October 13, 2003


Hayley Westenra

by James Ellis, October 6th, 2003

YOUR 60 SECONDS EXTRA STARTS HERE: Hayley Westenra is the 16-year-old Kiwi classical crossover singing sensation. Discovered by a journalist while busking in her hometown of Christchurch, Hayley's debut album Pure has just gone gold after two weeks - and she's riding high on the pop charts, too. Despite all the attention and a £3million deal, this teen's got her feet planted firmly on the ground.

Shouldn't you be at school instead of talking to me?
Very true. I do have a tutor who helps me out so that's the way around that one. It can be difficult to have to stop thinking about singing at some point in the day and know that I have to settle down and do some maths homework or English. Juggling the two has its problems but you do need something as a back-up.

With £3million in the bank, I doubt that's needed.
It's not quite like that. I think it's good to broaden your horizons. I need to remain literate and learn things such as history so I have a general knowledge of the world.

METRO CAFÉ EXTRA: So academic qualifications are a must?
Yes. Although you don't need them all the time. Loads of people don't work in the areas that they study. Yes, you do learn things through the people you meet. You pick up some skills and knowledge from just talking to people - my geography skills are much better now that I've been travelling so much. But I still think some degree of learning academically helps.

Are you now making all those people who moan about crossover classical eat their words?
I guess they'll still moan. I haven't done anything drastically different to the classical songs I've done - I've just added a few pop songs to the album. Hopefully, what I do will introduce classical music to more people. I think the purists believe crossover artists don't sing classical the way it should be sung, but it's not as though I've put a dance beat to it.

METRO CAFÉ EXTRA: The story about your discovery sounds fantastical. Is it true?
Yes - sort of. I did start out busking. I used to go out with my younger sister Sophie. I made enough money to go and do a recording of my voice as I wanted a keepsake of how I sang. So many people became interested in the recording that I ended up getting a thousand copies made and got those into some record stores in New Zealand. I sent a few out to record companies and Universal offered me the deal.

Pavarotti or Spice Girls posters on the wall as a kid?
It's funny you should say that because the Spice Girls' first album was the first one I ever bought. I do listen to pop music. I just think that classical suits my voice better. I found out about classical by learning to play the violin and piano. I did do a couple of pop songs in my repertoire - Eternal Flame, How Deep Is Your Love by The Bee Gees. Now that my voice has matured, I've started branching out more. On the album, I've done a version of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights.

Which helps you with your English Lit?
Funnily enough, it is the book I'm studying for my GCSE. I'm halfway through it at the moment and watched the film before recording the song, so I at least knew what I was talking about.

Are you going to do Britney-style stage shows?
I doubt it will be that raunchy. I don't do any choreography or have any dancers or anything. I kind of walk around the stage and get into the songs - but it's all quite demure, to be honest.

Are you getting more attention from boys now you're famous?
I don't know. Back home, where the album has been out for a while, I think most of the boys my age were intimidated by the whole media attention surrounding me. Since I've been here, I haven't even had the chance to meet any guys my age. I'm busy doing all this promotion. I'm currently young, free, single and available.

Do you worry some of them will go for the money?
That does cross your mind. You just have to trust your instincts and hope that they are a genuinely nice person and are with you for the right reasons.

Can you see a Charlotte Church-style rebellion in a few years?
Not really. I come from a very grounded home. My parents are close and I have a younger brother and sister. We're all close, so I don't think they'd let me go off the rails. They haven't restricted me. I've had my freedom, so it's not as though I need to break free.

Are your parents pushy?
I feel sorry for my parents. There's always a perception when someone does something quite young that they must have the parents from hell. That's not true about mine at all. All they've done is support me. As soon as I showed an interest in singing professionally and it was obvious that I was going to release an album, they've helped me out by choosing pictures and stuff. Just helping me get things off the ground. But they never pushed me into singing.

METRO CAFÉ EXTRA: It must be tough on them juggling family here and in NZ.
It is. For the first two months my mum was here with me. My dad's with me now. They have to alternate. It's not only me but my brother and sister who need attention from both parents. Phone calls are the main way we stay in touch. It's tough, but that's the way it has to be at the moment.

What's been your biggest extravagance?
I don't really spend all that much money. I went and bought a pair of Miss Sixty jeans the other day and, coming from New Zealand, you have to triple everything. I paid £80, but that's NZ$240. I couldn't believe it. That's a fortune!

© 2003 Associated Metro Limited


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