Friday, 12th November, 2004

News Menu Button If I could be anyone, I'd choose to be me

By Alun Prichard, Daily Post

HAYLEY Westenra
is completely normal. And when her age and achievements are considered, it becomes obvious just how extraordinary that statement is.

At 17, singer Hayley is her native New Zealand's biggest selling artist ever - her last album, Pure, hogged the Pacific nation's number one spot for 18 weeks.

She is the youngest ever ambassador for Unicef and had sold well over a million albums not long after turning 16. In UK chart history she holds the record for the fastest selling debut album of any classical artist ever.

To put that in context, her records flew off the shelves quicker than Charlotte Church's Voice of An Angel, Aled Jones's Walking In The Air and anything Bryn Terfel, Pavarotti, Bocelli or even housewives' favourite Russell Watson have ever done.

Yet she is a happy, down to earth teenager, totally without ego and in no danger of ever acting like a diva.

In fact when the interview has to be rescheduled and lands on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of her only fortnight off in the whole year, there are no Elton John tantrums, just a polite acceptance.

But the reason for her compliance soon becomes clear.

"I'm supposed to be studying for my exams," she says conspiratorially.

Hayley, who performs in North Wales next week, is sitting her GCSE exams this week and has been given time off to study, although she admits to being glad of anything that can excuse her from her revision.

"I've been like a prisoner in this room... it seems that as soon as I get up I go over to the table and go over formulas," she says then corrects herself, "formulae".

"I had one two-hour maths exam yesterday and I've got another one on Tuesday and English on Monday and Thursday. It's horrible," she says with a laugh.

Ever since Hayley's success outgrew New Zealand she has been travelling all over the world, but to keep her feet on the ground and her schoolwork up to date, one or other of her parents have been with her every step of the way. And unlike the other teenage singing sensation she's often compared to, Charlotte Church, Westenra is perfectly happy with her parents's involvement.

Christchurch, New Zealand is still where she calls home but the demands of her work now see her spending more and more time abroad.

"I don't really feel like I'm based anywhere at the moment but I'd say London is probably my second home. I really like it here and spend quite a lot of time here."

London is perhaps her international base but Wales figures prominently in her heart, and it was at Bryn Terfel's Faenol Festival in 2003 alongside Jose Carreras that she was first introduced to the British public.

"I do have some Welsh blood through my great-grandmother and I absolutely love Wales. It's very much like New Zealand so it feels kind of like home when I'm there," she says with genuine affection.

But while her body is in London, her heart in New Zealand and her thoughts in Wales, it is America where she has recently been making headway. Hayley has just returned from an extensive tour of the country performing at venues such as Carnegie Hall. While there she also recorded a song for a new Disney movie, Mulan 2, appeared on US TV show American Dreams, and a one-hour special on her, entitled Great Performances, will be shown across the States next month.

She has achieved so much that if it were not the youth in her voice, and her appreciation for sitcom Friends and rock band Coldplay, it could be forgotten that she is still too young to drink or even vote.

Yet, the whirlwind of success that she is currently in the centre of comes as no surprise to Hayley. She says with a slightly nervous giggle that the life she has earned is pretty much what she expected when she started on her journey toward stardom. "Gosh, I think this is how I imagined it would be. Occasionally it's harder than I thought it would be, because it's sometimes crazy with flights and fitting in performances here and there which almost seemed impossible, but yeah I think it is how I expected it to be."

And in direct contrast to so many celebrities who fail to find happiness in their successes, Hayley says: "If I could be anyone in the world, I'd actually choose to be me, where I am right now, because I'm so excited about what I'm doing and I'm loving it totally."

On reflection, the opening statement must be false. Hayley, is level-headed, polite, quick to laugh and thoughtful - she is nothing like a normal teenager.

* Hayley Westenra is at the North Wales Theatre, Llandudno on Wednesday at 7.30pm.


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Article located by Keith S.


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