New Zealand songbird Hayley Westernra has started a mini-revolution.
The girl with perfect pitch has gotten teens and young adults
to enjoy listening to classical music. Her album “Pure” went
past two million in sales in the U.K. and one million is Asia,
Australia/New Zealand. The interesting thing is that the cd
debuted #1 on the Brit classical charts but also appeared
on U.K. Pop charts at #8 right there with Sting, Dido, Kylie
Minogue and Britney. It remained in the Top 10 for eight weeks.
Her music has a lot of crossover potential. At one point,
versatile Hayley also danced ballet in a national company!
beautiful, blue-eyed, soft-spoken teen has performed for the
Queen, George Bush and other heads of state but started out
singing in school groups and, for extra money, sang with pals
on the streets of her native Christchurch, New Zealand. Hayley
is super busy with t.v. and concert appearances, a Disney
radio tour and work as the youngest ever Ambassador to UNICEF.
sat down with her for a chat in her hotel room while she was
visiting Los Angeles with her dad Gerald who helps her out
while she’s away from home. She was in the states for radio
shows and singing the national anthem at a NASCAR event. Hayley
looked very chic in jeans, a multi-colored Dolce and Gabanna
top, black slides with leather flower bows and a big turquoise
dad ironing (yes ironing) something in the background, Hayley
and I chatted about her album, musical plans, love for native
Maori songs, what she’s looking for in a boyfriend, her fave
movie hottie, what it’s like turning 17 and other gurltalk.
Check it out:
You just had a birthday last month. Did you have the chance
to do anything fun?
Gosh. I enjoy just sleeping in. I went to the gym, which is
like a novelty for me, I just feel so much better. Then we
went for a walk around New York and we went out to this really
nice restaurant called Zen Palace.
So where is home now? Are you still in London?
Home is Christchurch, which is back in New Zealand. I am going
back to the UK, after being here in America, for a month to
study for my (college entrance) exams. Then I come back to
America then, in about another month to New Zealand to shoot
a PBS special. Great Performances on PBS. Then I come back
again to America and basically spend the rest of the year
Whew! So you haven’t really had a chance to see any of the
Hollywood sites yet?
Not really, no.
What is the best thing about being seventeen and what is the
The best thing about being seventeen is you are one step closer
to being eighteen. Being seventeen you don’t have the responsibilities
of being eighteen as well, which is kind of a benefit.
Are you driving yet? And if you are what are you driving?
No I am not driving. I really desperately want to get my driver’s
license, but I haven’t had the chance to have some lessons.
It has been hard enough fitting in school lessons.
Do you have a tutor now?
Yeah. I do. I was going to regular school but now I am only
home for a few days at a time. It is really hard. Now I’ve
got a tutor that is based in London and I am actually kind
of studying by e-mail, I guess, for my exams in October. That
is why they scheduled about three weeks of just complete studying.
You have two native Maori songs on your CD “Pure”. That culture
is a big part of New Zealand. Were you familiar with the language
Oh yeah. I was basically back in New Zealand surrounded by
Maori culture. When we go school we learn Maori songs, we
learn the myths and legends of the Maori culture. So we are
kind of surrounded by it, also my great, great grandfather
was Maori. I do have it in my blood. I think just growing
up in New Zealand did make me feel like part of that culture,
even if you are not Maori. So it does seem right to include
a couple of Maori songs and they are gorgeous songs anyway.
So did you see the movie Whale Rider?
Yeah I have. I was supposed to meet Keisha (Castle-Hughes,
the movie’s star) . We were going to be on the same t.v. show
but it didn’t happen. She did so well in the film. It was
the first things I wanted to do when I got home. Apart from
seeing my friends, this was the movie I want to watch.
So what is your favorite film in the world so far?
I love Notting Hill. It is such a sweet clichéd movie.
What celebrities have impressed you the most so far? And why?
Celine Dion. She has impressed me not only because she has
an amazing voice but because she is so driven and dedicated
to her art. I think that sort of inspires me and impresses
me. She is someone I look up to. Jose Carreras, one of the
three tenors, he impressed me. He gets so many accolades and
yet he is so down to earth and so nice.
Of course you have been compared to singer Charlotte Church.
You guys even look a bit alike. Her personal life has been
all over the tabloids and I think her career has suffered
for it. So are you being really careful to keep your private
Yeah. I guess not because of that. But it does make you more
aware of just how easy it is to get caught up in all that.
I am aware that I do want to keep my private life private;
at the same time I’ve really got nothing to hide. I am not
like ‘I can’t say this, I can’t talk about that’. I am pretty
open about things really.
Would you say that your family keeps you grounded?
They do. I got my Dad to keep me grounded. My brother and
sister keep me in line.
When you are home do you have to do chores?
Oh yeah. The big thing is ‘you’ve got to tidy your room Hayley’,
and I help around the house. It is pretty normal.
Do you dance Ballet still?
No, I don’t unfortunately. It is one of those things that
you can’t just fit in. You have to make a few sacrifices.
It is not the end of the world; I can always go back to that
later. Obviously I am not going to be a great ballet dancer.
But, when I stopped, it was like oh my gosh, I feel so unfit.
Did you learn guitar so you could tinker on writing your own
I started the guitar because I thought it is more portable
than a piano. It is a great instrument to write on and compose
on. I think that piano is still my main instrument for writing
but I figured it was nice to have a challenge. I’m coming
up with lyrics and ideas for songs.
What would you and your friends like to do on a typical Saturday
Well I think the best times with friends is when we are over
at some one else’s house. We just sort of watch movies and
raid the kitchen. Like a sleepover. I love those, and do all
sorts of crazy things.
Do you have any aspirations to try acting someday?
Yeah, I do. I would like to try it. When I was younger I did
lots of acting. I mean it would be quite fun to pick it up
again and just have it on the sideline.
Well, Hollywood is back to making some musicals.
That is actually what I enjoy, the combination of singing
and acting and dancing.
What about Broadway, what if there was a neat musical? Would
you be interested in doing that?
Actually possibly. At the moment I really enjoy what I am
doing, just recording and performing. I guess, down the line,
I wouldn’t mind branching into it or at least trying it out
What is more satisfying for you? Singing in front of a huge
auditorium of thousands of people, or even royalty, singing
on T.V. or singing in front of friends and family?
I think performing in front of a big crowd of people is the
most enjoyable. You just get the whole vibe from the audience,
the atmosphere. I think performing in front of friends and
family is pretty nerve wracking. Performing in front of your
peers is the hardest thing. I mean performing at my school
assembly was even more nerve wracking then performing in front
of the Queen!
Can you compare U.S. audiences with U.K or New Zealand audiences?
Because we are a rowdy bunch.
I think, going around to the schools for example, that U.S.
kids and audiences in general are so enthusiastic. Just U.S.
people in general, what I like about Americans is that they
are so enthusiastic and they are like so supportive, really.
I talk to them and they are so excited for me. I think the
U.K. and the Kiwis are a little more reserved. Even though
I am a Kiwi, you guys still support me. It is really nice.
People are saying you are responsible for bringing back classical
music as far as popularity. Do you feel like that is a lot
I don’t really think about that aspect of it. I am just excited
about the fact that people are enjoying my music. A lot of
people say ‘I really don’t listen to this sort of music but
hey, it is really cool’. Also children listening to pop music
might pick up my CD, be inspired by it and think ‘I could
do this’ and ‘this is kind of cool’.
Would you like to be more of a crossover artist going
into pop? Are you happy with where you are with your singing
or would you want to change your style?
I am happy. I do still want to continue exploring different
styles and some of the poppy styles and some of the more classical
styles. Generally I am pretty happy having my foot in both
What qualities would you look for in a boyfriend? (at this
point I glance over at her dad who is still ironing but with
a smile on his face).
First of all, someone who is sensitive but also someone who
can make me laugh. Someone who is quick and witty always helps.
I guess just someone who is just sensitive and aware of others.
Loyal is good too, and good looking. People like to think
it is the inside that matters but you do have to find them
So your grandparents all sang in some way or another, right?
Yeah, my nanna was a great singer and my Granddad could play
almost any instrument by ear. So they would go around and
entertain at hotels and pubs.
With all this musical background what was played when you
were growing up? What was around the house?
My mom was really into alternative music like. I think she
liked Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge. There is a singer
Heather Nova that she really liked. She is like a Bermudan
artist. They also put on classical music to try and get me
to sleep. So I did hear some classical music. I think it was
when I started to learn the violin and the piano and also
when I went to ballet as well, they played classical music.
Did you actually sing on the streets at home for tips?
Yeah. I was involved in this group that was called the Canterbury
Opera Youth, which was like a children’s opera chorus. So
there was a group of us kids putting on a show. I think it
came to lunchtime and some of us didn’t have any money to
buy our lunch. Then we were like, ‘hang on a minute’, we saw
all these other buskers down the street. We were like, ‘why
don’t we just sing and see if anyone gives us some money’.
So a group of us just started singing and one of us put out
a hat and we got this big crowd of people that were cheering
us on and we were like ‘wow!’. My sister Sophie came and sang
some songs. And she joined in and it was great. I guess the
bonus was we got a bit of pocket money while we are at it.
Were you surprised when your first album of show tunes and
Classical songs went to the top of the pop charts in New Zealand?
What was on it?
Oh yes. It was “Memory” from “Cats”, “Wishing You Were Somehow
Here” from the “Phantom of the Opera” and “All I Ask of You”.
At the start it was like, ‘hang on this is just little old
me. Why are people so interested in it’. It is really strange
because I listened to it back home and it is not all that
special. But, I did a New Zealand tour and I had my own show.
What would your favourite subject in school be? What do you
enjoy the most?
I love languages. Italian, French and German. When I was learning
them, I was like, ‘this is going to be useful for travelling
and singing as well’. A lot of Operas are in Italian and other
foreign languages. It is kind of exciting really.
Do you know them well enough to converse or just well enough
to know song lyrics?
Well, to be honest I need to keep up with it more. We were
in France and I had basically done like a year of French.
It was quite funny because the lamp in the room wasn’t working
so I rang up and I was thinking this is my chance to practice
my French. So I said ‘the lamp is broken’ and what I didn’t
realize is that I actually said ‘the lamp is shattered’. So
they sent a lady with a vacuum cleaner to clean up the mess!
So I got such a hard time from my family when everyone heard
Do you have a favorite song on “Pure”?
“Wuthering Heights”, I love that one. It’s challenging. At
the same time I just love it because it is a unique song.
There is nothing like it. I guess also because I am studying
the book “Wuthering Heights” for my exam, so I know everything
behind the song and the whole story. That helps when you are
singing it because you can really get into it.
What is the most touching or weirdest fan encounter you have
had so far?
There was this lady over in the U.K. and I just met her and
all of a sudden she just started crying and I couldn’t get
her off my shoulder. And in some ways it was a little weird
at first but it was quite touching. Apparently she had been
completely moved by my music.
What is the best advice you have ever been given and who gave
it to you?
There is this lady Dame Malvina Major. She is this famous
New Zealand Opera singer and she gave me this advice. She
basically said, ‘take everyone’s advice but in the end you
make the decision’. I guess in some ways it is common sense
but it is kind of nice to be reminded of that. And I think
that is the most important thing really in this business.
There are so many people bombarding you with advice and it
can be quite overwhelming sometimes. I think in the end you
have got to just follow your heart and that is kind of what
she was saying.
What is in your CD player or your ipod right now?
I’ve got this compilation right now, it is Alicia Keys, which
is my favourite song “If I Ain’t Got You”. I love that one.
Joni Mitchell with (sounds Like) “The Case of You”, I love
that song. I’ve got i-tunes on my computer. I love Jeff Buckley
with “Hallelujah” and then I’ve got Christina Aguilera with
“Beautiful”. It is just a list of my favourite songs.
Who are you dying to do a duet with that you haven’t gotten
Andrea Bocelli. I would love to do a duet with him. I met
him at the classical Brit awards last year. He was really
Who is your favorite actor or actress?
Orlando Bloom. (I tell Hayley that I’ve interviewed him and
we gush and she says she’s jealous). I also like Brittany
Murphy. I think she is funny and she is just so vivacious,
so full of energy.
When you get to eat junk food what would you like to eat?
I love chocolate. This sounds a bit weird, but because I try
to avoid dairy products, which is chocolate. I have to go
for dark chocolate, organic dark chocolate. I avoid dairy
for my voice but there is this chocolate tofu dessert at this
place called Real Food Daily here in L.A. It is the most delicious
thing you will ever try. It is like a vegan restaurant.
Besides singing what do you think you do pretty well and what
do you think you do pretty badly?
I can play the piano quite well and dance. Badly? The first
thing that jumps to mind is the high jump. Like the scissors.
Oh my gosh, I was traumatized. I have always been the shortest
in my class. I just remember running up to it and going, ‘how
on earth can I jump over that?’ Bu, I think I’m good at cross-country
running. I have good stamina. Probably the lungs from singing.
What would you like to say to young fans that have hardly
listened to any classical music?
I guess I would say you don’t have to give up on pop music.
I think it is just nice to listen to it. You should at least
try and listen to it because you may discover that you really
like it. There are times when you don’t want to play loud
blaring pop music, when you go to sleep it would be quite
nice to have something to chill out. If you are studying for
exams. I find it helps if you put on light classical music
or even Celtic sounding music. Just have a listen to it and
kind of be open minded about it.
What would you like your fans or potential fans to know about
I guess just the fact that I like all different types of music
and I am not a classical snob or an elitist or anything. I
am not a purest; I appreciate all different types of music.
I am not only a classical singer or certainly not an opera
singer, as a lot of people call me.
Web Site: www.hayleywesternra.com
by Lynn Barker
SOURCE - Link thanks to Steve MacDonald
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