by Felicity Monk
Wherever Hayley Westenra goes, ethereal adjectives seem to follow:
angelic, innocent, pure the words people (including singing
superstars Andrea Bocelli and Russell Watson) have used to describe
her and her singing. Inevitably, perhaps, Pure is the name of
her latest album the first of her three albums to be released
The record company asked her what she thought of the name. "I
was like, 'That's cool, yeah,'" she says. "But I was thinking,
hmmm, it does restrict me a little bit. It means I have to stay
pure all my life." Cue: girlish giggling. Right now, it's very
hard to imagine her being anything other than saintly. She's
got the routine down pat. I wonder if this has anything to do
with her mother sitting next to her on the sofa.
Westenra is friendly, demure and extremely obliging. She trips
over her words in the hurry to get them out and hardly waits
for the end of each question before starting up again. Like
most (polite) teenagers, her dialogue is peppered with the usual
exclamations: ohmigosh!, wow!, weird!, it's like, oooh. Unlike
most teenagers (polite or otherwise), she can captivate the
attention of thousands most of them much older when she
opens her mouth.
Her appearance long, tumbling curls, flawless skin and wide
aqua eyes framed with goopy mascara also fits the angel theme.
Her face, dare I say, radiates when she smiles, which she does
a lot. All that's missing is a pair of wings. The white jacket
with the snowy fur trim is almost too much. I want to scruff
her up a little. I wonder if she ever swears? I should have
This young lady despite being 17, chick just doesn't suit
is busy launching her international career. Decca Records
(the largest classical label in the world; her label mates include
Watson, Luciano Pavarotti and Bocelli) has made her its number-one
international priority. After the New Zealand release of Pure,
she's off to Australia, the UK, Asia and the US to promote it.
Next month she will appear with Bryn Terfel in a concert in
Westenra has just returned from four months in London recording
her album. Giles Martin produced it and his father, legendary
Beatles producer Sir George Martin, worked on it, too, writing
the song "The Beat of Your Heart". "That was a real honour,"
While there, she performed "Pokarekare Ana" at the Classical
Brit Awards at the Royal Albert Hall and managed to wriggle
her way into London Fashion Week, where, she says, someone from
her record company mentioned to a photographer something along
the lines of that "I was famous back in New Zealand, and so
the photographer started snapping away. And 10 of these other
photographers started snapping away. It was all a bit weird."
The awards performance, she says, has been the most exciting
moment in her career. She was the first person to perform there
without a British release to her name. Arriving at the awards,
Westenra received a full Maori welcome and haka. "When we stepped
out of the limousine, we were like, wow! I walked down the red
carpet and all these people were yelling, 'Hayley look over
here!' and I didn't know where to look. I was completely overwhelmed.
"After I had performed, I was whisked into this media room where
I had another dose of photographers in my face, snapping away.
It was weird, because in some ways they had no reason to know
who I was because I haven't yet released this album. To them,
I would have just been some unknown performing, so it was strange
to have people yelling my name out."
Meeting Bocelli (her favourite) at the awards was "really amazing.
I got a photo with him and he's so lovely. He was like, 'Oh,
you have the voice of an angel.' And I was like, 'Ohmigosh,
he's actually talking to me!'" She mentions a few others who
were there Terfel, José Carreras, Cecelia Bartolli each
name rolling off her tongue as though they were old friends.
Westenra possesses a modesty and sense of duty that are refreshing
and sweet. In the UK, Victoria Beckham heard her perform and
invited her to sing at her birthday party. Westenra declined.
"It was to do with some party they were throwing," she says
casually. "But I had the New Zealand Music Awards and also my
own concert back here in Auckland. It was a Mother's Day concert
and Sophie, my sister, was singing with me. It was, like, such
a big deal and I didn't want to cancel it. I'm sure she would
have been aware that I had commitments not many people would
turn down that sort of offer."
OHMIGOSHES ASIDE, her singing at Carnegie Hall with Watson and
gushing over meeting Bocelli, in the same way that other teenage
girls might about meeting Justin Timberlake, do set her apart.
The first CD she ever bought was by Bocelli she was 11 whereas
her classmates were into the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls.
Which is not to say that she doesn't enjoy popular music (Craig
David and Vanessa Carlton are favourites) or that she isn't
popular with her peers back home in Christchurch.
of her friends at Burnside High are musicians, too. "It's
nice having friends who are also into the same thing,"
she says. "They understand where I'm coming from. They're
not like, 'Oooh, a cello, what's that?'" Her mother, vigorously
nodding, adds, "They don't think you're a fuddy-duddy for
playing an orchestral instrument or something like that."
does the subject/object of at least three fan sites one
of them proudly claiming "Hayley Westenra, first fan site
in Japan" think of fame? "I remember when my
first album came out," she says, "I did a Google search
and found a few fan sites and I was like, wow. It's really
I don't know
weird." Comparisons to Charlotte Church
are frequently made and debate rages (on various websites) over
who is better. (Westenra is no competition in the notorious-attitude
category; the older Church wins the fallen-angel title hands
friends definitely don't treat me differently, they just see
me as Hayley. It's quite nice coming back and you can just be
yourself and have a bit of normality. But there are quite a
few third formers, and you hear them go [in whispered tones],
'Oh, that's Hayley Westenra.' People accept it, it's not that
big of a deal. They just see it as, oh Hayley, that's just who
she is, she comes and goes."
talent was recognised early standing on the stage at
her primary school performance of The Littlest Star, she belted
out a pitch-perfect tune that astounded her parents and impressed
a teacher who suggested that she learn a musical instrument
to encourage her talents. She took up violin, added piano and
recorder and by seven could read music. By 11, she had appeared
in over 40 stage productions, sung on TV shows (including McDonald's
Young Entertainers) and performed in a number of concerts.
came from busking on Christchurch streets, as did encouragement
from the impressed crowds. Her sister and brother would often
join her, too. Tourists frequently asked to buy copies of her
album having assumed that she had one. So she finally
went into a recording studio with a bunch of songs and, using
her own money, had 1000 copies pressed. She now refers to that
album as a "memento".
the deal with Universal Music New Zealand and a self-titled
album that debuted at the top of the pop charts (where it remained
for four weeks), turned triple platinum and made her the fastest-selling
artist in New Zealand's history. Her Christmas album, My Gift
to You, also went platinum.
Malvina Major first heard Westenra sing, she recognised natural
talent and offered her lessons. "She has taught me breathing
techniques and things that will help me make sure that I don't
strain my voice," Westenra says. "I had a vision that
she would be very proper and all that, being a dame, but she
was so lovely."
Westenra performed with Watson in concerts in Cardiff, Newcastle
and Wembley. "I think he's got a really good voice, so
it was really nice singing with him, we sort of bounced off
each other." He says of Westenra (in her promotional booklet):
"The first time I met her in New Zealand, I saw this tiny
girl and then this voice came out and it was incredible. The
only word that I can use to describe it is angelic. I think
she's a phenomenon."
perhaps, but still just a 17-year-old standing there on stage
in front of thousands. "When it's dark, and you can't see
anyone out there, it's a lot easier," she says, "it's
less nerve-racking. But once you walk out on stage, it just
totally transforms you. All of a sudden, you are in control
and once you have sung the first few notes, you know what you
are doing. It's like
released July 17.