Video: It's a record as choirgirl Isabel puts name to Decca diva deal at 12
The York Minster choirgirl has landed a deal under the tutelage of former teen star Aled Jones – making her not only the first choirgirl to sign a major deal but the youngest classical artist to do so, according to record company Decca.
Her contract is with top record company Universal Music, home to the likes of Lady Gaga, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse and U2.
Jones, now a radio and TV presenter, is mentoring and managing Isabel, whose signing is regarded as another blow for girl power since it challenges the conventional dominance of male choristers.
Isabel, who lives in York and has a choral scholarship at the city's Minster, is now being branded simply as "The Choirgirl" and will also be put up as a challenger for the Christmas Number One spot when she releases a single, Michael Jackson cover You Are Not Alone, in December with the proceeds going to the charity Age UK.
For hundreds of years, female choristers were not admitted to cathedral choirs, and their acceptance has been a relatively recent development.
Decca, the classical music arm of Universal Music, said her signing was "an important turning point in recorded music". But Isabel, who won her deal after a nationwide search for the right choirgirl, says hymn book and cassock aside, she is just a normal 12-year-old.
She remembers how, as a seven-year-old probationer, she would have fun running races up and down York Minster's enormous nave. "We had to be really quiet, otherwise the old choirmaster would get really cross with us. But it was great fun; you could skid along on your knees," she added.
She was born in London, but she was little more than a month old when she moved to Tuscany with her parents and three-year-old brother Jack.
This was because her American father, James, is a celebrated wine critic whose job took him to Italy. Both her English grandparents fell ill and later died, and her parents separated, prompting Isabel's mother to move back to England.
They settled in York, where Isabel's piano teacher suggested she should try for a choral scholarship at the Minster, even though she had had no singing experience and according to her late grandmother none of the family had any ear for music.
The scholarship not only started her off on what is shaping up as a highly promising musical career, but salvaged the family's tottering finances at a difficult time.
"My mum hasn't got remarried, and I see my dad loads. He came just a week ago, and we went to Leeds and went to Wagamama, which is my favourite," she added.
Aled Jones said: "On hearing Isabel's voice I wanted to be involved in nurturing her special talent. She has such a great quality and I am very pleased to play a small part in enabling her to reach a wider audience."
Choirmaster Gareth Malone – who is hosting his Extraordinary School For Boys series on BBC2 – has written a new track, Lux Aeterna, for her album. It will also feature a version of John Lennon's Imagine, and studio wizardry means she will also be heard singing with Aled Jones on a track he originally recorded in his youth, All Through the Night, but which has never been released.
She is also teaching herself the guitar. "We went on a school trip to France and there was a talent show," she said. "I did one of the songs I'd written, but my friends bugged me by going round singing it. I was going 'shhh, stop singing it –it's terrible'."
Talent that struck chord with giant of music industry
Isabel sings in the choir at York Minster – considered the finest medieval cathedral in northern Europe by many experts.
She has been a full chorister since 2006, and is preparing to take her Grade 7 exams in both singing and piano this autumn.
Next Easter, the multi-talented performer aims to bag her Grade 7 in cello to go with them.
Meanwhile, she's learning guitar and dipping a toe in the water of singer-songwriting in what little remains of her spare time.
Her recording deal with an arm of the mighty Decca organisation comes after she won a nationwide search to find Britain's most musically-talented choirgirl. She was the only one competing from the York choir.
She experienced her first taste of working in a top-flight professional recording studio and found herself rubbing shoulders with a variety of famous artists.
Recording her debut Decca album took six days.