Westenra: Hayley Westenra Kiwi Star Impresses The World
PAUL SEXTON AND CHRISTIE ELIEZER
Jill and Gerard Westenra's daughter is making them proud.
Not only for selling 1 million albums at 16 years of age,
but also for managing to fly around the world while keeping
her feet on the ground.
Westenra's voice, as pure as the title of her hit album,
is a jewel discovered and developed in her native New Zealand
and now reaching audiences worldwide.
6, "Pure" will arrive in North America on Decca
Records, after selling more than 1 million copies worldwide,
according to the Decca Music Group. The album has received
platinum certification in Australia, with sales of 70,000-plus
units; multiplatinum recognition in New Zealand, with sales
topping 152,000 units; and double platinum recognition in
the United Kingdom, with sales of more than 700,000 units.
is the first artist to receive recognition in the Billboard
Platinum Stars series based on international platinum status.
This series of reports profiles selected new artists that
have achieved platinum sales for the first time, as well
as established platinum artists who are releasing new albums.
shows Westenra's fluency in classical, operatic and pop
repertoire. It gained its international breakthrough through
the Decca Music Group, which is part of Universal Classics
and Jazz and headquartered in London. Costa Pilavachi, president
of the Decca Music Group, reports to Chris Roberts, chairman
of Universal Classics Group (UCG).
its release by Decca Sept. 15 in the United Kingdom, "Pure"
became the fastest-selling album in the history of the U.K.
classical charts and hit the pop top 10, snuggling up next
to mainstream giants like Daniel Bedingfield and David Bowie.
unbelievable [to hit] a million after just a few months,"
Pilavachi says. "We're sure we haven't fully penetrated
[the United Kingdom] yet, and we haven't even started in
the U.S., Canada [or Continental Europe]."
Holland, divisional director of Universal Classics and Jazz
U.K. and a 40-year industry veteran, remarks: "In some
ways, it's the most phenomenal result I've ever seen for
who is chairman of the Universal Classics Group in the United
States and president of Universal Classics and Jazz for
Universal Music International, acknowledges the extended
lead-time for the release of "Pure" in the United
States and Canada. "The timeline for her has been a
bit elastic," he says. "We needed to be patient
in developing an album that we wanted, in which the style,
voice, key and tone were right for us."
Wright, VP of international marketing at Decca Music Group,
praises Westenra's professionalism. "She acts like
a veteran, and she's got a strong sense of self," Wright
says. "The easiest thing about this project is you
have 100% belief in the artist. You know she's the real
thing and she's not going away."
Westenra herself, "These sales figures still haven't
sunk in," she says. "I'd be singing regardless
[of sales], but it's humbling that so many people appreciate
artists from New Zealand receive awards from their prime
minister. But Feb. 20, the 16-year-old Westenra was acknowledged
by Prime Minister Helen Clark as the first New Zealand artist
to receive an award for tenfold platinum status in their
home market. The album also holds the record for most weeks—18—at
No. 1 by a New Zealand artist.
can be no better promotion for New Zealand than our artistic
excellence," Clark said at the event, "and the
success Hayley has forged will open new doors for other
New Zealand musicians."
Holt, managing director of Universal Music New Zealand,
agrees. "It's well beyond any of our wildest dreams,"
Holt says. "Her music doesn't fit many radio formats
here, but there is a huge pride in New Zealand about her.
She's a genuine superstar."
young singer has been getting used to mixing with musical
royalty. Last year, her idol Andrea Bocelli told her, "You
have the voice of an angel." Andrew Lloyd Webber is
writing a song for her. And she lived in London while recording
"Pure" with producer Giles Martin, who co-wrote
"Beat of Your Heart" with his father, George Martin.
The venerable producer also adapted "Amazing Grace"
for the album.
Martin says, "I think her success is up to her, as
opposed to me or the record company. She and I worked one-on-one
for six weeks. When I met her, the first thing she asked
was [if she] could make me a cup of tea, and I thought,
'This is going to be easy.' "
European release of "Pure" is planned for autumn,
depending on her U.S. progress.
now, her positioning varies from market to market,"Roberts
says."In New Zealand and Australia, she's adjusting
to life as a real superstar. In Japan, she's being marketed
as a classical artist, although she's not really a classical
singer. The image [there] of her as a pure, innocent teenager
is very important."
took her first steps onstage a decade ago.
six, a teacher noticed her perfect pitch when she took the
title role in a school Christmas play, "The Littlest
Star." Encouraged by her teacher to learn the violin,
she soon added piano and recorder. By the time she was seven,
she was reading music, and she had made some 40 musical-theater
appearances by age 11.
later, Westenra recorded a personal souvenir of her fledgling
talents. After completing this self-recorded disc, she went
"busking"—street entertaining—as she often did
with sister Sophie and brother Isaac in their hometown of
point, the crowd that gathered to watch the trio included
a local TV journalist. That led to a TV appearance, the
attention of concert promoter Gray Bartlett and, eventually,
a deal with Universal Music New Zealand.
family used the proceeds from busking to make an independent
record," remembers George Ash, then managing director
of Universal Music New Zealand. "They manufactured
[the record] themselves and sold it to stores [achieving
sales of about 1,000]. They sent out copies to record companies,
and that's when Universal got involved."
Pilavachi learned of the excitement surrounding Westenra
in New Zealand, he flew from London to Wellington to see
the teenager sing in front of 100 people during a corporate
function at a rural racecourse.
thought I should pop down to New Zealand and meet her,"
he says. "I was blown away by her charm and her family.
is very far from London and New York, and I thought if she
and her family were really serious about having a major
international career, it was important they know who they
were dealing with," Pilavachi says of his meeting with
Westenra and her parents, Jill and Gerald Westenra.
wanted them to audition me just as much as I wanted to see
her in action. And, frankly, I wanted to meet the family,"
he continues. "There've been so many horror stories
of young protégés with manipulative parents,
I'd hate to be part of an exploitation like that. But they're
lovely people. I was really impressed with the whole environment
[she] came from."
deal with Decca followed, which the company reported is
worth £3 million ($2 million).
says of Pilavachi, "He gave me more than the opportunity
to be released internationally; he's part of my family."
"Pure" has shipped close to 20,000 in Hong Kong,
Singapore and Taiwan combined, according to Universal Music
International. But it is in the United Kingdom that Westenra
has proved her global sales potential.
campaign there included "tinkering" with the track
listing of "Pure" to reduce the perceived pop
content and ensure the album was eligible for the classical
chart, according to Dickon Stainer, marketing director for
Universal Classics & Jazz U.K.
sold 19,068 copies in its first week to debut atop the U.K.
classical chart and at No. 8 on the pop chart. Stainer says
that while the first phase of the campaign had been "fan-based,"
this new success gave the label a story that attracted major
really drove Hayley's success [in the United Kingdom] was
that she was able to be here for a long time," Holland
notes. By early 2004, sales had soared beyond 700,000 in
the United Kingdom; Stainer says the label is now targeting
1 million in sales.
this target, on March 29, Decca will release Westenra's
version of Kate Bush's 1978 No. 1 hit "Wuthering Heights,"
rerecorded from "Pure," as a U.K. single.
mum had Kate's version in her record collection and suggested
it when we were choosing songs for the album," Westenra
will immerse herself in her U.S. launch just as she did
in the United Kingdom. "I'm going to be living in New
York with my family for at least six months," she says.
"It's a big challenge because there's so much area
to cover, but I'm fine with it."
Ash in New Zealand believes Westenra's innate adaptability
will help the young singer embrace the U.S. market, and
vice versa. "She's as at ease singing pop as she is
classical, which means she can do Oprah one day, the Disney
channel the next and PBS the next with no problem."
reporting by Anastasia Tsioulcas in New York.