Ahead of her Abu Dhabi debut, Rob Garratt asks how Katherine Jenkins balances being both a British national mascot, and the tabloid fodder of gossip columns across the world.
Katherine Jenkins may be one of the greatest walking contradictions in modern music. On one hand, she’s the Royal School of Church Music choir girl who sang at Westminster Cathedral to honour Pope John Paul II’s silver jubilee. The conscientious teenage student who speaks four languages and won a scholarship to the esteemed Royal Academy of Music. The British national treasure who has twice performed in front of the Queen, given up two Christmases to entertain troops in Iraq (narrowly avoiding attack once and earning the nickname the ‘new Forces’ Sweetheart’), and was crowned the official mascot of the Wales rugby union team.
But lived in parallel with this biography is the life of the other Katherine Jenkins. The glamour girl who is hounded daily by tabloids, her every outlandish outfit and vertiginous neckline the daily fuel of the paparazzi hounds. The gossip mag staple, recently accused of courting publicity after taking to Twitter to deny an affair with another, somewhat higher-profile celebrity, which many never knew she was said to have had in the first place. The risk taker who notoriously called Piers Morgan – while, incidentally, he was in a sports bar in Dubai – to confess to a period of debauchery and excess few could have contemplated possible for the pretty, blond mezzo-soprano. Hardly the behaviour you’d expect from a classical crossover singer, you might say. But then that may be why Jenkins is one of the few contemporary classical vocalists most people have actually heard of.
When we sit down with Jenkins, 33, controversy is, understandably, the last thing she wants to speak about. ‘I have never encouraged that kind of interest in my personal life,’ she tells us. ‘And to be honest, I can’t see why anybody would be that interested’. While we’re not sure all would agree, we take that as a cue and stick to the music – something which, quite aside from the all the tabloid publicity, Jenkins is undisputedly rather good at. Said to have landed the most lucrative record deal in classical music history, at Dhs36.7 million, over the course of eight albums Jenkins has invaded the charts by performing a mix of traditional tunes, popular operatic arias, classical interpretations of pop tunes and, most recently, Christmas songs. Expect all the pomp, pop, glamour and glitz of Jenkins’ juggernaut crossover show when she rolls into Abu Dhabi on Friday October 25.
Hi Katherine. Are you looking forward to visiting Abu Dhabi? What do you make of the UAE?
I have performed in Dubai before but this is going to be my first time visiting Abu Dhabi, and I'm very excited, I constantly hear great things about it. It feels doubly exciting because not only do I get to perform there but I get to sing with the legend that is José Carreras. I used to study his performances when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music and I am a huge fan, so that is going to be special.
You’ll be taking a joint billing with Carreras, who was one of globally renowned The Three Tenors. Are you intimated? Are you two friends?
It’s such an honour to sing with José. He’s an inspiration and sharing the stage with him makes me want to be at my very best. We have performed together once before in the UK and it is something I will never forget, so I’m sure this time will be the same.
You’ve been described as a ‘self-confessed shoe-a-holic’. Now, the girls here at Time Out Towers would like to know how many pairs you own, and what was the last pair you bought?
I'm an all-round girlie girl so it’s shoes, handbags and jewellery! I have a pair or two... okay I have never actually counted but it’s a few! My last purchase was a pair of towering ankle boots by Kurt Geiger at Harrods.
Back to music. You’ve worked with many, many musical talents throughout your career, and met a shed load of celebrities. So tell us, who is the most intimidating person you’ve met?
When I was making my Believe album I got invited to a party by David Foster for Barbra Streisand’s birthday – I got totally put on the spot and everybody asked me to sing. And in the crowd I could see Sidney Poitier, Hugh Jackman and Warren Beatty... but most exciting and terrifying of all was seeing Barbara Streisand standing in the crowd stroking her dog Samantha, like a Bond villain listening to me sing. That was a moment I will never forget.
Who would be your dream musical collaboration, alive or dead?
I was due to sing for the late Luciano Pavarotti but sadly it was around the time that he got sick. Having already sung with José and Plácido [Domingo], it would have been a dream to complete the trio [of The Three Tenors].
Many people say that classical music is dead and buried to the youth of today. Do you think more needs to be done to promote the genre to a wider audience?
I don't think that classical music is dead and buried at all. If anything I think it has had a revival in the last few years. I think people can sometimes feel intimidated by the core classical concert-goers, however younger, more accessible artists have been instrumental in taking the music to a wider audience.
You’ve had a rollercoaster relationship with the media. Do you ever wish for more privacy? Or do you accept that as part of the job?
I will always fight for my privacy because I believe it’s important to draw the line. I am a singer not a celebrity, and I believe there are certain things that should be off limits and only for me. I have never encouraged that kind of interest in my personal life, and to be honest I can’t see why anybody would be that interested!
Katherine Jenkins performs on a joint bill with José Carreras at the Du Arena, Yas Island, on Friday October 25. Tickets, starting at Dhs395, are available from www.ticketmaster.ae and select Virgin Megastore outlets across the UAE.