Edited By Jonathan Cohen. March 27th 2004, 10:45 AM ET
March 27, 2004_

Hayley Westenra: Hayley Westenra Kiwi Star Impresses The World


Jill and Gerard Westenra's daughter is making them proud. Not only for selling 1 million albums at 16 years of age, but also for managing to fly around the world while keeping her feet on the ground.

Hayley Westenra's voice, as pure as the title of her hit album, is a jewel discovered and developed in her native New Zealand and now reaching audiences worldwide.

On April 6, "Pure" will arrive in North America on Decca Records, after selling more than 1 million copies worldwide, according to the Decca Music Group. The album has received platinum certification in Australia, with sales of 70,000-plus units; multiplatinum recognition in New Zealand, with sales topping 152,000 units; and double platinum recognition in the United Kingdom, with sales of more than 700,000 units.

Westenra is the first artist to receive recognition in the Billboard Platinum Stars series based on international platinum status. This series of reports profiles selected new artists that have achieved platinum sales for the first time, as well as established platinum artists who are releasing new albums.

"Pure" shows Westenra's fluency in classical, operatic and pop repertoire. It gained its international breakthrough through the Decca Music Group, which is part of Universal Classics and Jazz and headquartered in London. Costa Pilavachi, president of the Decca Music Group, reports to Chris Roberts, chairman of Universal Classics Group (UCG).

Following its release by Decca Sept. 15 in the United Kingdom, "Pure" became the fastest-selling album in the history of the U.K. classical charts and hit the pop top 10, snuggling up next to mainstream giants like Daniel Bedingfield and David Bowie.

"It's unbelievable [to hit] a million after just a few months," Pilavachi says. "We're sure we haven't fully penetrated [the United Kingdom] yet, and we haven't even started in the U.S., Canada [or Continental Europe]."

Bill Holland, divisional director of Universal Classics and Jazz U.K. and a 40-year industry veteran, remarks: "In some ways, it's the most phenomenal result I've ever seen for an artist."

Roberts, who is chairman of the Universal Classics Group in the United States and president of Universal Classics and Jazz for Universal Music International, acknowledges the extended lead-time for the release of "Pure" in the United States and Canada. "The timeline for her has been a bit elastic," he says. "We needed to be patient in developing an album that we wanted, in which the style, voice, key and tone were right for us."

Carol Wright, VP of international marketing at Decca Music Group, praises Westenra's professionalism. "She acts like a veteran, and she's got a strong sense of self," Wright says. "The easiest thing about this project is you have 100% belief in the artist. You know she's the real thing and she's not going away."

As for Westenra herself, "These sales figures still haven't sunk in," she says. "I'd be singing regardless [of sales], but it's humbling that so many people appreciate it."


Few artists from New Zealand receive awards from their prime minister. But Feb. 20, the 16-year-old Westenra was acknowledged by Prime Minister Helen Clark as the first New Zealand artist to receive an award for tenfold platinum status in their home market. The album also holds the record for most weeks—18—at No. 1 by a New Zealand artist.

"There can be no better promotion for New Zealand than our artistic excellence," Clark said at the event, "and the success Hayley has forged will open new doors for other New Zealand musicians."

Adam Holt, managing director of Universal Music New Zealand, agrees. "It's well beyond any of our wildest dreams," Holt says. "Her music doesn't fit many radio formats here, but there is a huge pride in New Zealand about her. She's a genuine superstar."

The young singer has been getting used to mixing with musical royalty. Last year, her idol Andrea Bocelli told her, "You have the voice of an angel." Andrew Lloyd Webber is writing a song for her. And she lived in London while recording "Pure" with producer Giles Martin, who co-wrote "Beat of Your Heart" with his father, George Martin. The venerable producer also adapted "Amazing Grace" for the album.

Giles Martin says, "I think her success is up to her, as opposed to me or the record company. She and I worked one-on-one for six weeks. When I met her, the first thing she asked was [if she] could make me a cup of tea, and I thought, 'This is going to be easy.' "

A continental European release of "Pure" is planned for autumn, depending on her U.S. progress.

"Right now, her positioning varies from market to market,"Roberts says."In New Zealand and Australia, she's adjusting to life as a real superstar. In Japan, she's being marketed as a classical artist, although she's not really a classical singer. The image [there] of her as a pure, innocent teenager is very important."


Westenra took her first steps onstage a decade ago.

At age six, a teacher noticed her perfect pitch when she took the title role in a school Christmas play, "The Littlest Star." Encouraged by her teacher to learn the violin, she soon added piano and recorder. By the time she was seven, she was reading music, and she had made some 40 musical-theater appearances by age 11.

A year later, Westenra recorded a personal souvenir of her fledgling talents. After completing this self-recorded disc, she went "busking"—street entertaining—as she often did with sister Sophie and brother Isaac in their hometown of Christchurch.

At one point, the crowd that gathered to watch the trio included a local TV journalist. That led to a TV appearance, the attention of concert promoter Gray Bartlett and, eventually, a deal with Universal Music New Zealand.

"The family used the proceeds from busking to make an independent record," remembers George Ash, then managing director of Universal Music New Zealand. "They manufactured [the record] themselves and sold it to stores [achieving sales of about 1,000]. They sent out copies to record companies, and that's when Universal got involved."


When Pilavachi learned of the excitement surrounding Westenra in New Zealand, he flew from London to Wellington to see the teenager sing in front of 100 people during a corporate function at a rural racecourse.

"I thought I should pop down to New Zealand and meet her," he says. "I was blown away by her charm and her family.

"Christchurch is very far from London and New York, and I thought if she and her family were really serious about having a major international career, it was important they know who they were dealing with," Pilavachi says of his meeting with Westenra and her parents, Jill and Gerald Westenra.

"I wanted them to audition me just as much as I wanted to see her in action. And, frankly, I wanted to meet the family," he continues. "There've been so many horror stories of young protégés with manipulative parents, I'd hate to be part of an exploitation like that. But they're lovely people. I was really impressed with the whole environment [she] came from."

A three-album deal with Decca followed, which the company reported is worth £3 million ($2 million).

Westenra says of Pilavachi, "He gave me more than the opportunity to be released internationally; he's part of my family."

In Asia, "Pure" has shipped close to 20,000 in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan combined, according to Universal Music International. But it is in the United Kingdom that Westenra has proved her global sales potential.

The campaign there included "tinkering" with the track listing of "Pure" to reduce the perceived pop content and ensure the album was eligible for the classical chart, according to Dickon Stainer, marketing director for Universal Classics & Jazz U.K.

"Pure" sold 19,068 copies in its first week to debut atop the U.K. classical chart and at No. 8 on the pop chart. Stainer says that while the first phase of the campaign had been "fan-based," this new success gave the label a story that attracted major media.

"What really drove Hayley's success [in the United Kingdom] was that she was able to be here for a long time," Holland notes. By early 2004, sales had soared beyond 700,000 in the United Kingdom; Stainer says the label is now targeting 1 million in sales.

To hit this target, on March 29, Decca will release Westenra's version of Kate Bush's 1978 No. 1 hit "Wuthering Heights," rerecorded from "Pure," as a U.K. single.

"My mum had Kate's version in her record collection and suggested it when we were choosing songs for the album," Westenra says.

Westenra will immerse herself in her U.S. launch just as she did in the United Kingdom. "I'm going to be living in New York with my family for at least six months," she says. "It's a big challenge because there's so much area to cover, but I'm fine with it."

George Ash in New Zealand believes Westenra's innate adaptability will help the young singer embrace the U.S. market, and vice versa. "She's as at ease singing pop as she is classical, which means she can do Oprah one day, the Disney channel the next and PBS the next with no problem."

Additional reporting by Anastasia Tsioulcas in New York.

News item thanks to Dave Ludlow

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