Welsh wonder secured for Cork dates

THE news that the City of Cork Symphony Orchestra has secured superstar Katherine Jenkins for two concerts next December has created quite a stir among classical music fans.

Welsh wonder secured for Cork dates

It’s quite a coup both for the orchestra and for Leeside. The combination of Jenkins’s exquisite voice and supermodel looks should help ensure tickets the December concerts sell out very quickly.

Jenkins is among a select group of A-list celebrities that many promoters want to secure. The fortunate possessor of a truly remarkable mezzo-soprano which has made her one of the brightest planets in the galaxy of classical and operatic pop music, she first came to international notice when she sang in Westminster Cathedral in 2003 for the Silver Jubilee of Pope John Paul II.

Her albums sell in huge numbers, Brit Awards roll in, and worldwide tours and TV appearances increase her legions of fans on a daily basis. She has sung with the likes of Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli. Heady stuff for a Welsh girl still only in her early 30s.

Yet, unbelievably, Jenkins still sounds as fresh and happy as you could imagine. We spoke as she travelled from Glasgow to Liverpool on the hugely successful European tour with Il Divo (the English multinational operatic pop group created by Simon Cowell), and despite the demands of international one-night-stands, she sounded as bubbly as ever.

“Yes, it’s been crazy for 10 years now. But I love every bit of it, even the living out of a suitcase.!”

Born in 1980 in Neath, Jenkins remembers quite well her first public appearance.

“I was four. There was a talent contest at school and my mother taught me Going Down The Garden To Eat Worms, with all the actions,” she remembers.

Once launched, Jenkins never looked back, winning competition after competition. “When you grow up in Wales there is such a heritage of music, just like you have in Ireland. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without that background. A lot of my early experience was in church singing [she won Welsh Choir Girl of the Year several times] and I think that instils the discipline you need to succeed.”

At the age of 17 Jenkins won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, finding time in between to do some modelling which led to her being chosen as The Face of Wales 2000. Her real dream, though, was a career in music and she never took her eyes off that goal.

“In the last year of my degree course I made a demo with a friend and — this sounds like a made-up story, I know — it got passed to Universal and they were looking for a soprano, one who could work the crossover thing between classical and popular, which is what I really love doing. I didn’t believe that it could happen but it did.”

The six-album deal, reportedly worth £1m, was the most lucrative in the UK’s classical recording history. “When I first signed up with Universal, my mum and I didn’t tell anyone for ages. We kept thinking it wasn’t true.”

Endearingly, she admits that the runaway success of every album always takes her by surprise. To date, six out of seven have reached No 1 in the UK classical charts, and she is the first British classical crossover artist to achieve two number one albums in the same year.

“My aim has always been to take the intimidation out of classical music. I want it to be for everyone. The crossover idea didn’t exist originally, it has been developed gradually over the past few years and I’ve been part of that development.

“I have learned so much about what people want to hear, and what I want to sing. My background and my roots are in the classical genre but I do enjoy that with crossover you can branch out and try different things.”

Jenkins also likes the occasional challenge, be it competing on the US hit show Dancing With The Stars, singing for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, making an appearance on Dr Who, or running in the London Marathon in aid of the Macmillan Nurses charity, who had nursed her father Selwyn before he passed away from lung cancer when Jenkins was just 15. “They do such wonderful work. They were there for my dad, and I want to give something back.”

Will there ever be a place in this stardusted career for a home or children?

“Definitely. I would be so disappointed if I didn’t have a family of my own, because I think it’s the most important thing in life. Yes, of course it would affect my work but I’m happy for that to happen when it happens. I would want my children to have the stability I had growing up.”

In the meantime, what advice would the superstar give to young singers just starting out? “You must be prepared to work hard, find the opportunities, be willing to work for nothing if necessary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small part in an amateur production, or a local concert, it all helps you to build up your experience and your confidence.

“And all the knocks, all the put-downs too, don’t let those discourage you. They’re part of it, they help you on your way.”

* The Irish Examiner is media partner for Katherine Jenkins’ appearance with the City of Cork Symphony Orchestra at Cork City Hall on Dec 11 & 12. Conductor is Anthony Inglis, with guest conductor Keith Pascoe and compere Miriam O’Callaghan. More information on cityofcorksymphonyorchestra.ie

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