Iain Inglis used his brilliant voice to shoot to stardom in China, albeit in a very untraditional way - by singing communist revolutionary songs. The multilingual Welsh expat, 34, gained millions of fans, and votes, by appearing on prime-time talent show China's Got Talent early last year. He made it to the round of 16 finalists by dressing as a Red Army member and singing "red songs", which celebrate the beauty of China and the greatness of the Communist Party.
Inglis, who came and has stayed in China since and married a local woman, took time from his busy schedule - which includes applying for permanent residency on the mainland - to discuss his meteoric rise and his love of the songs he became famous for singing with gusto.
Why do Chinese people like your performance?
I am not sure whether that many people like it. Assuming they do, it may be because seeing someone who is obviously foreign singing old revolutionary songs in a traditional revolutionary outfit is rather different and is an anachronism. And for this reason it raises a smile. Of course, many Chinese grew up on these songs, and they invoke feelings of nostalgia in many older people.
What is most rewarding about your singing career?
At the risk of sounding trite, it has actually made me very happy. It has made me lots of friends all over China. I do not earn much from it at all, but it has allowed me to live a freer life here, and time to spend with my wife and friends that I would not otherwise have had if I had been working for a company. It has allowed me to appreciate China more by giving me the chance to see many interesting places as part of my singing engagements. For this I thank the party.
What are the biggest problems you have ever faced in China?
China and the Chinese have always been great friends to me. I cannot think of any real problems, other than a few small misunderstandings here and there. I would like to live with my family in Sanya [Hainan province], and being a permanent resident would not only be a great honour, but also would make my life in China more convenient.
What's your favourite funny story about being a red-song singer?
Although now I can laugh about it, at the time when it happened it was horrific. I was attending the Red Song Contest on Jiangxi Television, and as it went on, the pressure became greater. Other Chinese contestants and I began to forget the lyrics, so the station arranged for a large autocue to be activated for us at the back of the studio. However, I began to rely on the autocue and was not thinking about the lyrics as I was singing. Suddenly, the camera momentarily blocked the autocue, and I forgot the words on live national television. I was so preoccupied with the dance routine and the back-up dancers that I did not sing anything for about two lines and just looked really embarrassed there. However, I managed to recover and went into the next round.
Was there a defining time that led you to be a red-song singer?
After having gained fifth place in the Jiangxi contest, I went back to work in Sanya. However, calls for me to perform here, there and everywhere kept coming in. I began by taking time off work, but after I had used up all of my holiday time, I had to take leave of absence. My taking time off work to earn some money was in violation of my contract, and so my manager asked me to make a decision: either stay at work and not to take any more performances, or leave and he would wish me luck. I chose the latter and do not regret it one bit.
Bo Xilai, the former head of Chongqing, had been pushing revolutionary songs. How did his downfall last year affect your performance?
What does "socialism" mean?
As far as I know, socialism has no set definition. According to [Karl] Marx, it is supposed to be a transitional period of governmental and economic organisation. In practice, in many countries it has involved the nationalisation of industry and agriculture, and the socialisation of the means of production and distribution.
When did you discover your interest in politics and socialism?
I have been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. I began following the news when I was as young as 10, and "witnessed" the end of the cold war. Later I became interested in the former Soviet Union and eastern Bloc through my Russian teacher, who taught me my first red song. I suppose I was just curious as to why socialist countries were always described as our enemies during the cold war, and about what it was that made them different from those called our friends and allies.
Do you think China is still practising socialism?
China could be said to be operating its own brand of socialism, with Chinese characteristics. It is also referred to as a socialist market economy.
Among all the revolutionary songs, what is your favourite?
Socialism is Good is my favourite because I learned it even before I came to China, while I was living in Japan. It reminds me of my first ever visit to China in August 2003, when I bought a VCD containing the song. And it is the first red song that I performed - this was on Suzhou Television in November 2004 during a competition for foreigners.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Long live the great Communist Party of China.
Iain Inglis spoke to Keith Zhai