Interview with Hayley at Wales Online

2 Aug 2010

Back to where it all started for Hayley Westenra

by Steffan Rhys Western Mail

Soprano Hayley Westenra is preparing to perform at the music event where it all started for her – Bryn Terfel’s Faenol Festival. She chats to Karen Price about dressing up, touring and recording her new album in Rome.

IT’S seven years since the then unknown New Zealand soprano Hayley Westenra made her UK breakthrough with a performance at the Faenol Festival.

Since then, she’s released chart-topping albums, duetted with some of the most famous names in the business and has even won the accolade of being the biggest selling classical artist of the 21st century.

Now she’s looking forward to returning to the North Wales event, run by international bass baritone Bryn Terfel, which helped make her a household name.

Hayley will be joining forces with Rhydian Roberts and the RAF Central Band for a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War. The concert will be narrated by Dame Vera Lynn’s son-in-law, RAF Squadron Leader Tom Jones.

Hayley, who is still just 23 years old, is looking forward to teaming up with the X Factor runner-up again.

“I’ve worked with him before,” she tells me. “He invited me to be a guest at a couple of his concerts. He’s great to work with. We are good friends. He’s got an amazing voice and is a great personality. I’m looking forward to sharing the stage with him.”

Hayley, who now lives in London, has fond memories of her debut at Faenol in 2003 at the tender age of 16.

“It’s amazing how many people remember that concert. Jose Carreras was on the bill and I performed with Bryn and Jose. It was amazing to have that opportunity. I remember walking out onto the stage and getting massive applause despite the fact no-one knew who I was. Since then, I’ve always loved coming back to Wales.”

Hayley is something of a regular performer in Wales these days. In fact, when I call her, it’s a day after her appearance at Ponty’s Big Weekend in Pontypridd.

“I’m a little bit tired but it was fun,” she admits. “I had a really great night. Faryl Smith and Jonathan Ansell, who I’ve toured with before, were there and we had a great time both backstage and on-stage. In fact, they were the noisiest audience I’ve ever come across,” she laughs. “There was a cross-section of ages and kids screaming at the front. It’s not something I’m used to.”

As a classical singer, Hayley may not be used to screaming fans but they certainly vote with their wallets.

Her debut international album, Pure, went straight to number eight in the UK pop album charts and it topped the classical charts, making her the fastest-selling debut classical artist of all time. It was also the best-selling album of all time in her homeland, achieving platinum status 12 times over and spending 18 weeks in the pop charts there.

Since then, Hayley has sold more than four million albums worldwide.

Before her appearance in Pontypridd, she was in Rome working on her latest album – her fifth international recording – with Italian composer and conductor Ennio Morricone.

“He wrote music for the Spaghetti Western films – his music is utterly beautiful and so haunting,” says Hayley.

“I was invited to meet him about four years ago in Sicily because he liked my voice and wanted to include me on an album. We had conflicting schedules so it didn’t work out but we both wanted to work together. We got back in touch and decided to do a whole album together. He’s 82 now and a musical genius. It’s such a thrill to be working with him and his orchestra. He’s rearranging classical pieces for me and has written pieces for me.”

Once she finishes recording the album, Hayley will be embarking on a photo shoot and making videos to promote it.

“It’s kind of fun dressing up – it’s one of the perks of the job,” says Hayley. “It’s nice trying on different clothes, although I am more of a jeans and T-shirt girl. But doing a photo shoot in Rome should be a lot of fun.”

Like Katherine Jenkins, who once supported Hayley when she herself was starting out, the New Zealander is considering a career in America.

“I’ve done a bit of touring in the States and I love it out there but I’m enjoying spending time in the UK these days,” says Hayley.

“I love having a base – for the first three years I was just living out of a suitcase. I do a lot of work in Asia and I will go back to the States but I’m really enjoying spending time in the UK.”

When she’s not working, Hayley loves catching up with friends, cooking, going to the cinema and playing the guitar.

“I listen to quite a range of music – I go from Maria Callas to Paulo Nutini. I like to mix it up.”

While she has a boyfriend, she likes to keep her private life just that.

“He is in the industry, which helps. We’ve been together quite a while now,” is all she will reveal.

As our chat comes to an end I ask Hayley if she has a relaxing day planned after the previous night’s gig in Pontypridd.

“I have a meeting with my management company and a meeting with my musical director,” says the ever-busy Hayley. “It’s a planning day – and I’ve got lots of washing to do too.”

She may have come a long way since her Faenol Festival debut but Hayley remains as down to earth as ever.

Hayley Westenra will be performing in the Battle of Britain 70th Anniversary Show at the Faenol Festival on August 28 at 12.30pm. For details, visit

Credits: Wales Online