Katherine Jenkins Interview- Essex Life

Worldwide superstar, Katherine Jenkins, sings at the last of the Audley End picnic concerts in July, but it's a far cry from the Welsh council estate where she grew up. Pat Parker spoketo her about the highs and lows of her remarkable life...

Katherine Jenkins

MUSIC lovers are in for a treat this summer, with Audley End’s famous picnic concerts culminating in a final weekend featuring two of Wales’s finest singing talents – Tom Jones and the stunning mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins.

Katherine, who will bring the season to a spectacular crescendo when she performs at the Last Night of the Audley End Proms on Sunday, July 31, has already performed there twice before and is excited about her return visit.

‘I’m really looking forward to it,’ she says in her lilting Welsh accent. ‘I love Audley End as a venue. The backdrop is gorgeous and the crowds have been incredible. I’ll be singing songs from all my albums, a really wide mix of things, and all the light classics that everyone knows.’

It’s this crossover mix of classics and pop (everything from Pie Jesu to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love) which has made her one of the most successful British female recording stars ever. Her seven albums have sold millions worldwide, won multiple awards and helped make her an estimated �13 million.

Her rise to fame was meteoric. Back in 2000 she was a part-time singing teacher, having recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music. But then, she signed a reported �1million deal with Universal, and her first album, Premiere, shot straight to the top of the classical charts. She never looked back.

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Yet although her worldwide success over the past decade suggests Katherine Jenkins has led something of a charmed life she has known tragedy, and has feared for her life on two occasions.

Katherine grew up on a council estate in Neath, South Wales, in a close, loving family. Her mother, Susan, was a radiographer; her father, Selwyn, a factory worker who was already in his mid-50s when Katherine was born. Her singing talent was evident from a very young age. After winning an infant school talent show at the age of four, she knew she wanted to become a singer. She joined her local church choir aged seven and went on to win the Welsh Choirgirl of the Year contest three times.

‘I feel I’m being guided along a certain path and whether that’s my dad or God, there’s definitely someone leading me a certain way’

She also shone academically at her local comprehensive, and her future was looking bright when tragedy struck when she was just 15. Her father, then 70, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and died shortly afterwards, just two weeks before she was due to take her GCSEs. Katherine was devastated by his death. Yet somehow, she gained the strength to excel in her exams, gaining nine A grades.

Ever since Selwyn’s death she’s been aware of his presence and has a strong sense that he is guiding and protecting her. ‘I feel he’s looking after me. I feel it all the time and sometimes I have a word with him when I’m about to go on stage and need a bit of strength. I feel I’m being guided along a certain path and whether that’s my dad or God, there’s definitely someone leading me a certain way.’

After her father’s death, however, she suffered dreadful nightmares, and started to feel angry and resentful towards her mother, and God, for taking her father away from her. It was only after counselling that she started to recover.

She regained her focus at school and went on to gain straight As at A Level, which she took a year early, and at 17, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Her life seemed to be back on track, but just when she was at her most carefree, she suffered a horrific attack after a night out with friends.

She was just two minutes from home, and talking to her flatmates on her mobile phone, when she was viciously attacked by a would-be rapist. Somehow, she broke free and ran for her life, but her attacker caught up with her and punched her to the ground. Instinctively, she curled herself up into a ball, so that he could not rape her. After kicking her repeatedly, the man finally gave up and took her purse.

Just at that moment, her friends – who had heard everything on the phone – rushed up to her. The police were called, but the smartly-dressed man was never found. Not long after the attack, Katherine became convinced she was overweight and started obsessively to control her diet. For eight months, she ate only proteins and her weight fell to below seven stone, but she ignored the concerns of her family and boyfriend. It was her mother who finally broke the cycle, by convincing her to eat some chocolate cake. She was violently sick for 24 hours, but from then on returned to a more normal diet.

During her last year at the Royal Academy, her then boyfriend encouraged her to record a demo tape, which he gave to a music producer friend. The tape eventually found its way to Universal Classics and she was invited to a meeting. She had graduated by now, and was teaching music at a school in Hertfordshire. Universal loved her voice. She was signed to the label in a �1 million recording deal and from then on, she was firmly on the path to superstardom.

‘When I go home, my mum treats me just like everyone else. I’ve lived in the same place all my life, and I don’t want anything to change’

In 2006, her albums held the top four places in HMV’s classical charts and she has won a succession of Classical BRIT Awards. She has performed before Pope John Paul II, at the Tsunami Relief Concert in 2005, the Live 8 concerts, the G8 summit and the VE Day celebrations.

Despite this, Katherine says her family have kept her feet firmly on the ground. ‘They’re all a very normal, big, close family. When I go home, my mum treats me just like everyone else. I don’t want anything to change, just because I do a different job to everyone else.’

Ever since 2005, she has repeatedly risked her life by performing unpaid for British troops stationed in Iraq and now Afghanistan. The first time she flew to Iraq she was nearly killed when the helicopter transporting her came under missile fire and plunged 1,500ft in seconds. Katherine was convinced she was going to die. But the experience didn’t deter her from returning.

‘At the time it was very frightening but my view of it is, you can experience danger while you’re there, but I’m only experiencing it for 24 hours. They’re living with it day in, day out. It could have put me off, but for me, the more dangerous it gets, the more I want to go. The troops are an inspiration to me and I have so much respect for them.’

Katherine, 31 this summer, recently became engaged to TV presenter and fellow Welsh celebrity Gethin Jones, whom she met on Strictly Come Dancing in 2007. The couple will probably marry next year, so will marriage change her future career plans? ‘No,’ she replies. ‘I love what I do, and we’re both busy, so not in the short term, anyway.’

Do they plan to start a family? ‘We do want that, but I would like to be at home when it happens, and I’m touring so much at the moment, it would be difficult.’

In the meantime, Katherine is once more acting as mentor in the second series of ITV’s Popstar to Operastar, in which the likes of Joe McElderry and Midge Ure will train to become opera singers. As a former teacher, Katherine says she loves helping pop singers learn how to perform classically. ‘I’ve been very lucky to study with amazing people and I enjoy passing on the information. A lot of the pop stars haven’t had a technical lesson before. They don’t understand about what’s going on in their bodies when they sing and it’s fascinating to help them discover a different voice. That’s what to me is exciting.

‘We didn’t have classical music at home. I only found it because I started having singing lessons, and when I did, I fell in love with it. It’s really important that people feel if they want to listen to classical music, it’s there for them. And I’ll welcome them with open arms.’

Find out moreThe English Heritage Picnic Concerts at Audley End near Saffron Walden, will run from July 9 to 31, and will feature Bjorn Again/Bootleg Beatles, Scouting For Girls with Sophie Ellis Bextor, The Saturdays, Tom Jones, and, finally, Katherine Jenkins. Tickets for Katherine Jenkins, on July 31, will cost �29.50 for the Picnic Area with concessions at �28. VIP Hospitality tickets are available from �125. For more information, visit http://www.picnicconcerts.com/

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