Classy Jenkins rejoices by looking after number one

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2008, 12:00am

Glamorous good looks and the talent to be Britain's best-selling classical music singer haven't diminished Katherine Jenkins' girl-next-door demeanour, but there are signs the Welsh mezzo-soprano is finally letting loose her inner diva.

Few others have Jenkins' credentials for the role. While in Hong Kong performing with Placido Domingo at the AsiaWorld Arena last Saturday, her latest album, Rejoice, was at the top of the local classical charts. 'Who is No 2?' she says.

Sarah Brightman perhaps wasn't the answer she wanted to hear, but it was a fair enough question; Jenkins' previous release, From the Heart, was at No 6 (it's been in the top 10 for more than a year) and she is the only singer in Britain to simultaneously hold the No 1 and 2 positions on the classical album charts.

Jenkins' star went supernova in Britain in 2003, when Universal music invited her to audition after hearing a demo she'd recorded during her final year at the Royal Academy of Music. She sang for a group of managers 'who looked terribly bored,' Jenkins says, and she left the company thinking her audition had amounted to nothing. An hour later she received an offer for the largest contract in British classical recording history, a six-record deal reportedly worth #1 million (HK$15.4 million).

She had been working for #10 an hour teaching children in London when her first album, Premiere, debuted at No 1, and Britain quickly grew accustomed to her down-to-earth charms.

'I cried,' she says. 'It was a Sunday and I was at my home in London when I got the call. I was sitting in the kitchen and I cried. I called all my friends one by one and got more upset. I think I may have even opened a bottle of champagne.'

Though she began her recording career with a flourish, Jenkins had in fact started singing while still a schoolgirl. The two-time Welsh Choirgirl of the Year recalled the time she shattered a chandelier, singing O Holy Night at Brangwyn Hall in Swansea.

'I hit the high note at the end and all of a sudden there was a huge bang,' Jenkins says. 'It was really loud. The audience ducked. They thought it was a gunshot; it was that loud. And then all these pieces of glass began falling.'

It was an innocent accident that could have happened to any world-class soprano, but Jenkins shows a devilish nature in wishing she could now do it on cue: 'I'd love to practise it so that when I'm at a party some day I could break all the glasses. That would be brilliant,' she says.

Though she's not teaching any longer, she'd like to be. 'No one ever believes that I want to. I loved teaching,' she says.

Touring prevents her from doing as much, she says, and the fact that she splits her time between homes in London and Wales.

She was also last month reported to have been eyeing GBP5 million (HK$77.27 million) Shirenewton Hall, in Monmouthshire, for a new country bolthole.

Other signs she might be developing into a diva are her high-profile relationship with television presenter Gethin Jones and her role as ambassador for jewellery company Mont Blanc, which had her showing up at a Grammy Awards ceremony wearing GBP6 million of the company's diamonds and with half a dozen bodyguards in tow. She outshone most on the red carpet - and she hadn't even been nominated.

Now her dance card is filled touring with the likes of Domingo and singing for the world's best symphonies as she tries to make her star shine brighter outside Britain.

'Singing with [Domingo] is so inspiring,' she says. 'Standing next to him during our duets is like having a master class.'

Recently, she's been able to play the mentor herself. In the business of being opera's girl next door, Jenkins' only competition comes from the boy next door, Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts. 'He's from the town next to mine,' she says. 'I'm from Neath and he's from Port Talbot.'

After Potts won the nationally televised competition, Jenkins invited him to sing his first live performance at her outdoor festival in Margam Park, in Potts' hometown.

Although purists might not appreciate Potts' autodidactic aria style or her own role as an opera-pop crossover, Jenkins believes the more important role is in bringing classical music to a broader audience.

'People buy [Potts'] album who might have never bought a classical album before,' she says. 'They're introduced to opera arias and might just go on to buy the opera.'

She says her role as an artist who crosses between classical music and pop has also helped broaden musical horizons: 'Being a crossover artist allows you to try all different things and see what you enjoy and try mixing them up.'

But she has few illusions of changing popular taste in music. Despite her fame at home and growing international renown, she remains grounded about her success.

'I've been very lucky,' she says.