7th December 2003

Young talent's time

Encore cover

MY, WHAT a few months can do when your career is on fire. In July, 16-year-old Kiwi pee-wee Hayley Westenra was being introduced to Brisbane in a short performance at the 4MBS studios in Coorparoo.

Two weeks ago, the young Kiwi classical singer was a key participant in an exclusive London performance at a private dinner for the Queen, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush.

Those dignitaries were joined by their spouses and key US political figures such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice for a musical show based on the repertoire of renowned British musical director Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Hayley was called upon to perform four songs a solo of Pie Jesu; a duet of Let Us Love in Peace from The Beautiful Game with Irish singer Shonagh Daly; and a duet of I Believe My Heart, the lead track to Webber's new musical Woman in White which she sang with the musical's male lead, Kevin McKidd.

For the finale, Hayley joined the other stars on stage for a stunning rendition of No Matter What.

"It has been an amazing experience," Hayley said. "It's such an honour to be asked to perform in front of the Queen of England and some of the world's leading political figures, and equally amazing to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber. I still can't quite believe it."

When she spoke to The Sunday Mail from London last week, Hayley was still enraptured by the trappings of the event.

"We had to go through six sets of security checks just to get to the venue area," she says of the intense security blanket thrown over the London visit by President Bush by White House secret service staff.

But the exceptional has become the norm for this unique young lady, who wears her fame with a youthful nonchalance.

The eldest of the three Westenra children, all of whom possess notable vocal talents, Hayley was raised in the Christchurch area of New Zealand's South Island. Her parents encouraged all of their progeny but are decidedly not the archetype pushy stage parents.

After being signed by Universal Music in New Zealand in 2001, Hayley raced to Kiwi stardom with the release of her debut self-titled album. As well as beating out the likes of Dido, Craig David, Westlife and Robbie Williams, that album remained at No. 1 on the pop charts for four weeks.

She has subsequently gone on to become the biggest-selling local artist in her homeland, effortlessly knocking off the likes of Split Enz and Crowded House.

Ultimately, Hayley was signed by Decca International, and her first international album Pure was released in Australasia, the UK and Europe in July. It has earned gold certification here with sales of 60,000. The Oz platinum figure of 70,000 units is expected to be reached before Christmas.

Pure certainly won't be harmed by the addition of a bonus disc of four new tracks, including three of a seasonal nature.

But it's in the UK where Ms Westenra's talents have been most warmly received. The Pure album has rapidly become the fastest-selling debut classical artist in UK history. It reached gold status in a week and platinum in eight weeks. And it's quadruple-platinum in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Pure album offers an intriguing collection of classical, pop and even Maori repertoire. It was produced by Giles Martin, son of George Martin of Beatles fame.

"With the Pure album, I wanted to explore a variety of styles. Everybody involved with the project pitched in with ideas. But I wanted to include a couple of Maori songs: they're gorgeous and I wanted to share them with the rest of the world," she says.

Now she's facing up to one of the most hectic weeks of her life. After last night's Amnesty International Christmas concert in London's Trafalgar Square, Hayley today tapes a Christmas Day TV special with talk show host Michael Parkinson.

Tomorrow is a free day and then she plays the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening with Bryn Terfel and the following night with Jose Carreras at the same venue.

She launches her North American promo invasion next month.

Pure by Hayley Westenra is out now.


News Menu 2003

Home Page