WELSH superstar mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, OBE, is among the world’s most successful classical singers.
Performing everything from operatic arias to popular songs and hymns to musical theatre, after signing a lucrative six-album deal on the Universal Classics record label at the tender age of 23, she went on to achieve a staggering 13 number one albums in just 12 years.
Then a freelance voice coach, she burst onto the music scene in 2003 when she performed at Westminster Cathedral in honour of Pope John Paul II’s Silver Jubilee and became the mascot for her much beloved Wales rugby team, singing the anthem before important international matches. She supported Aled Jones on tour, and had her debut performance at the Sydney Opera House as a guest of compatriot Max Boyce in 2004.
Jenkins has always accredited her down-to-earth nature with her Welsh roots and her family who she lovingly calls ‘The Taffia’. Jenkins’s father Selwyn passed away from cancer when she was 15 and since then his memory has been a driving force in her life – every album, every award has been dedicated to him.
In an interview with The Big Issue in 2016, she said: “I guess losing my dad at 15 shaped me for the rest of my life… It taught me at a young age that life is very short. Your life can change in one day. So for dad, I wanted to make the most of every opportunity. That is why still, to this day, every time I win an award or make an album I dedicate it to him. Because he was the driving force.
“I feel he’s on the journey with me. Too much good stuff has happened not to think someone is guiding me along a path. Every time I’m about to go in front of an audience I have a word with him, I ask him to bless my performance. So he’s always the last person I speak to before I go on stage.”
Born in Neath, south Wales, on June 29, 1980, Jenkins attended the Alderman Davies Church in Wales primary school in the town, Dwr-y-Felin Comprehensive School and Gorseinon College and learned to sing as a chorister of the local St David’s Church choir.
Her love of music was well nurtured in the Welsh valleys, where she had the opportunity to join choral groups and perform with Welsh male voice choirs, as well as participate in eisteddfods and other musical events.
She was a member of the National Youth Choir of Wales for three years, twice won the BBC Radio 2 Welsh Choirgirl of the Year contest and the BET Welsh Choirgirl of the Year competition. She was also awarded the Pelenna Valley Male Voice Choir Scholarship for the most promising young singer.
After working as a voice coach, a tour guide on the London Eye and as a model, she entered a modelling competition and became the Face of Wales 2000. She then decided to follow a musical career.
At the age of 17 she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating with honours and receiving a music teacher’s diploma. Within months of graduation, Jenkins signed the biggest recording deal in UK classical music history and released her first album Premiere which earned her first classical number ones as well as her first Brit Award for best album.
Sold-out tours followed and performances and recordings with Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, Jose Carreras, David Foster, Dame Kiri te Kanawa, Bryn Terfyl, Rolando Villazon, Juan Diego Florez and Il Divo.
As well as the opening night gala of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in July 2010, Jenkins has performed all over the world. She is a favourite of the Royal family, having been invited to sing God Save The Queen at Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, perform at The Queen’s coronation concerts at Buckingham Palace and at Her Majesty’s 90th birthday celebrations at Windsor Castle.
Not afraid of stepping outside of her comfort zone, Jenkins has appeared as a mentor in ITV’s Popstar to Operastar, played the role of Abigail in the BBC’s iconic Doctor Who Christmas Special, tap-danced her way through Viva la Diva with Prima Ballerina Darcey Bussell, as well as finishing runner-up in the US hit TV show Dancing with the Stars in 2012.
Also known as the modern-day ‘Forces Sweetheart’, charity work has always played an important role for Jenkins. After singing We’ll Meet Again with Dame Vera Lynn at the 60th Anniversary of VE Day, she became a trustee of the British Forces Foundation in 2005, travelling to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Cyprus and Northern Ireland to entertain the troops.
She is also an ambassador for cancer charity Macmillan, raising over £30,000 by running the London Marathon for them in 2013 in memory of her father. She finished the course in five hours, 26 minutes.
Jenkins and her husband, artist and film-maker Andrew Levitas, welcomed their first child, Aaliyah Reign, into the world in September 2015. Three years later, the couple had their second child, Xander Robert Selwyn, who was the inspiration for Xander’s Song, a newly-written lullaby for her son on her 13th number one album Guiding Light.
Jenkins said that becoming a mother had kept her going at a time when she was being unfairly portrayed as a diva by the British Press. “I don’t think my character is well suited to being a celebrity,” she admitted. “There was a time a few years ago when I had a bit of a wobble. I was getting stick left, right and centre and I thought, I don’t know what to do any more… Then I had my daughter and I stopped caring about those things so much. It didn’t matter how stressful my day was, I always got my cuddle time with her and I couldn’t care less what anyone thought.”
Her fifth album, Rejoice, included songs written specially for her, two by Take That’s Gary Barlow. The album entered the pop album charts at number three, beating the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud.
Jenkins commented: “I never imagined when I was a young girl listening to them on the radio that I would outsell the Spice Girls and Celine Dion. It’s almost too much to take in. I can’t thank my fans enough for all their support.”
Getting to meet, perform with and become friends with her childhood idol Kylie Minogue would be another career highlight for Jenkins.
“My teenage self would not believe she’d one day be friends with Kylie,” she said. “I admired Kylie all my childhood. I had all her albums, my sister and I learned all her dance routines, watched her every day in Neighbours. I remember when I was at school, my dad religiously taping Neighbours every day for me because I loved it so much.
“She recently asked me to come on and do a song with her as her special guest at her big Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall… I think back to my young self, dancing along to her albums, and I had no idea what would happen in the future. How amazed I would have been at the thought of it.”
When Jenkins released Sacred Arias, her last album with Universal Music, in 2008, The Daily Telegraph stated that Jenkins had signed the biggest classical recording deal in history, for US$10 million (£5.8 million), with Warner Music.
Her next album, Believe, in October 2009, featured Andrea Bocelli and other musicians like André Rieu and Chris Botti. In 2011, Jenkins released Daydream, with the Christmas album This is Christmas following in 2012. After a move to Decca Records, Jenkins brought out Home Sweet Home in 2014 and in 2016 released the album Celebration.
In August 2017, it was announced by Classic FM that Jenkins was the best-selling classical artist of the last 25 years in the UK, beating the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Rieu.
In November 2018, her 13th studio album Guiding Light was released, charting at number two. In May 2019, it reached number one, making Jenkins the first classical artist to have had 13 number one albums.
Away from her recording career, Jenkins made her debut on the West End stage in 2017, playing Julie Jordan in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel with English National Opera at the London Coliseum, her performance earning her rave reviews from both the British and international press.
She also appeared in a stage song-and-dance production, entitled Viva la Diva, paying tribute to stars including Madonna and the late Judy Garland. For the show, which opened in Manchester in November 2007, Jenkins learned to tap dance, spending eight hours a week learning the choreography.
In 2007, after giving a concert at Margam Park in south Wales – performing alongside Paul Potts and Juan Diego Flórez – Jenkins demonstrated her versatility when she modelled at Naomi Campbell’s Fashion Relief event for charity in a Julien Macdonald dress which was then bought by Sir Philip Green for £10,000.
Among a plethora of television appearances, Jenkins performed on The X Factor final with Welsh contestant Rhydian Roberts and made a cameo appearance in two episodes of Emmerdale which saw 11.6 million viewers tune in to find out who killed popular character Tom King, who was murdered on Christmas Day.
Jenkins made her film debut alongside Jonny Depp and Bill Nighy in Minamata and completed a 22-date UK and Ireland concert tour before making plans to perform in America, Italy, Australia and New Zealand in 2019.
Jenkins’s autobiography, Time to Say Hello, was released on January 28, 2008, and was also serialised in The Mail on Sunday.
In 2010, The Sunday Times Rich List placed her at joint 11th in the Top 20 Young Millionaires list alongside Leona Lewis and Charlotte Church with an estimated wealth of £11 million.
Jenkins was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for her services to music and for charitable services.
Katherine Jenkins discography, studio albums
Second Nature (2004)
Living a Dream (2005)
Sacred Arias (2008)
This is Christmas (2012)
Home Sweet Home (2014)
Guiding Light (2018)
Cinema Paradiso (2020)
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