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Katherine Jenkins....The other Princess of Wales


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 and  Andrew Levitas

Katherine Jenkins and Andrew Levitas

Getty Images


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.

Divas are generally supposed to be impossible bi-atches - manipulative and haughty in the extreme, cold to the point of sub-zero, sociopathic indifference to anyone other than fellow divas. They are also prone to ridic demands (Mariah Carey was infamously particular about her dressing room furnishings while on tour: "No busy patterns"), and on occasion contractually demand total avoidance of direct eye contact from their long-suffering subjects and media minions.

My initial observation of Katherine Jenkins is that she exhibits no signs of unchecked mania of the ego. In fact, after 90 minutes in her company, I am happy to report that she is perhaps the nicest, the most implacably down-to-earth and the most normal, so-called diva I've ever met.

"People have a typical view of a Wagnerian soprano with Viking horns," Katherine told US magazine Interview in 2011. Viking horns are as absent as prima-donna hissy fits as Katharine walks into her suite in The Savoy hotel in London last Tuesday evening. She laughs like a broken drain that "the whole diva thing is probably" the biggest misconception about her - "and you know, that I'm high maintenance."

She believes there is basically an unvarnished sexism, even misogyny, at work here. "I think it is an easy thing to do with a woman in classical music. I think people want to think you're a diva. I'm always amazed about how people talk about having to have hair and make-up and stuff for TV shows," she smiles, through blindingly white teeth, "but the male counterpart who does my job - and I know a lot of them - they all have the groomers and they all have the people to get them ready to go on TV. But no one ever says a thing about that. So I just think you're an easy target [if you are a woman]."

Katherine can recall being inspired by her mother showing her black and white movies with Judy Garland in them, or being off school sick and watching Calamity Jane at home on the couch. "I can sing every single word of Calamity Jane!" she hoots.

So, was it a 'jazz-hands' kind of showbiz family? "Not at all! That's the thing - it wasn't," she laughs. "My mother was the complete opposite of a sort of a pushy stage mum. I think my mum never let Laura and I," Katherine says, referring to her sister, "have a kind of idle mind. Like, any time we were at home, we would be never just watching TV. We would be making cakes or doing an art project or watching musicals."

Is that the kind of mother Katherine will be one day? "I think so," she smiles. "But in some ways, I look back and I think, some children are left to have an imagination and dream up things. I didn't have that bit. I was always kept active. I was always making things and being creative in a physical way with some stuff. Yeah, I think I will probably pass that on, because I like to be busy."

The folklore-ish tale of Katherine Jenkins, sweetheart-of-the-Valleys and classical music crossover superstar, is that she grew up in a council house in Neath, south Wales. (I assume it is a bit like the tale of Dolly Parton growing up in a one-room cabin on a tiny farm on the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.) I ask the alt.Princess of Wales about the truth or otherwise that she grew up in a council house.

"My mum always wants to have this one corrected!" laughs the blonde superstar, who was born on June 29, 1980. "Our house that we grew up in was an ex-council house that my parents bought. My dad lived in it for years and years before my mum and he moved in together." (Katherine's father was 23 three years older than his wife.)

"My mum thinks it has been somewhat dramatised. It was a nice house in a nice area. A very small house. It was the four of us and it was like a really happy house. So I don't know why it has to be made to sound so dramatic sometimes." Katherine characterises her childhood as being "very happy" - until she was 15 when her father Selwyn died of cancer.

Was it like her life suddenly could be viewed in terms of Katherine pre-15 and Katherine post-15? Everything changed because it had to change? "Yeah. . . " The sweetheart-of-the-Valleys is now crying. "I think it is a really weird dynamic that you don't really understand until you're older," Katherine says.

"Because my mum lost her best friend, her partner, the love of her life. We," she says referring to her younger sister Laura and herself, "lost our dad."

"And..." Katherine begins before stopping because the tears are welling up in her eyes. "I'm sorry that I'm a little emotional today because I am on the cusp of it because Polly, my best friend, passed away this year and it is her birthday today.

"So, it is the first one without her. It is really odd. She would be 33 today. She passed away in June. That happened this year. It is just weird because it is the same day as my brother-in-law's 40th birthday and her birthday. It is all a bit odd," she says her voice quavering more than a touch with emotion. "So I am on the emotional edge anyway today," she then laughs. "So, where were we?"

Your dad got cancer, I say. "And two months," she says, the tears welling up again, "he was . . .gone. It was a shock. I can't think of any thing I would change about my childhood pre-dad passing. We had this little caravan that we would go to sometimes, six miles down the road for a weekend, just to be together. I just laugh and think: 'This is so silly. We are going to Swansea. We live in Neath!' But it was about having a barbecue and sitting around the table and playing cards with pistachio nuts. I loved that time. I look back and they are some of my most special, and happiest, memories."

So, she wasn't kicking up about not being brought to St Lucia instead of Swansea Bay?

"I didn't know any different," she laughs.

"I didn't know what was out there, to ask for anything else. I was happy with what I had. I'm very conscious to make sure that I pass that sensibility on that my mum brought up in me," she says, meaning when she eventually has children of her own. "I definitely do not want to raise little monsters. I won't put up with it."

Katherine is candid enough to admit that she dealt with her father's death "through therapy. I went to someone. I was 15. Like I was saying earlier about my mum, she was experiencing a very different kind of grief from what we were experiencing. I think you need somebody who is completely outside of the circle, because it is like a chain reaction, you know?"

" If I'm upset and my mum sees me upset, then I'm bringing back the grief to her. So then you end up locking it all down, which is what happened. We all tried to look after each other. You're not dealing with it. You're not talking about it. I started having nightmares about dad. Recurring nightmares. So I went to speak to this lady."

I ask her what was the recurring nightmare. "It was about him being in the house and him not being able to get out of the house, because he was not well enough. That was obviously due to him being so frail and stuff at the end." Katherine is grateful for therapy because it allowed her to properly make sense of her father's death - "not be at peace with it," she continues, "but I think there is a point in your life where you go through a trauma and you can either let it be the thing that defines you or is the excuse for every bit of bad behaviour, or. . .you know, I am really glad that lady came to talk to me, because she was really helpful.

"I believe my dad is definitely with me," she continues. "I have no doubt about that. He has come back to talk to me. I feel him. I have a word with him when I go onstage every time. I feel like I am being guided on a path that I can't explain but that my dad is with me."

Katherine, who at the age of 11 won the Welsh Choir Girl of the Year competition, recalls that her 70-year-old father dad died two weeks before her GCSEs. He knew maths was not her best subject. Be that as it may, the night before Katherine's maths exam her father came to her in a dream telling Katherine to check under her bed.

The future sweetheart-from-the-Valleys woke up at dawn and looked under her bed. Under there, she found a maths book which she had forgotten to revise. On the first page was an algebra equation. On the last page of Katherine's exam was a question that required that exact equation.

At her father's funeral she wanted to pay a musical tribute to her late dad but knew she was going to be "too upset" to sing. So she and her little sister went into the church the day before and made a tape recording of herself singing Pie Jesu with Laura playing the organ. "Then they played it in church," she remembers, "and practically all of the school came to my dad's funeral. So it was quite an overwhelming event. It was my father's favourite song; I used to sing it when I was a chorister."

Asked if she sings Pie Jesu live now, Katherine says it took her a long time to sing it. The first time she recorded was for her sixth album, Sacred Arias, in 2008 "It took me that long, which is probably ten years past. I still get upset. I've sung it quite a few times since and it affects me differently. Sometimes I like that I get to mention my dad onstage and I explain why I sing this song. And it is nice to pay a little tribute to him. And sometimes I can hardly get the words out - and that's a harder day."

Dealing with a life so lived in the public eye, Katherine says, is "the harder bit of the job. It's a difficult one because you don't want to complain because I know I'm really lucky to do my job and I love it. Having said that, when I trained to be a classical singer, classical singers weren't what they are now. So then even if you were at the top of your game in the classical world, you were barely a household name. You weren't photographed going down the street. You weren't part of the celebrity culture thing that there is now. I always wanted to be a singer ; I just never expected it to be in this way. I thought I would be in an opera chorus. I would have been happy doing that."

Would she really have been happy in an opera chorus? "Honestly, I would - just singing for a job. I wasn't the best singer in the year at The Royal Academy. There were other, more talented people than me there, and they are maybe not now singing for their work. I know how lucky I am to be doing my job. So therefore to be in an opera chorus also would have been a lucky thing. To do something like that was how I imagine classical music would have worked out," she says.

"I am not sure I am ever going to get used to men running with me in the park with a camera in my face! That is always a bit weird! There is a line at which it goes too far and you think, 'God, that is crazy.'

"The minute we got married, everyone is getting calls - 'We've heard she is pregnant.' It's fine. I have talked openly of my love of family and of how much I want that; I was like, 'Are we going to get this every week? A weekly call!'"

Does she ever start to question her identity? "I know exactly who I am after these ten years in the business. You're right. There's you, and there's this preconception of you - a persona that is not necessarily what you also feel about yourself. It was quite difficult last year when I was reading this whole thing about me running the marathon in make-up in London and I raised £30,00 for charity with my cousin for publicity. They wrote that I ran it for publicity. I ran with a picture of my dad on the back of my shirt. I was really upset. My mum said: 'C'mon, ignore it. We know the real truth, and develop somehow a thicker skin.'

"I'm not sure that is in my nature," she admits.

The paparazzi attention has only increased recently because the beautiful mezzo-soprano got married to her American beau Andrew Levitas at Hampton Court Palace on September 27 this year. She describes him as a "typical straight-talking New Yorker. He is an artist, a sculptor. He does metalwork photography. I can show you his work," she says and disappears into the room to get her phone to show me pictures of her hubby's latest exhibition.

I ask her has she ever sung a song about him. "We Gather Lilacs on the new album," she refers to Home Sweet Home, "you think of it being like a World War song and you sort of think it is a nice pretty song until you actually put it into perspective in your own life. What if I was now saying goodbye to my husband for an amount of time and we may never see each-other again? If you put that in modern day, it is a heartbreaking song. I was trying to imagine myself saying goodbye to my husband going off to war and thinking that we would have better times."

"In Dreaming Of The Days," Katherine adds, " I thought about my dad and I thought about Polly because it is a song of like - 'Do I hear you calling to me somewhere? I feel like the energy being pulled upwards and I am dreaming of the day where I'll get to speak to you again. . .'"

In her home life in London with handy Andy (Katherine laughs at my joke), it is perhaps all her sitting at the piano furiously composing her next album while he is furiously sculpting in the other room. "It is a bit like that! I did come home a couple of weeks ago and he was in the throes of a main sculpture. I was like, 'Wow - my house is full of sculptures! That was quite funny. I did think: 'I love this.' I like that it is a very creative house."

The sweet siren of popera says that she and Mr Levitas were introduced by a friend who "thought we were similar people. While we are in a media world but to some extent he and I are more family-orientated people. So we are unusual in our world of work. Our friend thought we would get along."

"I think a bonding thing is," adds Katherine importantly, "that his father also passed away from lung cancer when he was young. He found out when he was 13 . He had a ten-year battle. So he lost his dad when he was in his mid-twenties. I think again that's something we have both gone through an understanding of."

'Home Sweet Home', Katherine Jenkins' 10th studio album, is out now. Katherine Jenkins and Jose Carreras are set to play a spectacular Midsummer's Double Bill in Cork, June 20 2015. Tickets for the concert are on sale now and are priced from €45 to €95.

I'm sorry that I'm a little emotional today because Polly, my best friend, passed away this year and it is her birthday today.

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