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Faith sets the tone

Katherine Jenkins tells Sarah Olowofoyeku about the inspiration behind her latest album

I learnt to sing in church

WHEN Katherine Jenkins joined the church choir as a seven-year-old girl, she could hardly have imagined that 30 years later she would have recorded 12 classical No 1 albums, travelled the world to perform and been named the top-selling classical music artist of the past 25 years.

Last month, she released her latest album, Guiding Light. It is her first album release in four years, in which time she says there has been ‘a lot of change’. In 2014, Katherine married Andrew Levitas, and the couple now have two children. ‘I’ve got a three-year-old and a seven-month-old at home,’ she says. ‘And I feel very settled, happy and thankful for where I am.’

Katherine describes the process of creating the album as a natural one. ‘Everything has felt like it’s meant to be,’ she says. When she started recording, her son was two months old. ‘He would sleep in the studio and I would sing to him. It was a lovely time.’

She chose the 15 tracks and had a particular motivation. ‘I didn’t want to show all the high notes I could hit,’ she says. ‘I wanted to make something more spiritual, something intimate and emotional.’

The album includes a number of hymns and songs from the Christian tradition. It also features a cover of Stormzy’s ‘Blinded by your Grace’. Katherine says that the choice of songs sums up where she is spiritually.

‘I learnt to sing in church,’ she says. ‘And having been a presenter on Songs of Praise for two years, I’ve met so many interesting people who worship in different ways, and that has inspired me.’

One of the songs that is particularly close to the singer’s heart is ‘Jealous of the Angels’. Written by Jenn Bostic, a Christian singer-songwriter whose father died when she was young, it was particularly poignant for Katherine, who lost her father suddenly at the age of 15.

‘I didn’t get to say goodbye to him,’ she says. ‘We were told he had six months to live, but he passed away in just under two. The first line of the song is: “I didn’t know today would be our last.” When I first heard the song, it really moved me.’

Losing her father was a difficult experience that made an impact on the faith Katherine had as a child. ‘Everything about my childhood was hugely focused on church,’ she explains. ‘I’d sing in two services on a Sunday and there would be choir practices during the week. When Dad died, I felt really angry with God for taking him away. I didn’t understand it.

‘I didn’t stop believing, but I definitely turned my back on faith. Then, when I moved to London, there wasn’t a place where I had a church to attend regularly on Sundays as I had done in Wales.’

It was only years later that Katherine returned to faith. ‘It took some difficult personal times and talking to my mum about her experience with grief. I realised that her faith had never been rocked, but it had got stronger through her grief.’

While working in Australia, Katherine received a call from her mum, who told her about an experience that she’d had while doing her cleaning work in St David’s, the church where Katherine learnt to sing. Her mum had been feeling particularly low that day, but, as she worked alone in the church, she felt an arm around her, which she said gave her great comfort. Her mum’s words prompted Katherine to go into a church in Sydney, and begin her return to faith.

But finally, she says, it was the experience of becoming a mother that helped her. ‘I’ve never prayed so much as I have since having children. I also feel it’s important to say thanks for them being healthy and thanks for them being happy. Having faith is not only asking for help in the sad times, but also being thankful for what you have in the good times.

‘Faith has helped me realise what a gift my children are. It has helped me see what my priorities are, what I believe and what I wish to pass on to my children. Everything has become clearer.’

Katherine has said that after her faith and family, the next most important thing to her is her voice, which she believes is a gift from God. ‘It comes with responsibility,’ she says. ‘I have to look after it, and I take that part of my career seriously.’

But another aspect of that responsibility relates to the type of music that she creates. ‘This album – it’s religious music, it’s spiritual. I wanted it to be a bunch of songs that touch the heart.’

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