Katherine Jenkins is the most prolific artist in UK Classical chart history, with 12 number one albums to her name, an international following and an OBE in 2014 for her charitable work and services to music. Ahead of a nationwide tour for her 13th studio album, Guiding Light, we caught up with the Songs of Praise presenter to talk touring, family and Stormzy.
Actually we're sitting here now going through the routing of the tour. One thing that's important for me is when I'm on tour in the UK, we always drive back every night – even if I get in at three o'clock in the morning – so I can get up and have breakfast with the kids and then go back out again. I hate being away from them and it disrupts their life to bring them on a full tour with me. So you just make changes so that it all works – but touring is my favourite part of it. I love to make albums and all the other stuff that goes with it, but the best bit of it all is seeing how an audience reacts to live music. I've missed it and I'm looking forward to getting back out there.
Does your family inspire your music?
Yeah, absolutely – I think Xander was only two months old when I went into the studio this time and I did a lot of the album prep when I was heavily pregnant. It'd been four years since my last album and in that time I had the two little ones, felt very settled, thankful and happy, and thought this is a great time to make new music. I wrote a song for Xander which wasn't meant to be on the album. We'd nearly finished the album and he was falling asleep in my arms at home. I'd just finished feeding him and wrote this lullaby prayer for his life. When I played it for my producer he was like, "We have to fit that in, it has to go on the album." So he gets his own song which I'm sure he'll be absolutely mortified about when he's 18. My daughter also speaks on ‘Blinded by your Grace’. I just thought that was really nice, it's a bit like a time capsule, her voice on a record when she's three; she's very excited about it.
March is our Women's Issue – who are your female role models?
I would have to say my mum. I think our family dynamic was quite ahead of its time back in the 80s – my dad took early retirement and my mum was the breadwinner. I wouldn't say my mum was ambitious, but she was really hard-working. She was a mammographer working in breast cancer and she gave my sister and me the sense of a strong work ethic; that you get out of things what you put into them. I remember her having a chat with us and saying, "Girls, you can be whatever you put your mind to, you don't have to think about the obvious jobs, it's all down to how hard you work at school." I joke with her now because at the time she said "if you work like this you could be earning £3 an hour, or if you did this you could be earning £10 an hour" – she laid it all out for us. I have to say she was probably the role model in terms of me going out there and wanting to be independent. When I had my daughter – after expecting to take a good chunk of time off to be at home with her – I remembered what my mum had done, and I wanted my daughter to see me working, to give her that example.
With your version of Stormzy’s ‘Blinded by your Grace’ – was that a conscious decision to try and reach people that otherwise might not be fans of classical music?
It's something I've always felt really strongly about because my background wasn't privileged. My mum and dad didn't take me to the opera; I didn't see an orchestra until I was in my teens. I was introduced to it because of church singing, that's when I found classical music. Because I'd had that nice introduction I didn't have any of the misconceptions about what it is. I've always felt like it was just about how you introduce it to people. I think that comes down to the choices of songs, not always doing classical stuff but trying to bring in a wild card that gets people talking. Definitely doing Stormzy was one of those ideas. I'm actually working on something at the moment with my husband. We've created an educational TV show for children about music. With the funding cuts happening in the arts, music and education, I think it's really important that children can access this kind of thing if they want to.
You're coming to us in April – have you been to Oxford before?
Yes lots! It's going to be really lovely to come back. Like I said, the touring is always my favourite bit and I think if people are spending their hard earned money on a concert ticket, I always want to make sure they get the best value and the best experience. I make sure we have a really great symphony orchestra with us, conducted by Anthony Inglis who's been with me from the beginning. I'll be singing a lot of songs from the new album but also a lot of the most requested songs from all the albums. We’ll have special guests and hopefully a lot of laughter. I think these shows should be fun – that's a misconception that classical concerts have to very formal, I don't believe that.
Katherine Jenkins will be at the New Theatre on 26 April, 7.30pm.