians on stage and the audience for me… Nothing beats a live reaction.”

Catch James' show onboard Crystal Serenity until the end of 2024*

(*except sailings here and here).

Similar Stories

Crystal Rao


Mr. Lefebvre d'Olvidio