Katherine Jenkins has just arrived for an afternoon of interviews – given at altitude, on the top floor of London’s Centre Point building. Though the main reason for the chat is to promote her new Daydream album, she is more than happy to talk about her recent starring role at Proms in the Park, as well as her willingness to go beyond classical music for her inspirations.
Of her Hyde Park experience, contributing to the Last Night of the Proms, she gushes in softly spoken tones – at odds with her singing voice. “It was brilliant. I really love Proms in the Park, it’s one of those really unique British occasions where you just feel very proud of being British and waving the flag and singing those fabulous songs. I always feel a huge honour to be asked to be involved, and to have 40,000 people there is a bit overwhelming – in the first few songs I was struggling not to cry!”
In recent years Jenkins has been a prominent feature at events of national importance, a trend she is happy to uphold. “I am quite a patriotic person. I’m proud of being Welsh, and proud of being British, so I think when you do get those occasions where you go along and sing the anthem at a sporting event, say, I always really love being invited to those things and love doing those things. I enjoy the sense of occasion.”
Daydream itself has a patriotic element, using traditional folk songs and themes as the basis for its big productions. “I was drawn to a couple of the folk songs,” she recalls. “Black Is The Colour was one I knew immediately was going to be the first track on the album, and from there I had a handful of songs I knew were going to be on there. My choice in songs came because of where I am at my life at the moment. It’s my first album in my 30s, and I’m thinking about things that I hope will happen like getting married and having kids.”
“I think when you daydream you have your most personal thoughts that you never tell anybody about, the really intimate thoughts and dreams” – Katherine Jenkins
Referring to the album’s title, she says, “I think when you daydream you have your most personal thoughts that you never tell anybody about, the really intimate thoughts and dreams, so that’s why I wanted the content of the album to be things you daydream about, like love and somebody not loving you back, of being in another world or another life or situation. In terms of presentation the last album was all singing, all dancing – big and dramatic, and I loved doing that – but this I wanted to be more personal, almost like I’m singing it to you. You can put it on and either think, or listen to it if you don’t want to think at all!” Does this mean it is her most personal record to date? “Yeah. I feel like it’s not so much about singing the big notes or showing what I can do, more about telling a story and taking somebody on a journey.
We move on to discuss the second series of ITV’s Popstar to Operastar, not long completed and won by Joe McElderry. “It was brilliant fun,” she says, smiling warmly at the memories. “I loved doing it because I used to be teacher when I got my record contract. I’ve always said I would love to go back and teach, because I really enjoyed it. It’s been great for showing how difficult opera is, doing it in a way that’s not intimidating to people, and I think it’s shown people that they know a lot about opera without realising it. It’s a lot of fun, with so many great people to work with. I loved working with Rolando Villazon too, he was like the class clown, and all we did was laugh!”
Her talk is noticeably in the past tense, suggesting the programme will not have another series. “I don’t think we’ll do it again,” she confirms. “I think we feel we’ve left it at a really good series, and we wouldn’t want it to get to a point where people are sick of hearing those kinds of arias, To take three months of the year to do it is a huge amount of time, because although it is a six week series we spend two months beforehand learning, and we think we’re happy with this one so maybe best to just leave it there.”
The profile of classical music and opera in particular has hardly been harmed. The response was “huge”, she says. “What made me laugh about it was that the most unlikely people in the street would come up to me and say they loved the programme, and would say ‘I love that aria from Carmen’. I think it takes some of the mystery away, because people sometimes can feel intimidated. People then understand where it comes from and what happens in the story, and that’s great.”
“I think a lot of us are purists in the classical world, and some are really against someone who tries to make classical music appeal” – Katherine Jenkins
Is working on television an aspect Jenkins particularly enjoys? “I do, but only when it’s the right programme. If it’s the right topic it’s loads of fun, but I think to go in to presenting is not for me just yet.” Does her profile mean people are too expectant of her as an ambassador for classical music? “I think a lot of us are purists in the classical world, and some are really against someone who tries to make classical music appeal, so I’m always battling that, but to be quite honest I don’t really care about that. They’re entitled to their opinion, and that’s fine because I disagree. Classical music was the pop music of the day, it was written for the masses, and they want to keep it as something elitist, and it shouldn’t be like that. Nobody should be excluded.”
“When I was studying opera, when I would go to see operas, I felt that I wasn’t really welcomed in to it then. There needed to be a change, and I think the fact you can now have a prime time show on ITV that is all about opera would never have happened five years ago. It’s obviously moving in the right direction.”
Has she ever been tempted to go the route of fellow Welsh singer Charlotte Church, who also started as a classical artist but has found her primary means of expression through pop music? “No, definitely not. I think that even though my albums have changed they’ve always been a collection of different styles, but I think in the last few albums I have incorporated more original pop songs, but I would never make an album just of pop songs. For one song it’s OK, but my mum always says ‘You worked so hard to sing properly, don’t stop using that!’ She laughs lightly.
Is she aware of her voice changing as she moves into her 30s though? “With every one it matures, there is a deeper and richer sound to it. I feel a big difference between this and the last album I find I’m not using the full on operatic voice all the time. That’s something I credit to David Foster, he’s the one that helped me with that.”
Is she likely to return to more classically based material in the future? “I never like to do the obvious,” she says enigmatically, “and people are asking me if I have given up classical. But this album I feel is more classical in style. I was thinking maybe the next album will be all opera arias, because I still love that, and that is where I feel at my most natural because of the training. Who knows? Maybe!”
In the meantime, we sit in the venue where she held her engagement party with Gethin Jones. Has this changed her perspective on how she sees her own career developing? “I am very career minded,” she stresses, “purely because I really enjoy what I do. However, I think it’s an aim of mine to try and find a little bit more balance. I am an all or nothing person and this is an all or nothing job, and it’s really hard to say no to invitations to sing. I need to find a little bit more balance, more time for the family, but I’m working on it!”
The new Katherine Jenkins album Daydream is out now through Warner. She begins a tour of the UK in the New Theatre, Oxford, on 7 January 2012.