Katherine Jenkins OBE, mezzo soprano singer, songwriter, actor and presenter, chats with Kevin Cooper about singing with Dame Vera Lynn at the 60th Anniversary of VE Day, her friendship with Plácido Domingo, her TV presenting debut on Songs Of Praise and her forthcoming Christmas tour of the UK.

Katherine Jenkins OBE is a Welsh lyric mezzo-soprano singer and songwriter. She is a classical-crossover singer who performs across a spectrum of operatic arias, popular songs, musical theatre and hymns.

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 British and foreign charts. In both 2005 and 2006, her albums received Classic Brit Awards as Album of the Year. She has also been seen widely in concert, including concerts for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; she has also sung at sporting events, on television shows and in support of many charities.

Jenkins was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to music and for charitable services.

Taking some time out of her busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, this is what she had to say.

Hi Katherine how are you?

I’m good thanks Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Oh that’s okay, thank you for your time too.

How is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is treating me really well thank you. I am extremely busy at the moment but I am thoroughly enjoying the business of work together with being a mum and all of the juggling which that brings (laughter). But I have to say that I am really enjoying things right now.

The last time we spoke you were about to tour your Celebration album. Were you pleased with the fans reaction to both the album and the tour?

Yes I was, I really was but I have to say that all of that feels like quite a while ago now especially with all of the projects that I have undertaken since then. However, I have to say that it really was so nice to receive such a positive reaction from the fans especially as it became my twelfth number one album. Those are the sorts of things that I never ever expect or take for granted so yes I have to say that it was a lovely response.

You recorded We’ll Meet Again with Dame Vera Lynn who had originally recorded the song back in 1939. That must have been a special moment for you?

What can I say, yes it was, and it was a very special moment for me. Dame Vera has been such an inspiration to me personally; I have seen first-hand just how much she means to the Veterans and their families. She was very instrumental in persuading me to go out to Iraq for the first time. She is somebody who means a great deal to me and so for me to get to sing that duet with her was really something very special.

What was Dame Vera’s reaction to the final product?

I am pleased to say that she really liked it. We used her original recording simply because she doesn’t perform any more. I personally felt that using her original vocals on the record was in itself very special. We’ll Meet Again is a song that I have sung many times but whenever you hear the original recording from that time it always seems to strike a different resonance, you really understand what the words mean in a different way because they were so real. I really do think that gives the song a different depth and it was an honour to sing with her.

I recall you and Dame Vera singing the song together at the 60th Anniversary of VE Day back in 2005 although I hear that she shouldn’t have been there should she?

(Laughter) just who have you been speaking to? That’s right, I did sing the song with Dame Vera and it’s also correct that she should not have been there with me (laughter). It was one of those strange situations really which I guess just happened. I was meant to be closing the show with We’ll Meet Again and when we rehearsed the song nobody told me that Dame Vera was going to be interviewed by Eamonn Holmes just before I was due on stage. So when I went out onto the stage to sing the song, I looked over and Dame Vera was just standing in a corner with Eamonn and I thought ‘that’s not right, this is her song’ so I went over, took her by the hand and bought her into the centre of the stage.

I thought that I would probably get myself into trouble with the television company because that was not what we had rehearsed but it just felt right for me to do that. Dame Vera should not have been at the back of the stage; she should have been out front and centre. As I have said earlier, We’ll Meet Again is her song, not mine.

And it was because of that duet that almost all of the British newspapers dubbed you as being “the new Forces’ Sweetheart” which is the nickname that was given to Dame Vera during World War II. Just how did that make you feel?

To be honest I have never really given it much thought. As I have said Dame Vera has always been a great inspiration to me, in that she has really dedicated so much of her life to either going out to entertain the troops overseas or working for the emergency charities based here in the UK. After my first trip out to Iraq I think that you can’t help but feel that you need to be involved in some way and she was right in the way that she told me her stories. However, I have to say that I now feel that it is something that I want to remain involved with.

You recorded You’ll Never Walk Alone for the Celebration album. Did you know at that point that you would be playing Julie Jordan in the musical Carousel?

(Laughter) no I didn’t. Its funny isn’t it just how life springs surprise on you. It is a song that I have been singing right from the beginning of my career. I have always loved it but when I got the opportunity to be involved with Carousel then obviously that song takes on a completely different meaning. It’s a song which in the show I only manage to get through the first two lines and then I break down, so I don’t even get to sing it in the show (laughter). My husband has just died in my arms and I am also pregnant, so it is really tragic and so I think that having had that experience in the show, for me, the words of the song will never be the same again.

On the subject of Carousel I have to ask, what was it like working with a certain Alfie Boe who played Billy Bigelow in the show?

What can I say, Alfie is just brilliant and for me it was such a great experience because it involved a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time performing in a musical, my first time in a theatrical performance such as that, my first time acting, my first time performing with an American accent, and the whole thing just seemed to come together perfectly. It was great for me to be working with so many talented people all on the stage at the Coliseum here in London with the English National Opera. It was simply one of those dream jobs which you look back upon and think ‘I really can’t believe that I got to do that’ (laughter).

Is it something that you would do again?

Yes, I think that now having done it the once I realise that it is a very different discipline which takes a hell of a lot of preparation upfront, together with a lot of discipline when you are performing in the show. You really do have to look after yourself but having said all of that, I think that if it was the right show together with the right music, maybe another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, then it would be something that I would be really interested in doing.

The last time we spoke you said that there were no plans for a new studio album at that time. Is that still the case?

(Laughter) I can’t say. I know that for you that is really annoying but a lot of the forthcoming year is full of things that I really can’t talk about. However, what I will say is that as soon as I can share them with you, I will.

So there is nothing that you can tell me at the moment, but I can assume that you are going to be very busy in 2018?

Yes that’s right, 2018 at this moment in time is looking like it is going to be a very busy time for me, so yes (laughter).

You have recently announced a ten date Christmas With Katherine Jenkins UK Tour. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

Yes I am, I absolutely can’t wait. I love being out on tour and I love Christmas so this is probably for me simply the best thing that I get to do at the end of my year. I also feel that I have a responsibility because as we know Christmas can be quite stressful; people are feeling like they are rushed off their feet, they are not prepared and they often forget what the actual festive season is really all about. What I have noticed from previous tours is that people are coming to the Royal Concert Hall up there in Nottingham and they are ready to enjoy themselves, they are already in the Christmas spirit, and everybody leaves the venue after the concert having sung a couple of Christmas carols together with me at the end of the show, and I have manged to put them in the right frame of mind and that really is a lovely thing for me to see.

Do you enjoy performing at the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham?

I absolutely love performing in that part of the world. The people there have been very kind to me over the years having played multiple nights there in Nottingham so I am really looking forward to seeing everybody again. The Royal Concert Hall is such a stunning venue and I really can’t wait to come back.

You will have Anthony (Inglis) as conductor with you once again.

Yes I will, and I have to say that I am really looking forward to working with Anthony once again. He has been with me since the very beginning; I love working with him, and the audiences absolutely love him. He has such a great enthusiasm for the music and loves getting the audience involved. He is very much excited about the forthcoming tour, almost as much as I am (laughter).

Will there be any surprises that you can tell me about?

(Laughter) but then they won’t be surprises will they (laughter). I can’t do that (laughter). What is really lovely about this tour is that on all of my previous Christmas tours they have included all of the music that I have recorded for Christmas and are songs that I love to perform. However, this year I wanted to include a lot more of the Christmas music that the audience will both know and love, but they will be songs that I haven’t performed before. So there are going to be quite a few pieces that people will never have heard me sing, but they will be very familiar with.

You have performed with some of the biggest artists within the world of opera, Il Divo, Julian Lloyd Webber, Andrea Bocelli and Plácido Domingo to name but a few. If I had to put you on the spot, which did you enjoy the most?

That’s easy, it would have to be Plácido Domingo simply because he is so fantastic. He is one of the nicest people that you will ever meet. To me he is the quintessential superstar in that he knows everyone’s name. Whenever we meet without fail he will always ask me about my mother. He has had dinner with my mum a few times now whenever I have been away performing. He is as nice to his co-stars as he is to the guy sweeping the stage at the end of the show; he is just lovely. I love the fact that he is very generous with his time with young singers. To me he has always been very supportive.

And congratulations are in order; on Sunday 23rd July you made your TV presenting debut on Songs Of Praise. How was that?

To be honest with you we just filmed an episode yesterday in Windsor and I have to say that it is such a lovely show to be a part of. I have been on the show before singing and I have always enjoyed being a guest but now as a presenter it is really nice to be officially part of the family. It’s great for me to be able to meet so many interesting and lovely people all over the country as we are filming the programmes. I personally feel that the show showcases the UK in so many positive ways and yes, I am really enjoying it.

I recently spoke to a very good friend of yours, Aled (Jones) and he told me working on Songs Of Praise was one of the best jobs that he has ever had.

It is so lovely and Aled, as you know, is a great friend of mine so for me to actually get to work with him every now and again is always such a good laugh.

You have recently become a Patron for Tusk, the renowned conservation organisation. With all of the atrocities happening throughout the world do you think that we can make a positive change in people’s outlook towards wildlife?

Yes I do, I really do. However, I personally feel that it is all down to educating the next generation and changing their perception towards wildlife. When you think about just how many people used to smoke cigarettes and it really did come down to their children who would say ‘mum, dad smoking is not cool anymore’ then it is now the same thing that we are hoping to achieve with the horn and ivory trade. We are hoping that these children will not think that it is cool to have a tusk on their mantelpiece. We hope that these kids finally do realise that they too have a responsibility to save the planet.

Having said that, I totally understand that it is a massive, massive undertaking but we absolutely have to do this. I’m scared that my daughter will never grow up to see a rhino in the wild and that would simply be one of the saddest things ever. If you ever get to see any of these animals running wild then you realise that it is a gift to be able to see them and nobody has the right to take that away.

On a lighter note, I recently read on your Twitter account that your husband was trying to get you to drink high end Tequila. Just what is the current situation regarding that, are you a convert?

(Laughter) what can I say, I sip it occasionally. My husband drinks an aged, very clean Tequila which is served poured over ice and you sip it. The one drink will most probably last you the entire evening. It’s like having a glass of fine wine or a nice port; it is something that you would sip. You can actually tell that there is a difference to the Tequila that gets drunk on a lad’s night out or a stag night (laughter). But being honest I am still trying to acquire the taste for it. I have to say that for me, at this moment in time, it doesn’t quite match up to me having a glass of good champagne. It is just not the same. So I am still not sure that it is for me (laughter).

You have mentioned the troops, do you enjoy going overseas and entertaining the boys?

I absolutely love going out to see the troops and doing those trips. They have been some of my best memories ever and I most definitely feel a real friendship with our military. I am very proud of them and whether it is me still going out to the places where they may need a moral boost or in times where there are not places for me to go to, if I can visit or help military charities here in the UK then I really do try to do as much as I can during my spare time. A lot of what I do is not publicised for obvious reasons, but it is still something that I feel very strongly about.

At this point I would have asked ‘what next for Katherine Jenkins’ but it is a waste of time as you can’t tell me (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right Kevin, I can’t tell you (laughter). All that I can say is that I am looking forward to a very busy December. Other than that there is not much more that I can say, sorry.

Well on that note Katherine, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful.

Thank you so much Kevin, it’s been lovely to talk to you. You take care and I hope to see you when I get to Nottingham. Bye for now.