Charlotte Hawkins: ‘Classical music was the soundtrack of my childhood’

Early risers will know Charlotte Hawkins best for her job as a presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Charlotte Hawkins. Picture: Daniel Kennedy
Charlotte Hawkins. Picture: Daniel Kennedy

But in the past three years she has moved into radio as well, helming her own show at Classic FM. Her Smooth Classics at Seven programme, broadcast on Sunday evenings, showcases her love of classical music – a fondness she has had since childhood.

Now she has taken things a step further, by curating Mindful Moments, the first of what is intended to be a series of compilation albums on Sony Classical.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“I’ve grown up with classical music, it was the soundtrack of my childhood,” says the 45-year-old, who also appeared in the 2017 series of Strictly Come Dancing. “My dad was a vicar, he would blast classical music out at every opportunity, and I had loads of friends who were interested in classical music but didn’t know where to start. I thought there was something here because where do you go with that introduction to classical music if you don’t know anything about it, so I wanted to pull together some of my favourite pieces to be able to share them with other people, so that’s where the partnership with Sony came about.”

Hawkins says everything was brought into focus by the Covid-19 pandemic “which has been so shocking and devastating for so many people”.

“For me, it was a change of circumstances, just coping with a crazy schedule from the newsroom point of view with this story that was ever-present that we had to deal with on a daily basis and also try to do other things like home schooling, it was a challenge in itself at times, and these particular pieces of music were ones that definitely helped me through it.

“It’s an intensely personal selection that I put together and I thought long and hard about what pieces should go in and what order, I wanted to create the right emotional response. I wanted it to allow people to have a bit of musical escapism, to have the right tempo pieces of music, but I didn’t want it to be too despondent, I wanted it to have that uplifting feeling at the same time. I just think for me having that time to take yourself out of a situation and let the music wash over you, have that feeling of mindfulness.

“Music is good for the soul and I truly believe in the restorative powers of music, and I guarantee that anyone listening to this selection of music will feel better as a consequence.”

Alongside pieces “that people will know and love” from Debussy, Elgar, Beethoven and Bach are “some more recent musical gems that people may not have heard of” by contemporary composers such as Alexis Ffrench, Ludovico Einaudi, Sophie Hutchings and Yann Tiersen. Hawkins, who played multiple instruments in childhood herself, says her five-year-old daughter Ella Rose provided a sounding board.

“She is good at having an emotional response to a piece of music. Sometimes with those slower pieces of classical music they can make you feel a bit sad, so I’d say to her, ‘Thumbs up or thumbs down, I’m going to play you a piece of music, I want it to be calming and relaxing but I want it to make you feel happy’. I’d play it and I’d get a thumbs-up or she’d say, ‘Mummy, it makes me feel a bit sad or a bit scared’. Some of the ones in a minor key have that creepy feeling about them. So we worked really hard together to make what was exactly the right selection of music.

“I’m so excited to be able to share it with people, and I think at this time more than ever, I really wanted to send out a musical hug to anybody who needs it right now. This music has helped me and I just hoped that it will do the same for other people.”

Hawkins says many of her go-to composers are featured on this album, but adds: “I don’t want to say too much, it’s like asking to me to choose a favourite child or something. Every parents gets asked that question and you don’t want to offend the others. I get different things from different types of music, but I think there are certain things in pieces of music that speak to me, and that was what I wanted to get with this: that emotional response. I wanted to create just that right feeling that I hope I can share with other people. It’s been a massive privilege to be able to put together my own CD and I’m excited to be at the stage where I’m able to share it with everybody else.”

The album contains several pieces of film music by the likes of Philip Glass, Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer and John Williams. Hawkins believes such composers have “undoubtedly” helped to bring classical music into new arenas. “It’s a lot of people’s first introduction to pieces of classical music, they watch the film and think, ‘I love that music’ and then they might go and investigate. People have those pieces that they know and love, and when music appears in adverts as well. It’s a really good introduction for people wanting to get into classical music. That’s often the way in but that will spark their interest in other pieces of music.

“I’ve tried to do a selection that’s for those people who know a lot about music, putting some pieces together so it’s sort of an essential collection for them, but also hopefully there are some new discoveries, a few modern musical gems that I might be introducing them to. Similarly for those people who haven’t listened to much classical music hopefully this will give them an opportunity to really relish and love and immerse themselves in beautiful pieces of music and really appreciate what people can get from listening to this.”

In recent months, Hawkins has also created a successful podcast, called Last, Past and Blast, in which she has interviewed musicians such as Katherine Jenkins and Myleene Klass as well as her GMB colleague Piers Morgan. “He said to me beforehand, ‘If you go nuclear on me I’ll go nuclear on you’. It’s the first time I think that an interviewee has threatened nuclear war before the outcome of the interview, but luckily that didn’t happen, we’re still friends, but there’s nothing quite like starting off an interview with that in your mind.”

Mindful Moments is out now on Sony Classical.