Jonathan Antoine, an English classically trained tenor, chats with Kevin Cooper about coming runner up to Pudsey in Britain’s Got Talent, ending his partnership with Charlotte Jaconelli, spending Christmas with his family and the release of his latest album Christmasland.

Jonathan Antoine is an English classically trained tenor. He rose to fame after appearing on the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 as one half of the classical duo Jonathan and Charlotte. He subsequently went solo, and his debut album Tenore was released in the UK in October 2014, his follow-up Believe was released in August 2016.

Inspired by his schools singing coach, he performed at the 2010 Stratford and East London Music Festival when he was 13 years old. The same year he was awarded Young Musician of the Year. The following year he performed Ave Maria at the Royal Festival Hall in London as part of the Rotary Youth Makes Music event.

When he was aged 14 he joined the Royal Academy of Music and when he was asked to sing The Prayer with Charlotte Jaconelli at a friend’s wedding, the partnership with Charlotte began. In 2012, the duo entered Britain’s Got Talent where they finished second in the competition behind the dancing dog act, Ashleigh and Pudsey.

Following that appearance the duo were signed to Syco, Simon Cowell’s record label and they released their debut album Together in September 2012. In 2013 they signed to Sony Classical and released their second album, a collection of covers called Perhaps Love. In February 2014 the duo issued a statement to the effect that they were splitting up after both being offered solo record deals.

Whilst busy preparing for Christmas, Jonathan took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good afternoon Jonathan, how are you?

I’m very well thank you Kevin, how are you?

All is good thank you for asking. It is always a pleasure whenever I get the opportunity to speak to you.

And you too.

Before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s not a problem and thank you for giving up your time.

And I have to ask, just how is life treating you in these rather strange times?

(Laughter) well what can I say, it is certainly something. As you know I live at home with mum, dad and sister so for me, the isolating has luckily been with people. Fortunately, I have not been by myself.

You have got yourself a nice small family bubble there haven’t you?

Yes, we have, and I have to say that it is working rather well.

We have to talk about your latest album, Christmasland. And I have to tell you that I have been playing it now for a couple of weeks and I have to say that I love it.

Thank you, that is really good to hear.

Are you happy with it?

Yes, I am, I am very happy with it. I am one of those people that if I have an unlimited amount of time, I will simply whittle away at things, until the end of time, and actually get nothing done (laughter). I was lucky in the fact that I got to work with some really great people who knew exactly what they were doing (laughter). People like Gregg (Fields) who produced the album, who just knows how to get the sound. After working with me on my last album, Gregg knows my voice really well and his arrangements really are incredible. So, all that I had to do was to get a few vocal performances that I was happy with (laughter). With Gregg being there with me at every step of the way, both directing and helping, he really did make things easy for me.

Putting you firmly on the spot, we have now been in lockdown for some ten months on and off, why a Christmas album?

Great question. Christmas, for me, has been a constant throughout my life. As I mentioned earlier, I live with my family, even now, so for me, Christmas really has been regular. For a lot of people, particularly this year, Christmas is going to be disrupted. It is certainly going to be different, and for a lot of people Christmas is not going to be the magical and happy time one might expect it to be. So, if I can give people something to enable them to feel normal, even just for a couple of minutes, to put a smile on their face where there might not have been one before, then I will achieved what I set out to achieve. That’s the goal.

There are twelve songs on the album. Just how many did you start out with?

(Laughter) most probably at least double that. I actually went into the studio with a list that included a few of the songs that made it onto the album; together with a couple that you could say were just window shopping (laughter). Gregg came along with a bunch of songs, as did Bob my manager, plus my family got involved and helped me so we found ourselves with quite a list. Whenever we chose to pull them out of the bag, we have basically a whole other album (laughter).

How long did it take you to select the final twelve?

Good question (laughter). I must admit that it did take us some time batting songs back and forth, we found ourselves with a spreadsheet that was all colour coded, orange for the maybes, green for the yes’s, red for the no’s (laughter). It maybe took us two weeks of back and forth, for us to get exactly what we wanted. There were some options which stuck with us for a little bit which then ended falling off the list. That could very well have been one of the longest processes throughout the whole recording of the album (laughter).

Playing the devil’s advocate, I have to ask you, why didn’t you release a double album?

(Hysterical laughter) simply because albums are still so very expensive to produce.

There are three songs which I keep going back to. The first one is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, the second is O Holy Night and I really do love what you have done with Celine Dion’s These Are Special Times, I think that is fantastic.

Thank you. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing has a harpsichord break in it, and I have to say that it really did surprise me just how well that particular track came out, so thank you for that. I’m so pleased that you have mentioned These Are Special Times; we worked hard on that one. It was a pleasure and a dream for me to work with the writer of the song, Diane Warren, and then to have Marco Arcangeli translate the song into Italian. I have to say that it is the song on the album that I am most proud of. Diane has been very kind and complimentary, which really is nice.

What would you say is your favourite track on the album?

(Laughter) that really is the hardest question that you have asked me so far today. They all hold incredibly special places in my heart. Other than These Are Special Times, I have heard all of these particular songs whilst I was growing up. And then These Are Special Times comes into the equation and it really suits me, I think.

I personally think that you have got an incredibly mature voice for a twenty-five-year-old.

Thank you, thank you very much. Compliment accepted, thank you.

I have to say that I am so pleased that you have recorded a grownups Christmas album and not a (Michael) Ball and (Alfie) Boe Christmas album, if that makes sense at all?

(Hysterical laughter) yes, it does.

It is an album with real songs on there and not a ‘let’s have a knees-up down the pub’ type of album (laughter).

I have to say that I have already heard some questionable things already (laughter). I have met both of them and in fact, I have performed with both of them and I have to say that they are both lovely, lovely blokes.

Leading on from that I have to ask you, is this a one-off project or will you be releasing another Christmas album next Christmas?

Perhaps not next year but I will be most definitely putting out another one. I had so much fun doing this one, and it’s not a case of me being scared away from the thought of trying it again at a later stage.

When it is safe to do so, will we be seeing you out on tour?

I am crossing every appendage that I own and knocking on every bit of wood that I can find. Touring the UK is my dream right now. I want to get back out there and give the people a bit of a normal feeling and give the people what they like. It will be great to have people going out. I know that for the moment it is for the betterment of us all, and the betterment of mankind, but I think that we agree that Covid-19 can’t end fast enough.

Whenever you get any downtime, who do you listen to?

Good question (laughter). I have been listening a lot to a band from the 90s called Failure who came back into focus around five years ago now and I have to say that they are really good. I have recently found myself listening to an American musical duo consisting of Dylan Brady and Laura Les called 100 Geks. They really are very strange but also very cool (laughter). I have also been listening to a little bit of Black Midi too.

Who has inspired you?

I find myself very fortunate in that I feel as though everything in life inspires me. Even for me to be able to have this conversation and the friendly way in which we can speak, being able to talk about myself even, its maybe not inspiring but it certainly feels self-affirming. I find great joy in just communicating with people, which is what inspires me most. Seeing people and being in contact with them, knowing that they continue, despite facing the struggles in life, we all forge together and become stronger.

Taking you back to 2012 and the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent; how did it feel when you and Charlotte (Jaconelli) came second to a dancing dog?

(Laughter) I have to be totally honest with you and say that at the time it really did hurt. Not the fact that we were beaten by a dancing dog, but the fact that we didn’t win the show. However, as I have gotten older, in fact even on the day, I began thinking ‘if there is anyone to lose to, Ashleigh (Jade Butler) was a really nice girl, and Pudsey really was a sweet dog’. And I can honestly say to you today that it is not something that has gone on to bother me in later life (laughter). I think that there is room for levity and fun in this world.

Why did you choose Britain’s Got Talent over The X Factor?

I have to say that there was no planning about that, it just happened. Charlotte messaged me back in 2011 and said, “do you mind if I apply for the both of us to enter Britain’s Got Talent” (laughter). I would add that at that moment in time I was at a low point. I had recently left school and I honestly had no real direction in life so I thought, ‘what the hell, what is there to lose’ (laughter). And as you know, the rest was televised (laughter).

You mention Charlotte fondly. Looking back when you both decided that it was time for the two of you to go your separate ways, with hindsight, was that the right thing to do at that moment in time?

Yes, I have to say that at that moment in time it really was. The decision that we made on the show, for the two of us to stick together, was also the right decision at the time. After doing what we had, we released two albums and we really did feel satisfied with the whole thing, so we both moved on to our green pastures (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) you probably won’t believe this but the first record that I bought was The Blackening by American band Machine Head.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was a Finnish Power Metal band called Sonata Arctica. What they do is fast and really melodic. The vocals are almost classical operatic in style but with this really heavy and fast guitar, drum and bass. Give it a try, you might like it.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I was recently having a conversation with a few friends and we were talking about Enrico Caruso and they subsequently sent me over a copy of Lucio Dalla being sung by Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti and I have to come clean with you and tell you that I wept (laughter). What a performance it is. If you ever want to cry to a song, then you only have to search that one out (laughter).

As the festive season is upon us, what would be your ideal Christmas?

Any Christmas that I can spend together with my family, opening a few presents early in the morning, even though we all know what we have bought each other (laughter). We will all sit down together and have our Christmas dinner, after we have all been in the kitchen working away at it. That is my perfect Christmas, being together with my family.

On that note Jonathan, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful. You stay safe and I hope to see you sometime in the New Year.

Thank you for your time Kevin. You take care and keep your fingers crossed.