GRAEME COUSINS talks to renowned Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins ahead of two scheduled visits to Belfast – one in her role as Songs of Praise presenter and another to entertain her fans in the Waterfront Hall
As a singer of Christian faith, mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins is relishing her role as a presenter on BBC’s Songs of Praise.
And as a world renowned touring performer, the Welsh songstress is living beyond her wildest dreams.
She said: “I definitely think my faith has played a role in my career. I learnt to sing in church.
“Our family always attended church, my mum was one of the Sunday School teachers and I became a member of the choir when I was seven.
“I used to sing two Thursdays a week and then do choir practice. It was a really big part of my childhood.
“When I left Neath to go and study at the Royal Academy of Music up until that point all the singing I had done was church music.”
The 38-year-old said: “I’ve sung since I was four. I always wanted to sing.
“I’d like to tell you that I thought all this was going to happen to me but in truth my dreams weren’t all that big. I really didn’t this that this could ever happen.
“When I signed my first record contract my mum and I didn’t tell anyone for six months. My mum kept saying, ‘things like this don’t happen to people from Neath’, and I know what she meant.
“We didn’t know anybody in the music business or in showbusiness. It was just something I was doing for the love of it.
“I thought my best case scenario when I went to the Royal Academy was just to get into an opera chorus and probably teach as well.
“Never did I ever think I’d be in a situation where I’d be making albums and going on tour and completely loving it.”
For Katherine getting a permanent gig on Songs of Praise was a dream come true: “I’d been on Songs on Praise as a guest singer for over 15 years, so now to be part of the official family I’m really, really enjoying it.
“I get to meet really wonderful people, each week is so different. One week I’d be speaking to a monk on Caldy Island, then next I’d be with a group of people doing a spiritual walk in the hills.”
She commented: “It seems like Songs of Praise has been on TV forever.
“I think what’s happened in the last two years is that they’ve had a change where they’ve been filming differently, taking it outdoors around the UK and Ireland to showcase that worship doesn’t have to take place inside a church.
“That’s why we’re coming to beautiful Belfast in a couple of weeks.”
Ahead of Katherine’s Waterfront Hall date on Monday May 27 she will be in Belfast to film for an upcoming episode of Songs of Praise.
She said: “I can’t wait to come to Belfast. It’s been quite a while since I was there. I’ve played the Waterfront Hall quite a few times. It’s so gorgeous.
“I looking forward to returning and seeing everyone, it’s been too long.
“It’s going to be nice to come here before the tour and then again for the concert. I’ll know it really well by then by the time I come back.”
Asked how she spent her time in the build up to going on stage, Katherine said: “I do things in an order. I have a little bit of a ritual.
“I think everybody thinks I have a hair and make up team, but I prefer to do it myself and get into the zone.
“Even more so now being a mum, it takes a little bit longer to get in that frame of mind, to switch the performer part on.
“It’s about being relaxed and calm. I’m never nervous when I step out on the stage, I’m usually pretty chilled. It’s more excitement than nerves.”
In terms of meeting fans she said: “We do an organised meet and greet before the shows. After the show, on the way out, I will always stop at the stage door and sign and do photos, whatever people like.
“What usually happens then, when I’m in the UK and I’m within travelling distance from home I usually just jump in the car and we drive home through the night so I can do breakfast with my kids in the morning.”
Katherine married American artist and film producer Andrew Levitas at Hampton Court Palace in 2014.
Together they have two children – Aaliyah Reign (3) and Xander Robert Selwyn (nine months).
The singer said: “My son is named after both my father and my father in law. Our daughter’s name – Aaliyah - it means blessing. It was a word that my husband and I heard in conversation. It’s such a beautiful word and she’s a blessing. We’re obsessed with our children. We love being parents.”
Given her willingness to entertain the nation’s troops, comparisons have been drawn between Katherine and Dame Vera Lynn, with the Welsh singer earning the nickname of ‘the new troop’s sweetheart’.
She said: “I believe it’s so important to entertain the troops.
“When I first started going out I was going to Iraq in 2005. At the time quite a lot of people were asking, including journalists, ‘does that mean you support the war?’
“Going out has nothing to do with politics. I truly believe that these amazing men and women put their lives on the lines, they’re away from their family, they do an amazing job. The least we can do is put as show on and say thank you.
“It’s something I feel very passionately about. It’s something I’ve been doing for 12 years. Even though maybe some of the places we go to aren’t so high profile any more I’m still doing shows behind the scenes.”
Asked if she read stories about herself or ‘Googled’ herself, she said: “Never, that’s just horrific. I always tell people if you’re ever in a newspaper don’t read the comments people write about you online.
“It’s never positive. There are people out there for whatever reason want to be nasty. It’s just best not to read it.”
If you weren’t a singer what would you be doing?
I think I would be teaching. It’s something I did for a couple of years around the release of the first album. I’m still in touch with some of my students. It was really refreshing. I think it’s something I’d like to do again.
How do you keep things fresh?
When I’m not excited about going into the studio or on tour then I think it’s time to give up. My day to day life varies every single day, I never get to repeat the same day. It never gets dull. As long as you love what you do that’s what inspires you to carry on and be better.
What’s you motivation?
Fan reaction is why I do it. People are so kind. They write me letters after concerts. They’ll say, I was moved to tears, I was going through a difficult time, I’ve had a great laugh. It’s not cheap coming to shows so I want to entertain people, give them the best night possible.
Do you get stopped in the street?
People are really respectful and really nice. You can hear them say it’s me, but they don’t approach me. Some people ask for photo, I’m so happy to do it. It’s nice of them to come up and chat. It’s never a problem.
What’s been your most memorable performance at a sporting event?
I do feel very, very lucky to have performed at a lot of the sporting events from a variety of sports. Being a Welsh girl it’s got to be any of the Welsh Rugby internationals. I would say it was probably the Six Nations clincher against Ireland in 2005 when we got the Grand Slam (Wales’ first Grand Slam since 1978). I’m also a tennis fan so when I got to sing at the closing of the roof on (Wimbledon) centre court that was a really special thing.
Any plans for an acting career?
I don’t think so. I’ve only recently got into acting. A while ago I did the Dr Who Christmas special. I did Carousel last year which was the first time I really got an acting coach and worked on an accent and that kind of thing. If it was something I wanted to do, it would have to be something in that vein to take me away from singing. I haven’t got the time that I want to do all the singing that I’d like so acting is definitely secondary. We’ll see but I don’t see myself committing to something like that for a long time. There is something on the horizon but all I can say is watch this space. It’s something a little different for me.
What are your thoughts on Welsh independence?
I have a rule that I don’t talk about politics. I’m really interested in politics but I try to remain a singer and not get myself dragged into these things. I’m never going to win by talking about it.