classical & opera
Tuesday, 16th March, 2004_

News Menu Button Hayley is purely sensational!

David Henry

Hayley plays Manchester on March 24

THE term child prodigy does not do justice to 16-year-old soprano, Hayley Westenra.

It does not quite cover how remarkably talented the New Zealand teenager is in so many different fields. And just how young she was when people started to realise she was exceptionally gifted.

For example, she was just six when her music teacher noticed she had perfect pitch. When she was seven, she had learned to read music and could play both the piano and the violin. She got her first record deal at 13 and, at 16, made history when her album, Pure, became the fastest-selling debut classical album.

She is also an accomplished ballet dancer and can speak half a dozen foreign languages.

Having achieved so much so young, you cannot help assuming Hayley is going to be a right little monster. But, pleasingly, nothing could be further from the truth.

She is polite, bright, and thoroughly charming. And, thanks to a supportive family, who she says keep her feet on the ground, Hayley is also refreshingly down to earth.

It is impossible to imagine her going off the rails by dating a local boy her mother wouldn't approve of, taking up smoking and getting drunk with her mates, like another young opera diva.


Hayley loves what she is doing and would not jeopardise her blossoming career for anyone, let alone a wannabe DJ.

Pure, released last year, has already become an international hit. It is a mix of classical pieces, pop-tinged numbers, cross-overs and two Maori songs, as a tribute to her New Zealand identity.

It also, slightly incongruously, includes a cover of the Kate Bush hit, Wuthering Heights.

"Someone from the record company played it to me and I absolutely loved it. I hadn't heard of Kate before then, but I've really got into her music. I'd love to perform more of her work," she says, in her cheerful voice.

Legendary Beatles producer, George Martin, helped make the album. Hayley admits it was exciting to work with people of his stature. But she does not seem as impressed as you would expect.

"I'm not exactly a Beatles fan. We did sing Yellow Submarine in school, though."

Hayley grew up listening to classical music, but says she likes pop as much as the next teenage girl. Yet, it is clear she prefers the classics. Ever since her talent was first spotted, Hayley has been encouraged to sing and play classical music.

But she insists it was her choice, and her parents never forced her into anything.


"Everything I've done, I've wanted to do. My parents have never made me do anything I didn't want to. I love singing and I love performing. It is all I've ever wanted to do," she says.

By the age of 11, Hayley had performed in more than 40 stage shows, sung on TV and taken part in major concerts. Her big break came in 2000, when she was spotted busking on a street, in her New Zealand home city of Christchurch, by a producer from Universal Music.

He quickly signed up Hayley and launched her on the international stage. Since then, she has performed at the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall, and shared the stage with Andrea Bocelli, Bryn Terfel and José Carreras.

Her album sold nearly 300,000 copies in Britain in just seven weeks. And now she has been made a Unicef ambassador.

WITH so much already accomplished, it is easy to forget how young Hayley is. She is accompanied everywhere by one of her parents. At the moment, her father, Gerald Westenra, is with her.

She says: "I'm having an amazing time. This is what I've always wanted to do. There are, occasionally, times when I want to rest or do something ordinary. So that's what I do. But I wouldn't change a thing. If I wasn't here doing this, I'd spend all my time wishing I was."

Hayley Westenra is at the Bridgewater Hall on Wednesday, March 24. £19.50. For tickets call 0161 907 9000.

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