Bel Canto

The Italian shop and restaurant Terroni’s has a secret weapon – a singing waiter by Oliver Bennett

Singing waiter Alan Chan at Terroni’s in Clerkenwell
Singing waiter Alan Chan at Terroni’s in Clerkenwell

During the Euro 2020 football tournament, fans of both Italy and England flocked to Clerkenwell’s great Italian survivor, Terroni’s on Clerkenwell Road. And as fans of all stripes found, the shop and restaurant has a formidable asset in the form of its part-time singing waiter, Alan Chan.

After a pizza or pasta, Alan is likely to belt out show tunes in his trademark tenor, giving one of the best shows in town – indeed, some might recognise him from the television. “I managed to successfully reach the quarter finals in The Voice UK 2020, and I’m proud to say I was the first Chinese person to do so,” he says.

Alan, 41, is a Londoner who, by his own testimony, has “overcome all the negativity in my life through music and performance”. After working in Clerkenwell Road for several years Alan met Terroni’s community and has worked for them for about six years. “There’s Uncle John who runs a social club upstairs, and Onorina De Cristoforo, who was everyone’s godmother before she passed – and who called me her ‘godson’. The whole Italian community just opened their arms to me,” says Alan.

And while his Italian remains limited to pleasantries and the menu, he “can support the football team and that’s good enough for them – although I supported England too, of course.” Being an Italian restaurant, there’s no problem with Alan singing on shift.

Alan is indebted to his late uncle, Grandmaster Sifu Joseph Man, a martial arts grandmaster, who died almost five years ago. “I had made a very delayed promise to myself to become a musical artist and had stalled,” he says. “He made me promise him to get back into music and that I must pursue a musical career as he believed that I have talent.” His uncle’s support motivated him.

Although Alan had an early musical success with a band, they broke up and he gave up on his musical ambitions for years. “I grew up with people telling me I’m not good enough,” he says. “So it was easy to give up.”

With renewed inspiration – and the help of his partner and three children – Alan honed his talent as a singer and has now performed at 10 Downing Street, the House of Lords, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Media City in Salford, supporting many charity organisations while doing so. He also went on to do a degree in music and is currently signed to the Universal Music UK label. “I’m turning my dreams into reality” he said.

His experience on The Voice UK was “transformative. I spoke to the producer of the show, who was auditioning. They said ‘congratulations, you are all the last 100 out of 100,000 auditions in the whole of UK and Ireland’ and that was it.”

Donny Osmond even gave credit, saying on Twitter that Alan had knocked his version of the Osmond’s hit Crazy Horses “out of the park”. Alan went on to reach the quarterfinals.
“I was extremely proud, and the Chinese press went mad which was very pleasing, as I am the ambassador of the London Chinese Community Association.” Alan is also ambassador of the Ma Dong Lei Wing Chun Association, a martial arts institution which offers what he calls “a sense of pride and honour.” The Euro 2020 football tournament was not without incident. As well as hosting several media giants from CNN and ITV at Terroni’s, Alan ran the gauntlet of football hooligans.

“During the competition I was walking down the road and about six England supporters started shouting at me. The police arrived and asked if I’d like to press charges.” Alan refused, on the basis that he too is British and proud to be British, as well as being Chinese in origin. “I said that I will forgive them and give them the opportunity to learn that we are all British. They had no idea that my grandad fought for the British Hong Kong Navy against the Japanese in the Second World War, so they have no idea how proud I am to be British. And as I left I said, ‘By the way, all your England kit – socks, shoes, everything – is made in China’.”

The tournament brought more customers to Terroni’s, which Alan calls his “second family” – and where he will continue to sing during supper. “It’s a brilliant thing to do, especially when it’s a special occasion,” he says. “We can offer an operatic Happy Birthday. Working in a restaurant is a little bit of a performance.”

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