Exclusive interview with Welsh songstress Katherine Jenkins

Katherine Jenkins

Time To Say Hello

Katherine Jenkins featured in our first ever of Northern Life when she visited Pendle to perform with the Arion Male Voice Choir in 2005. At lot can happen in eight years, and this lass has been busy. With the voice and looks of an angel, her stratospheric rise has made Katherine the fastest selling soprano ever, selling in excess of seven million albums. She’s won a string of BRIT awards and smashed countless records with her albums going platinum around the world. So to celebrate Northern Life’s 50th anniversary I caught up with the lady with the Midas touch.

So eight years on, and Katherine looks eight years younger. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for myself.

Her legs are aching, because the day before while I was busy ironing she was busy running the London Marathon raising £25,000 for Macmillan. She completed it in five hours and 10 minutes “I didn’t want to do a ‘Paula Radcliffe,’”she laughs,“I just wanted to finish it and I don’t think I would have managed it without the amazing crowd.” After the Boston bombing, there was a massive defiant show of people who attended the London Marathon, “The crowd was amazing and there was definitely a feeling of strength and solidarity there.” She smiles.

“They were just awesome. I cried about four times just because of strangers’ kindness, some had even brought sweets. On the twentieth mile a little kid ‘high-fived’ me and there was a banner up that said ‘Shut up legs.’ I’d hurt my knee so my legs were in agony and I thought ‘Yes! Shut up legs!’

“I continued to train on tour whilst, it was difficult getting up in the morning. I remember one day running 18 miles then jumping on a plane and going to Hamburg to perform in a concert that night.”

The press love to comment on Katherine’s appearance and despite her raising £25,000 for Macmillan the media seem hell-bent on criticising her appearance “I didn’t have any lippy on,” she said “that’s the craziest thing about it. It’s virtually impossible to wear lipstick when running for nearly five and a half hours when you’re sweating. My entire reason for running was to remember my father and to raise money for an amazing charity. If anyone believes that I’d be running for any other reason they’ve clearly never done a marathon.”

Katherine’s dad Selwyn died of lung cancer when she was just 15 years old. “Macmillan nurses helped our family a lot when my dad was poorly. My sister Laura is now a Macmillan nurse, which is great. She’s always saying I embarrass her! She can sing but she has absolutely no desire to be in the spotlight. She hates anything that would attract attention to her.”

   Both sisters in their own way continue to pay tribute to their dad Selwyn and Katherine’s latest project would see her dad glowing with pride. “I learnt to sing at St. David’s church in Neath when I was seven. I was there for ten years before I went off to study, I’m now involved in an appeal to raise £500,000 for the tower. It’s a beautiful Victorian church which desperately needs restoration. It’s a focal point of the town; it’s got a very tall spire so it’s a landmark. On a personal level I was christened there, sang there and it’s where my dad was laid to rest. It’s a really important building to me and I’ve got to do my bit to say thank you.”

As a child I spent many a happy summer in Katherine’s home town and after each visit I would return to Yorkshire with a ‘new’ Welsh word I had learnt. I have a very basic knowledge of the language but that doesn’t stop me trying to converse to Katherine in her native tongue ‘Bore da, ach a fi person cymraeg’. She enthusiastically responds, “That’s really good,” but I’m not sure I believe her, she’s just being nice. But when I try to ‘save face’ by telling her how much I like Welsh cakes she agrees with me wholeheartedly. “Really? I love them too!” She laughs.

Katherine and I have a lot in common (I wish), like me her name begins with a K, and we both love Welsh cakes and Yorkshire puddings which is just as well as her sister Laura has just married a Yorkshireman.“Half of the wedding was in Welsh and the other half was in Yorkshire,” she laughs “it was brilliant! I love Yorkshire folk, there’s quite a lot of similarity between them and us.”

Katherine is due to visit God’s own country of Yorkshire on August 3rd when she will take to the stage at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, in an epic Last Night of The Proms celebration along with a spectacular firework display. Accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Anthony Inglis, it’s one night not to be missed. She’ll be performing songs from her top selling albums including her smash hit ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ and a selection of favourites along with plenty of frock changes too.

She’s never had the pleasure of visiting Scarborough and is looking forward to performing.“I love open air summer concerts; they’re always so much fun. You pray for good weather and if it is good weather then it’s magical but I’ve also been at these concerts where it has ‘bucketed’ down and I’ve asked the audience if they want to go home and they’re always more determined than ever to stay. I think that whatever happens with the weather we will definitely have fun. I will do my best to make sure it’s a night that everyone remembers.

In 2005 Katherine and Dame Vera Lynn performed together at the 60th Anniversary of VE Day in and sang my favourite son of all time ‘We’ll Meet Again’, the newspapers dubbed Katherine as the new ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’, a nickname given to Lynn during World War II. “She’s amazing,” says Katherine, “I have massive respect for her and everything’s that she’s done for the forces. She persuaded me to go out and sing for the troops, I’d been invited to Iraq and she said ‘you must do it, you’ll absolutely love it’. She’s an inspiration and she means so much too so many people. I see all the veterans and how much they adore her; it was just so nice to see and I feel honoured to know her.

In December 2005 and 2006 Katherine travelled to Iraq to entertain the soldiers for Christmas. When travelling to Shaibah, the largest British base in Southern Iraq, in 2005 the helicopter she was travelling in was targeted by missiles. Anti-missile flares were deployed and fortunately the group landed safely.

“I think the world of the troops,” she says, “they do an incredible job. They’re away from their families for long periods of time and it’s important that we say thank you for that. When somebody from home goes out there, they know they are being thanked and are being thought of. I wish I could get out there more often but it’s very difficult to get out there especially to places like Afghanistan.”

As a child Katherine’s house was full of music, her dad loved the tones of Matt Monroe and Perry Como, “My mum would play Celine Dion, Tina Turner and Shirley Bassey; all of them have good, powerful voices, I think that’s where I get my love of female voices from.”

For Katherine the transition from Bassey to Bach began with singing in her local church choir and it was her singing teacher who suggested she had the voice for classical music. “I didn’t know anything about classical music at that point but I gave it go and I fell in love with it. And that’s why for me it’s important to keep saying to people you don’t have to have been brought up with it, I wasn’t, I just fell in love with it. I never wanted to be a pop singer!” She smiles.

In the UK, she has also reached a whole new audience, including many younger fans, thanks to her appearances as a mentor in two series of ITV’s Popstar To Operastar.

“I think the opera world needed an image ‘shake-up’. That’s why I was really pleased to be a part of that movement. When I used to talk to people of my age group many of them perceived opera as being for old or posh people. It used to really irritate me because I’m from such a normal background and I could see that people were being put off by the music because of what they thought it was all about.

“Over the years there has definitely been a change of image for the better and that’s when the music then speaks for itself. It just goes to prove that the music is good. A good singer will be able to get the feeling of it across regardless of what the language is.”

When I tell her that my daughter Ruby is an aspiring actress and singer but is disappointed at being given the role of a butterfly as opposed to the lead in her local theatre group Katherine is keen to offer her some valuable advice “Tell her that I remember one Christmas concert I was off school sick and the next day I came in and they’d taken the solo off me. I had to go through that, I was devastated.

“It’s really important to be involved in music throughout childhood. Join choirs, get involved with amateur operatic societies, enter competitions and school shows it’s all really good experience. You don’t have to win everything; I didn’t win everything I entered, it’s just about getting the experience. You don’t get anywhere without hard work and so if you put in the hard work and get yourself to be a good standard of musicianship then you’ll be as ready as you can be for if and when that lucky break happens.”

And with that it was ‘time to say goodbye’, no doubt ‘we’ll meet again.’