Young star is lighting up the world

SHE was just six when her teacher noticed she had perfect pitch. Today, at just 21, she travels the world as a soprano.

James Marston

SHE was just six when her teacher noticed she had perfect pitch. Today, at just 21, she travels the world as a soprano. JAMES MARSTON chats to Hayley Westenra.

IT was an infant school teacher that first picked the six-year-old Hayley Westenra out of her class to take the lead singing part of Little Star in the school Christmas play.

After the performance the teacher took her bemused parents aside and told them their daughter had perfect pitch.

Within ten years of that first performance the New Zealand-born prodigy would be one of the world's most exciting singing sensations, with a crate full of platinum discs and singing duets with the greats. She has sung with Andrea Bocelli, Jose Carreras and Bryn Terfel and to audiences including everyone from the Queen, Tony Blair and George Bush to fans at the Sydney Opera House, Wembley Stadium, Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Later this month Hayley is adding Orwell Park, Nacton, to that impressive list as she prepares to take to the stage during a proms in the park classical spectacular picnic concert alongside All Angels and the London Gala Festival Orchestra.

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She said: “I'm really looking forward to it. I really enjoy being outdoors and I've done a few picnic concerts now. I love the atmosphere of picnic concerts and it should be a wonderful show.

“I'll be singing songs from my latest album as well as some songs from my home country of New Zealand.”

Hayley, who has recently bought a flat in London, said she had recently returned from a month touring in Japan.

She added: “It's a hectic time for me at the moment. I've just had an album out in Japan and tomorrow I'm off to Washington for a concert in front of the White House.”

Hayley also recently sang at the unveiling of the monument to the sacrifice made by New Zealand forces in the Second World War in the presence of the Queen, Tony Blair and the New Zealand Prime Minister.

She was born the eldest daughter of a gemologist, an expert in precious stones, with a mother who has turned her hand to everything up to and including photographic duties for her daughter. Hayley followed up her infant school performance with parts in major productions of musicals like Annie, La Boheme and The Sound of Music.

But it was as a child busker that things really started to take off for her.

She said: “I started busking at Christchurch Arts centre as it was a good place to busk. I saved the money I earned and used to make my first recording.”

“I've been recording ever since I was 14. I love singing, it puts me in a great place and it fulfils me. I love the energy you get from the audience and I love that rapport.”

Hayley's first album went triple platinum immediately turning her into New Zealand's fasting-selling artist.

Hayley is a fan of artists from John Legend to Andrea Bocelli and Placido Domingo to Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell.

She said: “I'm releasing an album later this year called River of Dreams, it's a 'best of' album so I'm working on that as well at the moment.”

Despite her hectic schedule, Hayley is also one of the youngest ever ambassadors for the United Nations children's fund UNICEF.

She said: “Meeting young people that are the same as me but with such a different world of opportunity has a profound affect on you.

“I aspire to be a singer, which seems so unessential compared with their simple desire for a regular cup of clean water. You can't go somewhere like that, meet those people and come back unchanged.”

With all the fame, the success, the travelling round the world, the work, wouldn't she like to stay still for a while, hang out a little?

She said: “You don't walk away from opportunities like these. This is what people dream of.”

- Hayley Westenra will perform at Orwell Park, Nacton on Sunday, July 13. For tickets call 0870 2409049.

- Are you a fan of Hayley Westenra? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

- Q and A

Do you have an unfulfilled ambition?

“There are so many things to do. I'd like to win a Grammy award.”

What's the highlight of your career?

“Singing with Andre Bocelli.”

What's your most embarrassing moment?

“The curtain closing and leaving me in front of it.”

Tell us something about yourself our readers won't know?

“I like hula hooping.”

What's your diva demand in the dressing room?

“I'm pretty boring really, fresh fruit and water and maybe a fish salad, I try to eat quite healthily.”

What car do you drive?

“I don't drive.”