Arts

Katherine Jenkins: When it comes to classical, you can't bypass the hours of practice

Welsh mezzo-soprano and classical-crossover singer Katherine Jenkins returns to the Waterfront next month. She tells Lorraine Wylie about motherhood, her latest album and why Belfast is one of her favourite places

Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins returns to the Waterfront Hall in Belfast next month. Picture by David Venni
Lorraine Wylie

KATHERINE Jenkins first came to prominence in 2003 when she sang at Westminster Cathedral in honour of Pope John Paul II's silver jubilee. The following year she rocketed to success when her debut album Premiere sold over four million copies, making her the fastest-selling mezzo-soprano to date.

The south Wales singer's ability to perform across a spectrum of operatic arias, pop songs, musical theatre and hymns has won her a plethora of awards and established her reputation as the most prolific artist in UK Classical Chart history; at one stage in her career, she outsold both the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud.

“I always look forward to coming to Belfast,” she tells me, her accent slight but unmistakably Welsh. “In fact, I was over there just a few weeks ago when I was filming for Songs of Praise and I'm really looking forward to coming back. I mean, the Waterfront Hall is so gorgeous, such a great venue. It's been a few years since I was there so that'll be amazing. But apart from the beautiful venues, I love the city.

"You know, I brought my mum over for a girlie weekend. We ate at some great restaurants, went shopping which was fantastic. But what I really love and maybe it's the Celtic thing, me being Welsh and all, is the atmosphere. I feel at home, people are so warm and friendly. I cant wait to be back.”

What can fans expect from her most recent album, Guiding Light?

“With this album, from the beginning, I knew what I wanted to do. I felt quite strongly that I didn't want to make an album that was, you know, hit all the high notes and do all the loud singing. It was more about finding the emotional music that touched my heart.

"To be honest, a lot of stuff was touching my heart at the time, making me feel emotional. I think it must have been all the pregnancy hormones. It's also special because it includes the song I wrote for my son, it's called Xander's Song which is lovely for me but I know, in 10 years time, he'll be mortified by it.

"My daughter, Aaliyah also features on it. She speaks just one little line in Blinded By Your Grace' It's a lovely album and very special.”

Motherhood has certainly inspired her music but Jenkins also believes it changed her voice.

“Yes its true, pregnancy changes your voice,” she insists. “My friends from the Royal Academy of Music told me it would but it wasn't until it happened to me that I actually believed them. I think it has something to do with the hormones released during pregnancy. I can't remember the name of the hormone involved but it's meant to relax muscles and somehow it has the same effect on the vocal chords. It really does make a huge difference but in a good way. I loved singing when I was pregnant and luckily, with both pregnancies, I was on tour. It was such a joy.”

Does she do anything special to look after her voice?

“Apart from taking Manuka honey and drinking lots of water, I make sure I rest my voice. Basically that means, I don't speak – at all. For example, I'm performing in Dublin before coming to Belfast but once I finish on stage in Dublin, I won't speak again until rehearsals in Belfast. Everyone around me has to play charades. But it's really necessary to give my vocal chords a rest.”

Between sell-out concerts, television appearances and charity events, Jenkins has travelled the world. But since becoming a mum she doesn't like to leave her children for too long. How does she find a balance between work and home?

“I make sure I'm with the kids as much as possible. Whenever I can, I opt to work from home and when I do go away I keep my trips as short as possible. Before I got married in 2014 I was away all the time. Now, when I'm in the UK, I'll drive home just to be home and have breakfast with them. It means a bit of running around for me but it's important to me that they're settled and I don't want to drag them with me on tour and disrupt their routine.

"You know, in many ways motherhood has surprised me. Before they arrived, I thought I'd want to take a few years off and stay home. But having them made me want to continue so I could share it with them. I like to think that some day they will come to my shows and see me working and singing for them.”

Her own upbringing has naturally had an influence on her attitude to parenthood.

"My mum was the main breadwinner and Dad was in early retirement. My mum was an amazing role model in terms of work ethic so when I knew I was having a daughter, I wanted her to see that her mummy went to work and was passionate about what she did. Like my mum showed me, I wanted to show her what it means to have a good work ethic.”

A decade and a half after she shot to fame Jenkins is as busy as ever. Does she have any advice for other young hopefuls?

“Yeah, a lot of young singers ask me how I got my big break. But the truth is, I have always worked very hard and I really believe that you only get out what you're willing to put in. Certainly, when it comes to classical music, it takes hours of practice. You really can't bypass that. You have to commit to it.

"I think its good to join something like a choir, amateur dramatics, or some other activity that enables you to explore your talent. It's good to know your own voice. You have to experiment and find, mostly through trial and error, what suits your voice. It's these experiences that allow you to hone you skill as well as make your mistakes. Then when the opportunity does come, you'll be ready.”

Given her repertoire and her mention of Songs of Praise, I ask Jenkins about her own beliefs.

“I was brought up in the Christian faith. My mum was a Sunday school teacher and my sister and I were choristers from age seven," she says.

"Church was a huge focal point of our community. Now I meet so many people who worship in different ways. I find it so refreshing to talk to people who have found ways that work best for them. I started off in a very traditional way. Now its so much more complicated. There is no right or wrong way.”

Finally, what's her favourite song?

“In terms of music, I'd have to say the song from The Greatest Showman. Such an amazing, powerful song. It's also the one my daughter asks me to sing at bedtime, although I sing a much quieter version for her.”

:: Katherine Jenkins, Belfast Waterfront, Monday May 27 (waterfront.co.uk).

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