Katherine Jenkins, mezzo-soprano, singer songwriter chats with Kevin Cooper about motherhood, entertaining the troops, her latest album Celebration and her forthcoming tour of the UK
Katherine Jenkins OBE is a Welsh mezzo-soprano, singer and songwriter. She is a popular classical-crossover singer who performs across a spectrum of operatic arias, popular songs, musical theatre and hymns.
After winning singing competitions in her youth, Jenkins studied at the Royal Academy of Music, modelled and taught voice. She came to wide public attention in 2003 when she sang at Westminster Cathedral in honour of Pope John Paul II’s silver jubilee. Since 2004, she has released numerous albums that have performed well in both the British and foreign charts. In both 2005 and 2006, her albums received Classic Brit Awards as Album of the Year. She has also been recognised for her charity work, and has regularly entertained the British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Whilst busy preparing for her forthcoming tour of the UK, she took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.
I am really good, thanks for asking Kevin. How are you?
I am really well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No, thank you for being interested in what I am currently up to.
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
Life at the moment is treating me very well thank you. Everything is fine.
Has becoming a mum changed your outlook on music at all?
Definitely. I think that becoming a mum has changed my outlook on everything. From watching the news, choosing when I am going to go out on tour and just how I interpret the words of a song; I have become such a softie now (laughter). Everything to do with my daughter, Aaliyah Reign, just melts me. I just want to be with her all of the time. Whenever I am choosing where I am going to be performing my questions are always can I take Aaliyah with me, and if I have to be away from home then it cannot be for too long. I simply do not like being away from her. Having said all of that it is the best thing that I have ever done, after her and being a mum, she is awesome.
You were awarded the OBE in 2014 for services to music and charity. That must have felt a little bit special?
A little bit (laughter). It is one of those things that was so unexpected and just a huge, huge honour especially because not only did I get the OBE for services to music but also for my charity work and I think that was partly down to my entertaining the troops out in Afghanistan. I feel so passionately about being out there and being able to sing to them and it made the whole experience something special. I got to take my mum to Buckingham Palace and I still can’t quite believe it (laugher). I keep expecting someone from the Palace to knock on my door and take the award back (laughter).
I have been playing your latest album Celebration and I have to say that I think that it is a wonderful piece of work.
Oh thank you.
Were you happy with just how well it was received?
It really was again something that I wasn’t expecting but at the same time I never assume anything. I just don’t like to put that kind of pressure upon myself. So when I got the call to say that the album was number one I was really surprised, but what was even more shocking was when it went to number one, my record company told me that it was actually my twelfth number one album in twelve years and that nobody has ever achieved that amount of number ones. I didn’t even know that was happening or even that it was a possibility. I am so grateful to everybody who has supported all of my albums because they have put me in this position where I get to perform like this, so I am really, really thrilled.
Who had the final say on the choice of songs on the album?
It is always me that gets the final say because they have to be songs that I love and songs that I want to sing. I will be singing them for a long time into the future so I simply have to like them. There is always a joint discussion between my record company and my manager with people coming up with ideas for songs but the final decision is always mine.
In that case it must have been your decision to cover Heroes by David Bowie which I have to say is wonderful.
Thank you, that is so kind of you to say that. Yes, it was my decision to cover Heroes. I was driving into London and it was just after David had sadly passed away and they were doing lots of phone-ins on the radio stations asking the listeners just what was their favourite David Bowie song. Someone mentioned Heroes and I started to wonder if that would work in a classical way. I had been looking for a song that would work well when I go out to entertain the troops and I thought that Heroes was a perfect song to dedicate to them. So after giving it some thought I went into the studio and tried it out and that is just how it came out, so I decided to put it onto the album.
Were there any songs omitted from the album that you wished could have gone on there?
No, actually we didn’t leave anything off. It all went exactly as we thought it would. It all came together as planned, so no, I didn’t leave anything off.
You have briefly mentioned your record company. You are back with Decca, is that a good fit for you?
Yes it is. I think that when you are in the classical/crossover genre it is really important to make sure that you are with a record company that understands and knows the genre rather than trying to make classical into pop. Everybody at Decca has been amazing to me and they have also been with me since I first signed to them at twenty-three years old. So yes, it really is lovely to be back with the team. It really is lovely to be working with them once again.
Do you have any thoughts on a new studio album as yet?
No, I am actually not thinking about a new album just yet. I actually think that there will be a few projects coming up which will happen sometime next year but I really can’t talk about them just yet. They will be taking some of my focus before I find myself back in the studio. I like to slowly think about material and start making a list in my head. I am a little way off from going back into the studio just yet.
You are going back out on tour here in the UK in December. Are you looking forward to that?
Absolutely, I really can’t wait. Some of my favourite moments happen when I am out on tour and it is great seeing everybody at the shows and finishing the year in that way. For me to go all around the UK to finish off the year is amazing.
What can we expect?
There will be a mix of songs from all of my previous albums; all celebratory numbers because of the name of the album of course. Everything will hopefully be uplifting and inspirational. Then getting everybody out of their seats and involved in the singing at the end of the show.
All of the dates are selling really well so you must be pleased with that?
It is really lovely and it is again not something that you can ever assume. And so for me to be just getting back out there seeing all of the people who have been so supportive over the years, it gives me a wonderful opportunity to say thank you to all of them. What I particularly love is the people who are new to classical music; this could be their first ever classical concert. That to me is a real compliment when they decide to come along and give it a go.
So just how did you get started on the path of classical music?
Well, I have to tell you that I fell into classical music in such a lucky way. I was singing in the church choir and my singing teacher suggested that I try singing some classical songs and I instantly fell in love with it. Because of that I am dead set on making sure that I can help anybody who is interested in classical music. I really do hope that they will come along to one of the shows and hopefully they will enjoy it too.
That is exactly how I got interested in classical concerts. I have now photographed you three times and I have sat through the concerts each time. I enjoyed the first one, then enjoyed the second a little more and then had a really good time at the third one.
Oh really, that’s amazing, thank you.
I will be photographing you once again at The Royal Concert Hall on Friday 23rd December.
You will? Well then do make sure that you come backstage and say hello won’t you.
The last time that I photographed you here in Nottingham was at the Arena when you were co-headlining with IL Devo.
That was a really fun show and I have known those boys for such a long time and I think that we both got our record deals around the same time. For me to be out on tour with them was great. We had a really fun European Tour and I think that it went really well.
Who has musically inspired you?
Maria Callas, Barbara Streisand, Edith Piaf, Doris Day and Judy Garland who are all strong female singers of their time. As a music student I used to study all of the great tenors and sopranos so it’s amazing for me to have had the opportunity to sing with them.
If I had to push you for just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I would have to say that it would have to be things like singing with Placido Domingo, singing at The Sydney Opera House or at The Royal Albert Hall. They have all been career moments for me. But I think that the thing that I am most proud of is going out to Iraq and Afghanistan and singing to the troops. Occasions such as that have been the most emotional. They just really do have an impact upon me.
Is there anyone who you would love to perform with who you haven’t performed with previously?
I think that classically I have been very fortunate in that I have performed with a lot of the people who I admire. I think that it would be good to work with someone who is not from my genre like Adel or someone like that. Or perhaps I could team up with a DJ and do something crazy and very, very different.
Which song or piece of music last made you cry?
That’s a good question. I think that it was A Thousand Years by Christina Perri. I was with my daughter and we were dancing around the kitchen to that particular song and it really did make me feel quite emotional.
Do you have any ambitions left to achieve?
Yes I do. I would love to record a movie soundtrack, and some kind of animated film where I could voice one of the characters because I think that I have a great voice for that and also it would earn me some serious brownie points with my daughter (laughter). So something like that maybe.
You participated in Dancing With The Stars over in the USA. Is there a chance that we will see you on Strictly Come Dancing over here in the UK?
(Laughter) I think what that would do is give me an unfair advantage. I have been through the whole experience once and so I technically know a little about each dance. I think that because of that it would probably be unfair of me to participate here in the UK. Even though I would love to do it all again, I think that is probably it for my dancing now (laughter).
What was the first record that you bought?
That was Material Girl by Madonna.
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
The first concert that I saw was Madam Butterfly which was performed by the National Opera. But then the first group that I saw live in concert was Take That.
Is your glass half full or half empty?
It is always half full.
What is your favourite Christmas song?
My favourite Christmas song would be In The Bleak Mid-Winter or All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey (laughter).
And what would be your least favourite?
I don’t like the one by The Pogues, what’s it called, Fairytale Of New York. That one drives me nuts. I don’t like that one (laughter).
Without upsetting the relatives, what would you say has been your best Christmas present?
Wow, that’s a good question. I think that it is always the best when you receive something thoughtful. Such as when my sister put a picture of my nephew in a frame. Something like that because it is more about the thought than the money spent.
And what would you say has been your worst?
A long time ago now a friend gave me a stuffed cat; one of those that looks like its sleeping. Well, I am a vegetarian so it wasn’t the ideal Christmas present for me (laughter).
What would be your ideal Christmas?
That would be when we get all of the family together. Pretty much every year for as long as I can remember it has been the same every Christmas and that is why I love it. I love going down to Neath. We go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas morning all of the family comes to us. And then on Christmas evening we all go over to my Auntie Jo’s where we have our Christmas tea and play Trivial Pursuit. Boxing Day is always about me going to see my local rugby team, The Ospreys playing. It’s the same thing every year but that’s why I love it and I hope that it doesn’t change.
On that note Katherine let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been an absolute delight.
Thanks Kevin, it has been lovely chatting with you and I hope to see you in Nottingham.