Classical Pop Diva

Hayley Westenra, the current darling of the classical world, started out busking on the streets of Christchurch. Now, at the wee age of 16, she’s ready to release her third album and launch into an international tour.

Hayley has been in London since February, where she was recording her new album, Pure, and doing some smoozing – including a showcase for key British media and a performance at the Classical Brit Awards.

She got back on Sunday and went to school on Monday.

Hayley says at times she hankers for some normality, but mostly she is pretty pleased with where she is.

“About a month into the London thing I got really homesick and wished I was back with my friends and at school.

“I went to school on Monday and it was really neat to be back but...going to maths and stuff, I thought ‘this is actually quite dull - I guess I am quite lucky’.”

Is it luck that got her signed to the Decca, the largest classical label in the world and the label carrying the likes of Andrea Bocelli and Pavarotti?

Maybe – but she’s certainly worked hard too.

Hayley started out performing in school choirs, musicals and other shows. She also took to busking.

“As well as earning some extra pocket money I think it really boosted my confidence because I got a really positive reaction,” she says.

When Hayley was about 11 she performed on McDonalds Young Entertainers, through which she developed a fan that suggested she made a recording of her songs.

So with busking money, she did a few home recordings and sold them on the streets.

Much to her surprise, people were interested and kept asking for more.

“I found it a bit weird because, who’d want to listen to me?” Hayley says modestly.

Universal Music apparently.

After a $5000 loan from a family friend and bigger run of the recording that they distributed through Sounds music stores, Hayley’s demo found it’s way to Universal and they signed her up before even meeting her.

Universal released Hayley’s self-titled debut, which charted in NZ for 18 weeks and peaked at number one for four weeks.

She then did a Christmas album, ‘My Gift For You’, which charted for six weeks and peaked at number four.

With any luck, her third album ‘Pure’ will enjoy the same success.

Hayley says ‘Pure’ has a lot more variety on it and has given her the chance to explore different areas.

“It’s got a couple of poppier songs on it. The debut was all made of show songs, a couple of classical songs and songs that had been done before. But now I’ve got a lot more of a mixture – two easy to sing pop songs, some original songs which are a crossover between classical and pop and then a couple strictly classical songs.

“It makes a bit more interesting and it gives me some options too - to choose some kind of future direction I want to go on.”

What she does want to do is start writing her own music.

“I do have quite a few ideas, but I need a bit of time to just sit down and write. Recently I’ve been so hectic that I haven’t really had a chance to sit down at a piano and just try and write. But definitely on future albums.”

This is not likely to happen any time soon though. Hayley is gearing up for a New Zealand tour, then will be travelling to Australia, Asia and the U.K.

“That’s going to be really really cool. Sometimes it’s quite hard ‘cause I’m away from my friends and the rest of my family, but it’s so much fun.”

At the moment Hayley’s mum is travelling round with her.

“It’s is nice because I know her and she knows me and what I need, so she can tell if I need or want some time out or whatever.”

So does Hayley live and breathe classical or is there more to her musical taste?

“When I’m listening to music I tend to listen to pop music – I prefer it. Favourites? I really like Vanessa Carlton’s music. I really like Craig David, and Nelly Furtado and who else...the Sugar Babes. A whole mixture really.”

And the big one – if you could do a duet with anyone, who would it be?

“[Long period of deliberation]’m not sure of this is ever going to happen but...Enrique Egalsias! That would be pretty cool.”

‘Pure’ hits NZ music stores on July 17.


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