Mary-Jess: Gloucester’s big screen soprano and the voice of Downton Abbey


Mary-Jess - Credit: Archant

The former Gloucester Cathedral choirgirl is fast-becoming one of the biggest names in the industry, and next month she’s returning to the Cotswolds as part of a new tour

Gloucester's favourite soprano Mary-Jess is speaking from a ship - pulling into port in Greenland - where she's currently entertaining passengers. "It's a great gig," she laughs. She's on a roll, for sure; riding the crest of a wave.

Since the former Gloucester Cathedral choirgirl hit the headlines, after winning a Chinese version of The X Factor back in 2009, the great gigs keep on coming. But there's been none more exciting than being asked to sing the lyric version of the main Downton Abbey theme for the official soundtrack albums.

When Downton composer John Lunn sought her out, she couldn't believe it. "I'd love to be able to tell you I was very professional about it, but I was so excited I did a little jump on the spot!"

If you haven't already caught her beautiful interpretation, you might well hear it on one of the trailers for the new Downton film. "My voice comes in over the sweeping views of Highclere Castle. It really is a stunning place!"

Don Black wrote the lyrics for the familiar Downton theme, calling it, Did I Make the Most of Loving You? Many fans of the series are convinced it tells the story of characters Matthew and Mary.

"We sang the song in many different ways before we decided what we wanted," Mary-Jess reveals. "I wanted to make sure it had a very intimate feeling, because that's the kind of conversation you have with somebody you're close with. It's almost as if you're whispering in their ear, and that's what makes it so much more emotive."

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It was Gloucester Cathedral that first recognised her star qualities two decades ago, when Mary-Jess was nine. The cathedral set up its first dual-sex choir: "Which you were supposed to be 11 years old to join; thankfully, they took me in anyway. It was quite an honour."

But her big break came while she was studying at university in Sheffield, during a year's placement in China. While she was there, Mary-Jess entered a live televised singing concert and scooped the grand prize. Although the show was only broadcast in Jiangsu Province, she gave an interview to a Gloucester paper, which was picked up by the UK national press. News quickly spread and, in 2010, Mary-Jess was offered a contract with Decca Records.

She'll be back in Gloucestershire - at the Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham - on Friday, December 13, in a new tour: Christmas at the Musicals.

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