Why opera star Katherine Jenkins is looking forward to singing in a Yorkshire wildlife park

Katherine Jenkins is headlining a special concert at Yorkshire Wildlife Park this month. Catherine Scott caught up with the world’s most successful classical singer.

Katherine Jenkins performs during the "A Starry Night In The Nilgiri Hills" event hosted by the Elephant Family in partnership with the British Asian Trust at Lancaster House on July 14, 2021 in London, England.(Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Katherine Jenkins performs during the "A Starry Night In The Nilgiri Hills" event hosted by the Elephant Family in partnership with the British Asian Trust at Lancaster House on July 14, 2021 in London, England.(Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

When the first lockdown came Katherine Jenkins announced she was going to do a free live concert every week on her Facebook page.

“I really thought we would be in lockdown for a few weeks – how wrong could I have been. I wanted to do the concerts to make up for all the ones I had been forced to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic and I made a promise to do a weekly concert from my home – I had no idea what I was saying,” admits the 41-year-old.

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“I thought it would be a way of lifting people’s spirits. I never thought I’d end up doing 27 concerts from my home to millions of people.”

Katherine Jenkins performs during the "A Starry Night In The Nilgiri Hills" event hosted by the Elephant Family in partnership with the British Asian Trust at Lancaster House on July 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

And like many of us juggling work and having children at home, Jenkins’ performances were sometimes interrupted by her five-year-old daughter Aaliyah.

Those that have missed Jenkins’ performances now have the opportunity to see her at a Wild Live Safari Night at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park near Doncaster on August 29, and the singer is really looking forward to heading to South Yorkshire.

“I have heard a lot about YWP and am a big supporter of all its conservation and welfare work, trying to protect some of the world’s most beautiful and endangered species from extinction,” says Jenkins, who is married to artist and filmmaker Andrew Levitas.

“I will be performing songs that people know well from across my albums from classical to hits from the shows. It will be so good to be in front of a live audience again and I think it will be quite emotional. Not just for me but for all the people I work with. It has been a tough time for everyone but especially those in the music industry, people’s livelihoods dried up overnight.

“All my concerts were pushed back by a year and then moved back again. I have never taken my job for granted. I know how lucky I am to do something I love so much for a living, but I never imagined a situation where the thing I love is taken away.”

Jenkins says she tried to look for the positives of being locked down at home with her husband and two small children Aaliyah, who is in reception and three-year-old Xander.

“We did home schooling like so many families and I have nothing but massive respect for teachers. It was so lovely to spend time together. Andrew and I are travelling a lot with work and you do miss the little milestones in the children’s lives, so it was actually really nice to just spend some time as a family. The children really bonded.”

She says her main concern during the lockdowns was for the members of her orchestra and people in her touring crew.

“It’s not just me, there are a lot of people who work with me on my tours. We did all keep in touch but we missed performing together but we did do things together online for fun.”

Katherine was born in South Wales, and learned to sing as a chorister of St David’s Church choir in Neath. Her love of music was well nurtured in the Welsh Valleys, where she had the opportunity to join choral groups and participate in Eisteddfods (Welsh culture festivals).

“From an early age I just wanted to sing. When other children were out playing I was just singing, singing, singing. But I never thought I’d do anything with it, I just wanted to sing all the time although it was mainly in church.”

But when she turned 17 she thought she would try to get into the Royal Academy of Music.

“I thought maybe I could be an opera singer, but I never thought it would work out like this.”

Within months of graduating, Jenkins signed the ‘biggest recording deal in UK classical music history’ and released her first album Premiere which earned Jenkins her first classical number one as well as her first BRIT Award for best album. She was just 23.

“I am from a really normal background and I wanted to show people that you don’t have to grow up being taken to operas and listening to classical music to make it in this world. All my music was from singing in church.”

Family is very important to Jenkins and she was deeply affected when her father Selwyn passed away when she was just 15 and since then his memory has been a driving force in her life with every album and every award dedicated to him. One of her son’s middle names is also Selwyn.

In 2019, she officially became the world’s most successful classical singer, having 13 number one albums in 12 years with Universal Classics.

She performed at Westminster Cathedral in honour of Pope John Paul II’s Silver Jubilee, became the mascot for the Welsh Rugby Team, and performed at Sydney Opera House.

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 more than £30,000 by running the London marathon for them in 2013.

Although she believes in luck, she also believes in hard work. “It’s a little bit of both,” she says. Jenkins says she did consider slowing down after the birth of her daughter.

“I thought after all my years of touring I would want to stop and take time off. But when I had my daughter I realised that I wanted her to see that I worked. My mum was a working mum and that taught me a lot and I wanted the same for my daughter.”

Although Jenkins is primarily known as a classical mezzo soprano singer she is not scared of pushing herself out of her comfort zone.

Her debut on the West End stage playing Julie Jordan in Carousel with English National Opera at the London Coliseum was greeted with rave reviews. She has also made guest appearances in a number of TV shows and appeared on Dancing with the Stars – the US version of Strictly Come Dancing – in which she was runner up.

Last year she appeared in her first film alongside Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy. Minamata was directed by her husband and Jenkins says she enjoyed the experience.

She has been asked do more reality shows but is very selective about what she decides to do.

“You will never see me in the jungle,” she says firmly, Although we will see her in a Yorkshire wildlife park in three weeks time.

To buy tickets to see Katherine Jenkins’ performance at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, on the August 28 visit www.yorkshirewildlifepark.com/tickets-and-passes/katherine-jenkins-tickets/