‘I’ve made tons of mistakes’
As Katherine Jenkins prepares to sing the National Anthem at Derby Day, Edwina Langley discovers there’s more to her than a heavenly voice
When you sing this kind of music, people assume that you’ve never lived or made a mistake,’ says the Welsh mezzosoprano Katherine Jenkins, famous the world over, who will sing the National Anthem at Investec Derby Day on 2 June. ‘It’s not something I’ve ever said about myself – “you’re saintly and whiter than white” – but I just felt like it was a pressure.’
She is referring, of course, to the scandal that erupted when she revealed to Piers Morgan she took recreational drugs as a teenager. ‘My drug shame’ splashed The Mirror, ‘Vice of an angel’, trumpeted The Mail.
‘It was right to come out and talk about it,’ she continues. ‘At that point it could have been a career-ending moment, but I don’t regret in any way coming out and telling the truth.
‘I feel as if it makes people know me. I’m a human being like everybody else and I’ve made tons of mistakes, and I will continue to make loads of mistakes, I’m sure. I’m not perfect, so it’s been good to get that weight off my shoulders.’
At the time it must have seemed that this fallen angel would never rise again. Which is why it’s to her credit that she has.
Today, she is perched on the edge of a sofa, sipping coconut water through a straw. She couldn’t look more angelic. Her golden hair is tidily curled, her pink tea dress perfectly starched, her eyes and teeth sparkle and she looks as delicate as a porcelain doll. So it’s hard to envisage her growing up in a council house in Neath, Wales. But she did, and didn’t let it hold her back.
Achieving A grades in GCSEs and A Levels, and winning a string of music awards along the way, she was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. But it was only when a friend sent a demo to Universal Classics And Jazz that she was launched into the public arena.
In 2000 Katherine made headlines when she signed what was then the largest record deal for a new classical artist in the UK, a £1m six-album contract with Universal. In 2008, she made history again, this time with Warner Music and an even bigger deal: £5.8m.
Last year, she released her eighth album, Daydream – ‘my most personal and intimate in repertoire and style’ – before travelling to Australia to perform alongside Andrea Bocelli.
With such unprecedented success, it seems unrealistic to expect she would remain unaffected. But when I ask her if fame has changed her, she adamantly denies it.
‘Yes, I sing classical music, but I’m pretty much like you,’ she declares. Although Katherine can sing in front of thousands, whereas most of us can’t even sing in the shower.
‘I haven’t been nervous for a long time,’ she continues. ‘The first time I sang at the rugby was the worst. Going from singing for 100 people in a church hall to 74,000 in a stadium, and millions at home, that was something I couldn’t get my head around.
‘But it’s never going to be that bad again. I’ve got to a place where I can be as calm talking to you now as I am on stage,’ she says.
Trusting in technique and looking after the voice are paramount to a successful performance. And putting the right shoe on before the left – her one superstition. Other than that, she says, there is nothing else to it. I found this surprising. It’s not often you meet someone so confident they can perform to the highest standards every time.
I suppose that’s just it. Katherine can stand up and deliver and she knows it. Confidence is key. Well, that and coming from Wales. ‘The natural Welsh accent is very melodic,’ she says, ‘and we naturally elongate the vowel sounds. So it sounds like: “an-tibi- O-tic”, we make it a song. It’s already an open sound, which is why I think possibly the accent gives us a head start, if that makes any sense…’ she trails off and giggles nervously.
I have to admit, I had been unsure of what to expect from a meeting with Katherine. Some people have said her angelic persona is purely a front, and relish telling tales of her diva-like behaviour backstage.
But I can honestly say I didn’t get the impression she was being disingenuous. Cautious, yes, but never false. There was a sincerity that emerged when she spoke of her family and in particular her trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain the troops.
‘You go there knowing it’s not glamour and think, I’m probably not going to shower for two days, but you just get on with it.
‘There can be no demands when you go to a place like that,’ she continues, ‘but I love it. I like to take full advantage of the situation and eat my meals with the troops and talk to them. Sometimes they say stuff to you they wouldn’t say to anyone else.’
At the beginning of our interview, Katherine was quick to point out that she is not a saint. From the virtuous, rather sweet conversation I have had with her, it’s also clear that she’s not a sinner, either. Perhaps she has a devilish sense of humour?
I ask her to tell me a joke. Quick as a flash, she rattles one out – with the appropriate movements – animatedly telling the tale of some penguins. Far too safe for a sinner.
Katherine Jenkins will perform the National Anthem on Investec Derby Day, 2 June. Her album Daydream (Warner Bros) is now available, priced £9.97.
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