Tuesday 24 April 2018

Jacinta Whyte's 'gift from heaven'

Singer Jacinta Whyte can work all over the world but she's primarily a mother

You're a star: Jacinta Whyte will shortly perform at the NCH alongside her conductor husband Stephen Hill. Photo: Hannah McKay
You're a star: Jacinta Whyte will shortly perform at the NCH alongside her conductor husband Stephen Hill. Photo: Hannah McKay
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Jacinta Whyte has had a singing career that has brought her all over the world, but she has a particular fondness for Les Miserables. She met her husband Stephen Hill through the musical, and it also helped her to get on her feet and establish her career in the UK.

Having moved to London in 1988 with £500 in her pocket, she was struggling to get on her feet initially, and found it hard to suddenly adapt to becoming a very small fish in a big pond."The money was running out, and I thought I would have to go home with my tail between my legs. Then I got the job in Les Mis, and did years on the West End stage after that."

Jacinta first met Stephen in 1993 when he came to see her at a production in the Gate Theatre, and then they worked together on a production of Les Mis at the Point Theatre in Dublin. "I was playing the role of Eponine, so it was love across the orchestra pit," she says. "I thought he was a fabulous musical director and a wonderful pianist. He made me laugh with his dry sense of humour. Even now, our son is like, 'What the heck are you two laughing at?' We got married in 1997, and now live in Buckinghamshire, about 30 miles outside London. I count myself lucky that we're still together after all this time, and that he can still put up with me."

As Stephen is Methodist and Jacinta is Catholic, they got married in the UK with Stephen's family present, and then had a Catholic blessing in Dublin with her family. The biggest highlight of their lives was when their son Callum was born in 2000. "We were trying for a baby for a good few years, so by the time Callum came along, he was like a gift from heaven," she says. "I had quite a few problems conceiving and had a couple of miscarriages, so I knew we wouldn't have any more children. I felt so blessed that we managed to have this lovely baby."

People of a certain age will remember Jacinta, who's now in her 40s, playing Annie at the Gaiety in 1978, alongside Maureen Potter. Her mother realised that she had stars in her eyes when she stood on her grandmother's coffee table aged four singing Shirley Temple songs. Though the table broke, Jacinta went to a local tap-dancing school, won the children's talent show and a prize of £100 at Butlins in Mosney, and then then joined the Billie Barry school.

Prior to the Gaiety stint with Annie, Jacinta was selected from thousands of girls to play the role at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. She also went on tour with it for 18 months, which broke all kinds of box-office records. She had her hair dyed red for the role, and the dog playing Sandy lived with her in the home she shared with her three younger sisters, Paula, Antoinette and Carmelia, and her parents in Artane. Her dad, Vincent, was a foreman at Cadbury's, and her mum Patricia was a stay-at-home mother.

"I was only 11 when I went away to London to star in this big show, but it was an amazing time," she says. "I always knew that I had to do well in school, because if I got bad marks the nuns would say it was because of the singing and dancing. I had a very close core group of friends, who would let me copy anything I missed."

Jacinta did well in her state exams, although she was working non-stop through school at shows in the Gaiety or Olympia, while also doing cabaret and TV. She sang backing vocals for people like Johnny Logan and Linda Martin, and toured every year with Brendan Grace.

When she moved to London she enjoyed a busy and varied career, with acclaimed performances at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, Covent Garden and lots of West End roles. She also had her own RTE TV series, was a member of the judging panel for Starsearch and was a judge and mentor for RTE's Fame the Musical. Her film credits include My Left Foot, The Commitments and The Lilac Bus.

However, once Callum was born, Jacinta decided to take a few years off from touring and working on shows, but when he was two and a half, she was asked to do concerts again. She agreed after Stephen pointed out that one day their son would be grown up and she would regret letting her career go. "I decided to just concentrate on concert and corporate work, which still took me around the world travelling but only for short bursts," she says. "Callum is my priority, and I am first and foremost a mum who does a bit of work on the side. Whatever work comes in, I revolve it around Callum and Stephen. Stephen and I have our own company and often work together on corporate gigs, but he is also a very busy orchestral manager for many of the West End and UK tours on the road. Thankfully when one of us is away, the other one is always home. Outside of work, we're a taxi service for Callum for football, piano and school pick-ups, and now that he's a teenager, the party pick-ups at midnight too."

Jacinta and Stephen are looking forward to working on The Magical West End! at the National Concert Hall, where Jacinta and David Shannon will perform with the RTE Concert Orchestra, and Stephen will conduct. "I have been working with RTE CO since I was a little girl and there's no finer orchestra," says Jacinta. "The show is full of showstoppers and there won't be one song that people won't recognise. We have the Halleluia Gospel Choir singing with us too, and my 16-year-old niece, Katie Whyte O'Reilly, is in that, which is lovely. And to have my husband conducting is a dream really."

For the past year, Jacinta has been headlining her own one-woman show for the Cunard line on the Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria ocean liners. She does 15 week-long tours annually, and says that while it can be quite tough being away on her own, she enjoys the work. "It's hard being away from my boys, but I try to remember that I am coming back to dirty socks and a dishwasher," she jokes.

Jacinta recently recorded her first album, which Stephen produced, and she's really proud of it. Entitled For You, it's available on her website. When it comes to working with her partner, the singer says that they can fall out while rehearsing at home, especially when Stephen tells her how to sing something and she asks him if he would like to sing it himself?

"I wouldn't dream of contradicting him in front of other people or an orchestra though," she laughs. "Even if I ask him if I can have something a bit slower, I know by the raise of his eyes that I'm pushing my luck. I always say I fall in love with him again when he plays the piano, and I love watching him conduct. I just stand there and go, 'Oh my God, he's my husband.'

Jacinta Whyte will perform with the RTE Concert Orchestra in The Magical West End! on Friday August 7 at the National Concert Hall www.nch.ie


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