How We Met: Mick Hucknall & Sir Alex Ferguson

'He's a wonderfully warm, funny man... though if I were a 16-year-old apprentice I'd be scared'
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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson, 66, has been manager of Manchester United for 22 years, winning more silverware than any other manager in the history of English football. He lives in Manchester with his wife

Mick was probably the first pop star I met. It was about 1987, when he played at the Old Trafford cricket ground, and he invited my wife and I backstage after the gig. He was more interested in Manchester United than I was in the gig – he kept asking about the team; you could see he was a fanatic.

We got friendly with him coming to the games in Manchester. Once he phoned me to wish me all the best for the European Cup Winners' Cup Final in 1991, when we beat Barcelona in Rotterdam. And I said "Why don't you come to the reception as my guest?" He was really taken aback. We had a great time – he was up dancing through the night.

By that time his career was in full flow, he got a place in Milan and we went to games together a few times out there. I'll always remember the first time: as we approached the stadium, hundreds of fans all started running towards us and I thought it was for me! It was all for Mick. They just brushed by me as if I were a ghost. I said, "I didn't think you were important." By that time he was a big star, of course – I was only kidding.

When we meet up, we have a good glass of wine right away. I collect wine and Mick makes wine [in his Sicilian vineyard], so it's a good combination. We talk about the wines, we talk about the football team. There's no agenda, it just rolls along.

He has calmed down over the past 10 years. My wife used to say to him, "When are you going to settle down?" He'd reply, "I need time and I need to meet the right person." I think with Gabriella, he's found that. He dotes on his kid too.

He's been on the training ground with the players a few times. His footballing ability is basic, without potential. I've said, "Mick, you've not got the legs for a centre-forward." He knows his strength is singing; I know all his songs and I've got all his stuff on my iPod. Do I sing along? Absolutely! I'm a great singer in the bathroom and the car.

Success and money can change people; it has changed some of the people I've worked with. If you can get through those two and get out the other side the same person, you've done very well. Mick has managed that; he's still got the same approach to people he had when I first met him. I think that's a fantastic quality.

Mick Hucknall, 48, is the lead singer of the British band Simply Red,which has sold more than 50 million albums over its 21-year history, with hits including 'Holding Back the Years' and 'Fairground'. He lives in south-west London with his wife and their daughter

We met not long after Alex first joined the club, and over the years we hit it off. We found we had a lot in common – we're both working-class boys with an interest in the labour movement, we'd bettered ourselves and come out of a certain amount of poverty.

We talk a huge amount about football, of course, but about many other things as well. He has a passion for wine which I share, and a keen interest in politics. We will ramble on forever if we have the time.

We've gone out for dinner in Manchester a lot. We always try to choose somewhere low-key, which isn't always successful. I remember Alex once booked us a dinner at an Italian restaurant on a Tuesday night before a Champions League game against Bayern Munich. We always go out a little bit early, so there's no one there. But 15 minutes later the entire entourage of the Munich team came into the restaurant and there was a line of people going for autographs. "So much for choosing a discreet restaurant," said Alex.

The only disagreement we've had is about his ability to sing. He's a very keen singer, and thinks he's better than he is. Whenever you talk Nat King Cole, he always reaches out for "Sweet Lorraine"; he'll sing it till the cows come home.

The public don't see that side to him, though; he's often presented as a stern, almost miserable, character, which he certainly isn't. He's a wonderfully warm and funny man; he loves to have a laugh. Of course he can be scary – if I were a 16-year-old apprentice I'd be scared – but he also has a strong paternal instinct.

The lowest point of my life was when I was falsely accused of rape, and that was when I got confirmation of what a true and trusted friend I have. Alex was the second person on the phone to lend his support, and that's not something you forget. I've reciprocated – nothing in so dramatic a form, though; a shaky start to the season and people calling for his resignation – you know how much that hurts so you call up and say, "You're not going anywhere."

He's turned into someone who I really treasure as a trusted and supporting friend, who I've shared some magnificent times with. As his success has come into the realms of the immortal, it makes me all the more proud to have known him from the beginning of it.

'Simply Red 25: The Greatest Hits' is out now. The band's gig at the O2 in London next Wednesday is sold out, but they will return to the UK in March. For details, visit www.simplyred.co.uk

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