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Katherine Jenkins - more than just a Welsh pretty face

Story: Jack Foley

KATHERINE Jenkins would appear to be a name to watch...

She first caught the public's attention when she sang at a special mass, honouring the Pope’s silver jubilee, at Westminster Cathedral, in October 2003, and, a month later, made her international debut at the Sydney Opera House, as a special guest on the Max Boyce Down Under show.

This was aired on BBC Wales, on the eve of the Wales vs New Zealand Rugby World Cup match and achieved a 40% share of viewing figures.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg, in what proved to be a busy 2003 for Katherine.

In October, for instance, she supported Aled Jones on his tour - another former Welsh chorister, whom she has long admired – and she appeared as one of the special guests on the Hayley Westenra tour, which starts in March 2004.

During the aforementioned Rugby World Cup, the 23-year-old rugby fan was the official Welsh team mascot and recorded the Welsh Rugby Team’s Official Song, on Universal Classics, a rousing version of Bread of Heaven, which was backed by a 100-piece male voice choir.

"Unfortunately, I didn't bring the team any luck!" she lamented.

Last August, she sang the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, before her home crowd at the Wales vs England game in the Millennium Stadium.

"I was so nervous the week before," she admits, "but as I walked along the tunnel, 70,000 people were singing Delilah.

"I just felt so at home that I wasn't the slightest bit nervous. I sang, walked off and halfway up the tunnel I turned to jelly."

Not many classical singers get a recording contract immediately after
leaving college, let alone a six album deal.

Katherine, however, was signed by Universal Classics on first hearing.

She has recently finished recording her first album, Premiere, with producers, James Morgan and Juliette Pochin, which is due for release.

The collection of songs reflects her musical influences, with tracks including Habanera from Carmen, Ave
, John Rutter's The Lord Is My Shepherd, Welsh folk songs and some new arrangements of classic tracks.

Brought up in Neath, South Wales, by the time Katherine was seven, her interest in pop music had been superseded by classical music.

She started taking piano lessons and joined her local church choir.

Over the next ten years, she represented Wales on three occasions in the Choirgirl of the Year Competition, winning the BBC Radio 2 Welsh Choirgirl of the Year Competition twice, and the BET Welsh Choirgirl of the Year.

Between 1990 and 1996, Katherine was a loyal member of The Royal School of Church Music Cathedral Singers, where she achieved her St Cecilia Award - the highest award, and was also a member of the National Youth Choir of Wales for three years.

After nine A grade GCSE's, Katherine passed four A-levels, including Welsh.

Her music went from strength to strength and she achieved Grade 8 distinctions in both singing and piano.

She was awarded the Pelenna Valley Male Voice Choir Scholarship for most promising young singer and won the 'Singer of the Year' prize at the Gorseinon College Festival of Voice.

She was only 17 when she won a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Music, from which she graduated with Honours.

At the Academy, she studied Italian, German, French and Russian, played
Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte and Carmen in Carmen.

After she was voted The Face of Wales by the Welsh public, she supplemented her grant by modelling.

"My mum saw the competition in our local paper and she sent in two pictures for fun, and I got through to the final.

"I did quite a lot of make up and hair
modelling. It was a way of earning money and supporting my studies but I knew it wasn't ever going to supplant music."

Five years ago, Katherine was performing a Christmas concert with her college choir, at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea.

As she hit the high note, in O Holy Night, there was an enormous bang. The audience ducked, worried that they were being shot at.

A true professional, Katherine just
carried on singing, even as tiny shards of glass showered around her.

Her voice had cracked one of the chandeliers above the stage!

"I haven't done it since," she giggles," but I shall have to start practising at home to get the right frequency."

Needless to say, however, her voice has been in high demand ever since, and her album looks set to be a hot prospect. Wales has another musical talent to be proud of.

Order tickets for Katherine Jenkins at Blenheim Palace

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