Katherine Jenkins OBE speaks exclusively about royalty, philanthropy and her favourite items in her wardrobe
By Fiona Sanderson
We speak exclusively to mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins OBE. The national treasure reveals her career highlights, what it’s really like singing for the Queen – and the reason she once smashed a chandelier….
Hi Katherine. What was it like performing in the front of the Queen for her Platinum Jubilee?
I’m such a massive fan of hers. The more times I meet her, the more I learn about her, the more I admire her. So to be at something so special as the Platinum Jubilee concert at Windsor Castle for the Royal Windsor Horse Show – an event that I know she particularly enjoys because she loves all the pageantry of the horses, and the dogs and everything – it was just such an incredible spectacle. I felt very emotional to be there with her. When she arrived, the whole arena went absolutely crazy. To sing for her is always a massive honour. It was really sweet because at the end of the show, when she did her drive around to leave, she gave me a little wave from the car and it really made me tear up – it was such an amazing memory. I will always treasure it. I’ve so loved being part of all of the Jubilee celebrations, because I think it’s been wonderful to see the country come together and show their gratitude and their love for her.
Tell me a little about some of your other career highlights?
As well as the Jubilee, I have performed for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, her 90th birthday, the Coronation Festival Gala at Buckingham Palace, I’ve sung at Royal Variety performances, and I’ve sung for the Queen at very, very small events and dinners of just 10 people. So, they are of course highlights. However, I would say that some of the career highlights for me are probably quite unexpected in terms of them not being what you imagine you’ll do when you’re training to be a singer, but I’ve been out to war zones and I’ve sung for the troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and they have been the most incredible trips. It’s a massive privilege to get to spend time with our amazing armed forces.
You’re singing at Henley Festival this year – what are you most looking forward to?
Henley is such a peaceful and a beautiful place and I’m so excited to be coming back as I really, really love it. I think it’s just one of those events that feels quintessentially British, yet feels very unique in its own way. It’s such a gorgeous setting, but what makes me smile whenever I think about it is that it’s one of the rare concerts where I look out into the audience and wonder if anybody’s better dressed than I am – because the dress code is black tie, and so everyone really makes an effort. It’s just amazing, and it seems so timeless to see everyone so elegantly dressed.
Could you give me a sneak preview of what you might be singing at the Festival?
Yes, I’m going to be coming with my Orchestra and it’s going to be highlights of all my albums – opera arias, classical versions of pop songs, songs from the shows. We’ve added a few new pieces that have been done especially for the Jubilee which are just fun and not too serious. A special programme only for Henley Festival’s 40th anniversary!
Who have you not worked with as yet that you’d love to sing with?
I do feel very fortunate to have sung with most of the classical legends that I grew up watching – you know, José Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Bryn Terfel. I sadly never got to sing with Luciano Pavarotti, but the others are brilliant, and very dear to me.
Well, you’re obviously passionate about your career, but you’re also passionate about the environment – what more should we all be doing to protect the natural world?
As a parent, I feel it’s our responsibility to bring our children up with an attitude of being a global citizen and recognising that we all have to part to play. We’re going to be taking the children to Africa on safari this winter, and that’s been a massive bucket list thing for me. When you see things like that, you become even more invested in supporting conservation. I think you [should] start with the younger generation, by showing them that we all have a part to play, and we can all start taking responsibility. Philanthropic work is very important to me. My mum was always involved with charity work, and she really passed on to my sister and I how important it was. When you have success, I feel your responsibility is to use that and to pass that energy on. I do a lot of work with charities which are really close to my heart, like Tusk, the Wilderness Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Support – because I lost my dad to cancer – and the British Forces Foundation. And then there’s another charity called Grief Encounter, supporting children who lose a parent, because I lost my dad when I was quite young. I think it’s really important to teach children to realise that you should always be doing what you can to help others. I’m very thankful to my mum for that lesson early in life.
How do you take care of your voice and how disciplined are you?
So simple things like drinking lots of water and being healthy, and trying not to get colds! I don’t drink alcohol a week before I sing, and I don’t speak for 24 hours before I sing – even to my husband. The voice is a muscle and so if you vibrate the vocal cords in any way, even with a whisper, they’re not getting the rest that they need. So, to get the cleanest and purest sound, you need to rest your voice fully.
What’s your advice for young singers hoping to follow in your footsteps?
My advice is always to just do as much as you can, from as young as you can. I was a member of the church choir and the National Youth Choir of Wales, as well as local choirs. I had singing lessons, and I was in amateur productions and shows. Young musicianship, being part of a team – it helps to build a wealth of experience so that when your moment comes, that lucky break, you’re ready to take advantage of it. Times have changed since I came out of the Royal Academy of Music, now it’s about having an online presence as well. So, I encourage young people to make performance videos which show your personality, showing who you are, what you’re interested in and what you care about, as well your voice and your performance.
Is it true that you caused a chandelier to smash, while you were singing?
Yes, when I was 20, but I don’t know how it happened! I’m told that the science of it has something to do with the frequency of the note and the type of material used in the chandelier. But yes, I was singing in a recital hall and when I hit the top B flat in O Holy Night, the chandelier exploded.
What are your favourite items in your wardrobe?
My wardrobe is ever-changing! I have all of my gowns in every colour, and I did like the blue gown that I wore for the Jubilee – I do love blue. Casually, I would pick my Loewe trainers. They are my go-to casual wardrobe staple for doing the school run. I’ve got a Balmain navy jacket that I can dress up or wear for a [more] casual look. But I like to dress up and I enjoy all of the fun side of that. Also, you know, I have a nearly seven-year-old daughter who is following in my love of all things glamorous, so it’s quite fun to do it together.
What is the one object that you are never without and why?
Maybe my antique Steinway piano. I bought that when I signed my second recording contract and that felt like a big treat. To have such a beautiful instrument in the house is very special.
Finally, the one question we ask everyone! What is your favourite luxury?
I love driving and I’ll often drive myself. You know, I’ll probably drive myself to Henley. I have an Audi Q7, which is big enough for all the gowns in the back. I would also say that a delicious cold glass of Champagne after a concert is also a treat.