from Manchester Cathedral

introduced by Michael Parkinson
both featuring



It is often said that there is little worth watching on British television. Even with all the high expectations of a couple of days of high calibre viewing over Christmas, it usually transpires to be a huge disappointment. This year was no different from any other except for two truly magical moments. [These two programmes were recorded earlier this month.]

Christmas Service 2003 from Manchester Cathedral
It is 11.25pm on Christmas Eve and all the little children are wrapped up in bed, each determined to stay awake to witness the safe arrival of Mr S Claus from Lapland. Don’t tell anyone, but I am equally excited by the prospect of seeing Hayley on television….

The programme commences and we see a brief aerial shot of Manchester in darkness except for its array of Christmas illuminations. The camera now leads us into the cathedral to the sound of the choir singing ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’. During the course of the service, many traditional carols will be sung, interspersed with words from the Bishop of Manchester, the Archdeacon of Manchester and several celebrities who will read lessons.

Quite early on, there is an appearance by Aled Jones who sings ‘O Holy Night’. Although this review is supposed to be for Hayley, I cannot omit to mention this section by Aled. Not only is it a magnificent performance of a beautiful song, but the image of him singing in harmony with himself (in footage recorded when he was fourteen) is truly inspirational. The same track appears on one of his CDs, but to see them ‘both’ as well as hear them is an early highlight of the programme.

Now the opera band Amici Forever sing ‘Adeste Fidelis’ and ‘Whisper of Angels’; the latter being based on Faure’s Pavane, Op 50, and both appearing on their debut CD. This highly original group are great and I suggest that their album is worthy of further investigation.

We also see a soprano who is new to me, known simply as Izzy. She sings ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, the delightful Welsh lullaby ‘Suo Gan’ and Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, all of which are thoroughly enjoyable.

Now we come to our Hayley. The first we see of her is when, along with five other celebrities in turn, she reads a short prayer and it is noticeable how well she speaks. As we know, Hayley has said that she doesn’t get particularly nervous but this is a different situation from singing well-rehearsed songs. Nevertheless, she looks totally confident and her speaking voice is every bit as lovely as her singing one.

Hayley is now singing ‘Away In A Manger’. During the first verse, we hear only her voice and the organ. For the second, the choir are softly humming which is subtle but very effective. The congregation join in for the final verse to raise the roof. As always, Hayley looks as beautiful as she sounds.

Hayley sings ‘Silent Night’ to the sole accompaniment of the organ throughout. Of all carols, I feel this one suits her the best. I have seen her sing it live three times now and it always has a great affect on my emotions in a way that no other singer has ever achieved.

This has been a thoroughly enjoyable performance from Hayley in one of the few programmes that was a joy to watch.

The next evening:

Christmas Night With The Stars introduced by Michael Parkinson

For those of you not familiar with the format of Michael Parkinson’s shows, he usually chats informally with each guest which, in itself, is usually highly entertaining. The guests, be they singers, comics or whatever, will then be given a few minutes to perform. Tonight the format is different. There is no chat, merely a series of artists providing continuous entertainment.

Other celebrities appearing include (in no particular order) Denise van Outen, Ronnie Corbett, Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne, Busted, Victoria Beckham, Ricky Tomlinson, Emma Bunton, Lenny Henry, Will Young, Enrique Iglesias, Jo Brand and The Kumars.

It is pleasing to hear Michael Parkinson giving Hayley such a good introduction pointing out that she has the fastest selling debut classical album of all time. He delivers the last three words with some force, which surely makes people take notice. So we come to the real highlight of Christmas Day – to sit back and enjoy a few minutes of Hayley. Much as a like her singing ‘Pokarekare Ana’, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’, which are the most obvious choices for a show like this, it would be nice to hear her sing one of the other gorgeous songs from her amazing CD. What will it be?

….And what a superb rendition she gives of ‘Hine e Hine’. With an audio link from the television to the hi-fi, her now familiar voice resounds around my lounge as it would if she were really here (I imagine!). Perhaps the arrangement of the backing vocals and instrumental accompaniment is less dynamic than the version on the CD but that is no criticism of Hayley whose voice sounds just perfect. For those of us who are familiar with the song, this new arrangement is interesting but, for those who have never seen or heard her, it may not impress them quite so much. Pity.

Visually there is a delightful sequence now; a long shot of Hayley bordered by two close-ups of her. Initially it looks as though one of the close-ups is a mirror image of the other but closer examination determines that they are original shots from two different camera angles. Three Hayleys at once – it must be Christmas!

Hayley is wearing a green full-length dress with a floral design in pink, ultramarine and gold. I am not exactly a fashion guru and usually take little notice of what people are wearing but, for some reason, I have always believed that green would look good on her. How right I was. She looks stunning.

Maybe this is wishful thinking but, to me, the applause at the end of Hayley’s appearance seems louder than it has been for anyone else. What a shame that she only gets to do one song. Never mind, it is lovely to see her and, on a well-respected show like ‘Parkinson’, and at prime time on Christmas Day, the exposure can only be beneficial to her already superb and rapidly growing profile. Hopefully it will encourage a few more thousand people to rush out and buy Pure. Hayley deserves every bit of success that is surely coming her way.

So, to all those little children who tried to stay awake on Christmas Eve but fell asleep anyway and missed Father Christmas, perhaps you can still see an equally special visitor who graced our homes with her presence this year. Hayley. Ask Mum and Dad to rewind the video and press ‘play’!

Roger Mansbridge



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