kind of lucky'
has a £3m record deal and now the fastest selling debut
classical album of all time. The only problem for Hayley
Westenra is finding time to do her homework. Esther Addley
talks to the 16-year-old singing sensation.
Wednesday September 24, 2003
The story of how Hayley Westenra got her big break is
such a beguiling one it's a real pity that it's not actually
true. She was busking on the streets of Christchurch,
New Zealand, so the story goes, singing "a lot of classical
music, songs from musicals. I remember singing a Bee Gees
song, it's called How deep is Your Love," when a passing
journalist heard her, recommended her to a friend, and
Bam! Off she rocketed to pop-classical-crossover superstardom.
the version her record company prefers; Westenra isn't
yet quite cynical enough to play along. "What actually
happened was, I would go busking with my sister Sophie
at weekends, and after a while I earned enough money to
put towards something, and I decided I wanted to make
a recording of my voice. So I just sort of went into a
recording studio, and I ended up recording about 12 songs.
It wasn't going to be for anything in particular, but
friends, family members, everyone was asking for a copy
of it. And so, um. Yeah. We ended up getting 1,000 copies
made, and getting them distributed through New Zealand,
and basically I sent them off to some record companies
in Australia and New Zealand. And Universal music in New
Zealand picked it up!"
was 12 years old at the time. It's difficult to know which
of the two versions of the tale is the more remarkable.
is now 16, and has a £3m, five-album deal under her belt,
to which, this week, she added the fastest selling debut
classical record of all time. Pure, her third album (though
the first to be released internationally) sold nearly
20,000 copies last week, beating anything Charlotte Church
has managed - or Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli or Russell
Watson, for that matter. She is also at number eight in
the mainstream pop album charts, wedged between Daniel
Bedingfield and the Black Eyed Peas. "Yeah! I just never
expected what has happened!" she says in her whip-fast,
jangling New Zealand accent. She is utterly charming -
and entirely unconvincing. She looks like she was born
meet in the offices of the radio station Classic FM, where
Westenra has been recording some acoustic versions of
her songs for broadcast. She is on her third British interview
of the day, having been awoken by her father after a couple
of newspapers in New Zealand called wanting to talk to
her ("important papers in New Zealand, so I said, OK,
better do it, dragged myself out of bed"). Hello magazine
has been on the phone; her manager Steve is trying to
arrange for it to shadow her the following day, while
she's doing the Des and Mel show for ITV - "otherwise
we'll never fit it all in". Next comes more recording,
then a tour with Aled Jones. She is already booked to
record the Christmas Day broadcast of Parkinson.
should be an absolute monster, especially when she says
things such as "This is what I've always wanted. When
I was younger I always dreamed of performing up on stage!"
And yet she is the sweetest little thing, apparently entirely
without cynicism or brattish vanity. Hayley Westenra's
16 is emphatically not Britney Spears' 16; she looks,
if anything, young for her years, with her plump, white
porcelain cheeks and her pre-Raphaelite curls and the
sort of lithe little frame that you never keep for too
many years past puberty. And yet she's got an intimidatingly
confident stare and an impressive handshake, and you find
yourself wondering if this little girl really does know
no fear, as her manner suggests. It seems, in fact, to
be simply an unshakeable sense of entitlement that is
absolutely mystifying to someone outside her generation.
Her future goals, for instance, include "performing to
larger audiences". Last year she sang to 200,000 people
in New Zealand.
a surreal life, all the same. Since being signed by Universal,
Westenra has sung with Josť Carreras and Bryn Terfel and
Russell Watson, performing at Carnegie Hall and the Sydney
Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall. She has been appointed
an ambassador for Save the Children and Unicef (their
youngest ever) and, most recently, Amnesty. The string
parts on the album are played by the Royal Philharmonic,
some of them arranged and conducted by Sir George Martin.
And this morning she got an email from her GCSE tutor.
"He's sick at the moment, but I'm reading Wuthering Heights,
and he said, 'Write an essay on the relationship between
blah blah blah blah, Heathcliff, and you know, Cathy,
and this should take you three hours,' and I'm like, 'No,
that will take all day!'"
must also spend all her time with people a lot older than
her. "Yeah, I guess so. Actually, I was quite lucky, because
the other day I went to a fashion show, and we had like
an aftershow party, and luckily enough, there were two
girls, they were sort of early 20s, and I was lucky enough,
I just sort of hung out with them. But yeah, I guess a
lot of the time I am spending time with adults. I don't
really mind." On her rare days off she'll wander into
Covent Garden, she says, either on her own or with her
father Gerald, a "gemologist" ("he values jewellery")
who is travelling with her for the second half of this
year. Her mother, Jill, now at home in Christchurch with
her younger sister and brother, did the first six months.
"People assume they are really pushy, but it's not true,"
she says. "I think that just goes with the image of parents
in music. With sport, it's OK if they are encouraging,
but as soon as it's music, all of a sudden it must be
the parents who are behind it."
is a slightly odd album. Despite producer Giles Martin's
assertion that he didn't want it to be "just a showpiece
for a new singer's voice", it does feel a little like
that: a couple of traditional Maori songs, a blast of
Carmina Burana, one or two light pop numbers and a version
of Amazing Grace arranged by Martin's father Sir George.
What lifts it is Westenra's voice, which is genuinely
remarkable; just maturing into a lovely warmth, she has
a clarity to her upper registers which mercifully avoids
the dreadful, bared teeth, window-shaking vibrato of many
child sopranos. A cover of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights
sounds a particularly terrifying prospect: in fact Westenra
turns it into an effortless, dainty little confection
of a song.
for Westenra herself, she likes to listen to Daniel Bedingfield
and Coldplay, "and I've got a Celts CD that I quite like
listening to. I'm trying to remember who else is on it.
Some instrumentals, stuff from Lord of the Dance. That's
quite nice." What about Victoria Beckham, who invited
her to play at her World Cup party last year after her
parents heard Westenra in concert and called their daughter
in the middle of her set? "She's still recording, is she?
I don't really know what she's doing now. I bought some
Spice Girls albums. Well, I bought the first one. I was
eight or nine or something."
Charlotte Church? "I heard a bit of her first album, I
haven't really heard any of her other stuff. But yeah,
I like her. I mean, I don't really know what kind of style
she has been doing." (There is one key difference between
them: Church's money was held in trust for her until she
reached 18, Westenra has access to hers now, "but it's
OK 'cos I'm not extravagant.")
last time she was here, in early spring, Church was all
over the front pages thanks to her boyfriend troubles.
"I thought, poor girl, being hassled by the media," says
Westenra. "But I guess it's just that she wants to have,
you know, a social life. She's just being a teenager.
You could say that she probably missed out on... a lot."
She seems to have entirely missed the irony.
she worry about that herself? "I'm kind of lucky because
I've had a bit more time, and I am a bit older." But wouldn't
she resent it if the paparazzi started following her?
"I guess if they're interested it obviously means that...
it's just one of the aspects of being well known, isn't
it?" She laughs. "Maybe I'm being completely naive, but
I don't think I would mind! I'm sure I'll survive." And
you hold your breath and hope you can't see her future.
forwarded by Jon Milewalker with thanks to Guardian
Unlimited (Click for original article)