'The Queen has a very good sense of humour. She knows what’s going on': Katherine Jenkins on the VERY special gift she's giving Her Majesty for her 90th birthday
She’s on nodding terms with Wills and Kate, ‘gets on well’ with Charles and has been taught how to eat a nectarine by the Queen. Now the Welsh soprano and Forces sweetheart Katherine Jenkins faces her toughest Royal assignment – as a songwriter to the ‘mother of the nation’
‘People write things on Twitter and they don’t see the consequence. And because it’s written on Twitter, it is suddenly fact. That’s the down side,' said Katherine Jenkins of social media
She can nail a National Anthem in a heaving stadium without so much as a flicker of fear, but now Katherine Jenkins OBE, mezzo soprano by Royal appointment, has written her own song for our Queen and the classical beauty is uncharacteristically apprehensive.
The Welsh singer will perform This Mother’s Heart at Her Majesty’s 90th birthday party at Windsor Castle in May although, having recently become a mum herself, she admits that she may struggle with the powerful sentiments.
‘I choke up,’ she confesses.
Later this morning she will discuss her marriage and new baby, the allure of Adele and the evils of social media, and explain exactly what being a Tudor-geek means, but at the moment her sparkling grey eyes are misting with tears as she relives recording a song very close to her heart.
‘Aaliyah came with me in the studio when I did it,’ Jenkins croons, speaking of her seven-month-old daughter. ‘I wanted to fully feel that mother thing as I sang it. But I would get to the end and the emotion would take over.
‘I wouldn’t have been able to sing that song until this moment. I wouldn’t have felt what I feel.’
The multi-platinum-selling singer talks with infectious warmth about the Queen, excitedly relaying the revealing details she has observed in her many meetings with the monarch.
Katherine is naturally besotted by her daughter. ‘There’s a part of me that wants to be with Aaliyah all the time, but there’s another part that wants to be a role model. I want her to have strong women in her life,' she said
‘She’s a mother to the nation,’ the 35-year-old declares. ‘And she’s a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother. It makes me just love her when I think back to all the little jokes and quirky things we’ve shared.
‘I went for lunch at Buckingham Palace and after pudding they put a plate next to you with a piece of gauze, and there was a large finger bowl on the table.’
Post-prandial Palace protocol dictates that one washes the fruit in the receptacle provided, dries it with the gauze, then slices it on the plate.
Fortunately, the ‘working-class girl from Neath’ hoots, she didn’t grab the finger bowl and drink it.
‘Can you imagine if I’d picked that up?’ she chuckles. ‘I was sitting there thinking, “God, I don’t know what to do. Somebody else go first because I have no idea what’s meant to happen.” So I took a nectarine and I held it in my hand.
'Then the Queen caught my eye and showed me what to do, without a word, so I could just follow her lead. I was really grateful because by doing that she made me feel at ease. It was so kind and clever.’
Without wishing to interrupt this reverie, I wonder if this would have been the same visit where Jenkins called her mum from the Palace lavatories?
‘Oh my God,’ she blushes. ‘I think it was. I did it because you’re not supposed to have your phone in there. And I could hardly get it out during the lunch.
‘But my family are huge Royal Family fans, my grandmother especially. She’s not alive any more, but out of everything I do, whenever I’m doing something for the Queen, that’s when my mum is at her most proud.
'When I was going for lunch at the Palace, I tell you, all of Neath knew about it.’
Katherine meeting the Queen at The Royal Variety Performance in 2005. 'It makes me just love her when I think back to all the little jokes and quirky things we’ve shared,' she said
Then again, without wishing to embarrass anyone, there was the time when Jenkins, sporting a racy azure frock, greeted the sovereign at Epsom races with a rarely seen curtsy and handshake combo.
‘You are meant to do that,’ she insists indignantly. ‘If they shake hands first, it’s OK. And you’re supposed to curtsy or bow.’
But possibly not in such a low-cut dress. The Queen mustn’t have known where to look.
‘Stop it,’ Jenkins caws.
‘Anyway, the Queen has a very good sense of humour,’ she laughs. ‘She knows what’s going on.’
The UK’s most successful classical crossover artist of all time (‘I am not an opera singer’), the seven albums she released between 2004-08 sold more than four million, six of them going to the top of the British classical charts, is in fine form.
She is dressed rather more rock ’n’ roll than raunchy princess this morning, as she arrives at a private members’ club in Chiswick, west London, decked out in a navy shirt, tight duck-egg jeans and high-heeled blue suede shoes.
By way of greeting, she presses her face to your ear and actually says the word ‘mwah’. Her perfume is musky but subtle. She is perfectly made up, with hair that has more than a hint of Hollywood bottle blonde.
She is scrupulously honest, but should an awkward question arise, like say, ‘Did Prince Harry ever ask you out?’ or ‘Which member of the Welsh rugby team is the most attractive?’ she offers an imperious ‘Next!’
Jenkins has had a hectic weekend, performing between courses at Lord Ashcroft’s 70th birthday dinner and filming a song for Michael McIntyre’s Big Show at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
She sang David Bowie’s Heroes, having recorded a soaring treatment of the inspirational anthem after the Starman died in January.
‘He lived very close to us in SoHo,’ she says of her departed New York neighbour. I was in New York the day he died.
‘I emailed my record company and said, “I may be having a crazy moment, or do you think that I should go in the studio and demo Heroes?”’
On the Saturday, Jenkins led the Welsh national anthem at Twickenham, where her team lost to England.
‘The less said about that the better,’ she harrumphs. ‘Wales played well… but only for about ten minutes.
‘I saw William and Kate singing along in Welsh,’ she notes. ‘They’d learnt the words. I was pretty impressed by that. It’s not easy. I think they’ll get major respect for that in Wales.’
Katherine with her OBE for services to music and charitable services with husband Andrew Levitas. They met in 2013 in New York and married 12 months later
I wonder if her daughter Aaliyah has played with William and Charlotte yet and she seems shocked.
‘I’m not sure when that will happen,’ she guffaws. ‘I doubt it will.’
‘But I get on well with Prince Charles,’ she continues smoothly.
‘We have a link through the British Forces Foundation – he’s the patron of the charity.’
She has travelled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Cyprus and Northern Ireland to entertain the troops.
‘So I’ve been to Windsor Castle for fundraisers and I always have a good laugh with Charles.’
It would seem that there is nothing not to like about this patriotic, troop-soothing, butter-wouldn’t-melt songbird.
Yet she has attracted more than her share of career-threatening controversy. It was rumoured – without foundation – that she’d been involved in a relationship with David Beckham. In 2013, she was cruelly ridiculed in the media for allegedly wearing a faceful of make-up while running the London Marathon.
In each case, Jenkins confronted her detractors on social media: ‘You wrote I was wearing eye shadow, eye liner and lip gloss,’ she tweeted furiously.
‘None of the above. I had Vaseline on my lips, handed to us by St John’s Ambulance.’
‘The rumours are very hurtful, untrue and my lawyers tell me actionable,’ she said in a tweet addressing the Beckham scandal in 2014.
‘I have corrected certain things,’ she says now. ‘But I haven’t really had a row with anyone. I think social media had good and bad points. Online stuff is the adult version of Chinese whispers.
‘People write things on Twitter and they don’t see the consequence. And because it’s written on Twitter, it is suddenly fact. That’s the down side. It’s a way for cowardly people to say stuff and then not think they have to face up to it.
‘I’m a Cancerian – you have to push me to an extreme, but if I’m really wronged, then I know that relationship shouldn’t continue.
‘So, if I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine,’ she concludes, with a glint in her eye, ‘I am not going on Twitter. That could be a disaster.’
In 2013, she was in New York singing with Andrea Bocelli when she was introduced by a mutual friend to local artist Andrew Levitas.
After a 12-month romance, they married at Hampton Court Palace. It was a wonderful day although, Jenkins scoffs, she didn’t sing at the wedding. ‘No way. Day off.’
Their baby Aaliyah Reign Levitas was born on September 30 last year, with the father attending the birth.
Jenkins is naturally besotted by her daughter.
‘There’s a part of me that wants to be with Aaliyah all the time, but there’s another part that wants to be a role model. I want her to have strong women in her life.’
Would Jenkins describe herself as a feminist?
‘I would. When my father passed away, my mum still put me and my sister through university. She sacrificed so much and she was such a good grafter. I like to think I’ve got a bit of that in me.’
Her father Selwyn died in 1996, aged 70, of lung cancer, when she was 15. She continues to dedicate any award she wins to him and touchingly had his name sewn into her wedding dress ‘so he could be there on the day and walk down the aisle with me.’
Jenkins readily accepts that her dad’s death has influenced her relationship with men.
Prior to meeting her future husband, Jenkins was engaged for ten months to TV presenter Gethin Jones; the relationship ended in 2011.
She also dated Prince Harry’s friend, City stockbroker Adam Bidwell, in early 2013.
She sips her tea and ponders the advice she will be offering her daughter, when the time comes, about boys.
‘Try and find a good one,’ she says. ‘Not just a good-looking one.’
Jenkins is estimated to have a net worth of £15 million, with properties in Wales, London and New York.
Her status in the UK as a formidable mezzo-soprano and a latter-day Forces Sweetheart is assured, but despite coming second in Dancing With The Stars in 2012, her profile in America has yet to achieve Adele-like proportions.
‘I’m going to see Adele at Madison Square Garden,’ she says.
‘Her voice is so emotional. You can train a voice to hit the high notes, but you can’t teach a voice to hit you in the heart where it needs to, and I think the great singers have that.’
Time has flown, as must the hard-pushed songbird. Tokyo tomorrow and then on to New York, but before that she intends to spend a couple of days with her family in leafy Richmond-Upon-Thames. She may even squeeze in a run around Old Deer Park.
‘I love Richmond Park so much because I’m a bit of a Tudor-geek,’ she says.
‘I always imagine Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn riding through of a morning. If I was on Mastermind, the Tudor period would be my specialist subject.’
We leave our celebrated singer contemplating more recent regal matters. The rigours of her own job, Jenkins says, has made her appreciate just how demanding the Queen’s working day must be.
‘She’s an incredibly hard-working woman,’ her loyal subject enthuses.
‘She meets all these people and she’s always got something interesting to say. It’s an amazing skill.’
She gazes out at the ‘lovely London winter sunshine’, deep in thought.
‘That’s not just something everybody has,’ she says. ‘I really admire that.’
Katherine Jenkins’ new album, ‘Celebration’, is out on April 22
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