Sunday 11 December 2016

Katherine Jenkins talks a decade in the music industry, 'diva-gate', rugby, her love of Cork and upcoming motherhood

Published 20/06/2015 | 10:07

Down to earth: Classical soprano Katherine Jenkins is used to being hounded by the media, and says it is a hard part of her job as she never expected to be famous.
Down to earth: Classical soprano Katherine Jenkins is used to being hounded by the media, and says it is a hard part of her job as she never expected to be famous.
Katherine Jenkins wore an eye-catching Philip Treacy number
Katherine Jenkins attends the Glamour Women Of The Year Awards at Berkeley Square Gardens on June 2, 2015 in London, England
Katherine Jenkins
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02: Katherine Jenkins sits in the Royal Box before the Ladies' Singles quarter-final match between Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and Na Li of China on day eight of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon on July 2, 2013 in London, England.
Katherine Jenkins cheers as she watches the racing
Katherine Jenkins and Andrew Levitas

The first confirmed sightings of Katherine Jenkins' baby bump have sent the internet into a bit of a tizzy on the morning I am to interview the classical music super-star.

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She has been snapped en route to a London concert commemorating VE Day, wearing a stylish white dress and very visibly pregnant. Played across her lips is a smile that might be kindly described as forced.

Jenkins is one of the world's most photographed women – but, with an unborn daughter on board, her discomfort in the spotlight is obvious.  "Some people want to have weddings and family in the media – that's totally their decision. I've always tried to draw a line between the two. It's about having some sanity. My family and friends didn't chose this job. I chose this job."

So we shouldn't expect to see Jenkins (34) and daughter beaming at us from the cover of Hello! magazine after her due -date in the autumn? "I will be just as protective – if not more so, of my personal life [after the baby is born]. Not everyone understands that. I feel it is very important."

Jenkins has been famous most of her adult life and understands better than anyone the corrosiveness of celebrity. But if she wishes to keep scrutiny at arm's length  why did she announce her pregnancy via Twitter? "It was for my fans," she says. It's really important to me. They have been incredibly supportive over the last ten years – and this is the happiest news you can get. Why wouldn't I want to share it with them?"

Jenkins will continue to tour in the months leading up to the arrival of her child. This weekend’s Irish Independent Park in Cork will be one of her final performances before her daughter is due. After that, it remains to be seen how much of a baby sabbatical Jenkins will take.

She is – no pun intended – staying mum on the subject , though, several years ago, she did indicate that, should she ever start a family, she might well put her career on hold.  "I said in an interview that if am lucky enough to have children then I'd like to take some time off to enjoy that," she told me in an earlier conversation. "I can't do it [have a baby] now because life is crazy. With all the traveling and the touring, I don't think I'd be a very good mum. I never said I was giving up on music, which was what was reported.  Stuff gets blown out of all proportion. It was just a small sentence in an interview."

Even if you could care less about Jenkins' fluffy classical-crossover you will be at least vaguely aware of the Welsh singer. Her catwalk primed looks and effortless style means her fame exists entirely outside of the context of her music.

And that's without touching on her up and down romantic life, encompassing an on/off engagement to TV presenter Gethin Jones and a whirlwind love affair with American husband Andrew Levitas, whom she met while appearing on Dancing With The Stars in Los Angeles.  "The press and the attention… it's a learning curve," says Jenkins, still reflecting on the excitement over her baby bump. " I was 24 when I got into the industry. I'm 34 now. I have had to develop a thicker skin – to deal with press issues and stuff like that. I'm not sure I have personally changed a great deal. My girlfriends are still the girlfriends I had before."

She and Jones were together for almost a decade. According to Jenkins, it was Jones who ultimately called off the relationship, plunging her into an emotional crisis. 

"At the end of 2011 when Gethin and I broke up, the reality of it was that about two weeks later I had to go on a UK tour where every night I’m singing songs of heartbreak and every day just trying to find the energy to cope let alone going on stage and understand his reason for doing it," she later recounted.

"Meanwhile everybody else is under the impression it was my decision, my ambition, I wanted to take over the world. It was so far from the truth.”

I've spoken to Jenkins on several occasions and have always found her down to earth and chatty (though she is vaguely testy today on the subject of babies). It was difficult to square my experience of the singer with reports that surfaced last year regarding her alleged diva-hood.

Sources at her former record label had leaked to the media reports of outrageous demands, in particular a make-up budget that would have made Bertie Ahern blush.  "There is definitely a double standard in terms of men and women in this business," she told me at the height of the furore. "I might need hair and make-up done for TV. I know men who do exactly the same job as me – and they'll have as much spent on hair and make-up. Yet nobody cares how much it costs. But that's okay – that's how it is.

"I'm quite sensitive," she continued. "When I read something about me that's simply made up, it can get to me. My mum has a really good attitude: she says 'well we all know the truth – come back to Neath and we'll give you a hug'."  The diva 'scandal' – which it wasn't, really –  was accompanied by a Twitter spat with a British journalist who labeled Jenkins vain and shallow after pictures emerged of the singer running in the London marathon wearing lipgloss. The row rumbled on, neither side coming out of it particularly well.

In hindsight, it seems Jenkins rather regrets being dragged into it. Better to keep your dignity than stoop to mud flinging.  "When you are in the public eye you have to think about how things are going to be portrayed," she says. "With stuff like Twitter, usually it is best to keep calm and not respond. People will write really stupid things and try to get a rise out of you."

"I'm a Cancerian – I'm soft in the centre. Of course, if someone is writing things about you that you know are not true it can be difficult to read, or for your family to read. It's about changing one person at a time. You cannot make a judgement about someone until you've met them. When I do meet them, I hope I might change any preconceptions they might have."

Jenkins was born in 1980 in Neath, a small town near Swansea. She displayed a talent for music from a young age and at 17 won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Music. While studying she worked part-time as singing teacher, tour guide and model (she was the 'Face of Wales 2000'). Jenkins could have had a future on the catwalk– instead she signed to Universal Records, reportedly for a record-breaking $1 million deal. 

After decade in the business, it is remarkable that Jenkins has managed to hold onto her unblemished image. In addition to "diva-gate", in 2008 she confessed to taking drugs in her early 20s, an admission which got her sacked from her job singing the Welsh national anthem at rugby games in Cardiff ("The Vice Of An Angel" screamed one headline). It's all behind her now – in the moment, though, she genuinely feared for her professional future. 

"Of course, I worried it might be all over for me," she told me at the time "I didn't know how people were going to react. It could have been a career ending moment. I feel candor is the best policy. I think people might understand me a little better  if I am completely open," she said. 

"There is this idea that if you are a classical artist then you must be quite saintly, that you've never done anything wrong. It was an opportunity to say, 'look I haven't done everything right – I've made tones of mistakes and probably will again.' I believed very strongly that I needed to say it".

Jenkins is delighted that one of her final performances before her baby arrives will be at a rugby stadium in Ireland (she will perform with Jose Carreras).  "It is a dream come true will be quite a personal thing for me to sing in Cork. I did some concerts there last year and the response was amazing. And to sing with Jose. When I was studying at the Royal Academy I was encouraged to go to the library and explore to the recordings of the great singers and he was one of the people I listened to."

Being Welsh she is, of course, a rugby fanatic and says that Ireland is her second favorite team. She will, of course, be glued to the World Cup. She thinks Joe Schmidt's men will do well, though naturally would not be devastated were Ireland to suffer their traditional quarter-final loss to Wales. 

"I think you guys have a great chance," she says. "You have a great team at the moment. That said, Wales have a great team as well. I'm really looking forward to it – honestly, I can't wait. Ireland versus Wales is always my favorite Rugby match in the Six Nations Both sides want to win but it's almost a game among family. We do really get on. The Irish and the Welsh are very similar, with the same outlook on a lot of things. I always tell people that when I'm traveling the world – the Irish and the Welsh, we have so much in common."

Katherine Jenkins and Jose Carreras play Irish Independent Park, Cork, on June 20

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