It looks like I am going to have to sort out my holiday dates. We usually go away in July, so we'll have to fix the dates, then see which of these concerts are left! It has been too long since the last one!
East Lancashire may be a long way from her native New Zealand, but singer Hayley Westenra is right at home backing our troops on her latest tour. She spoke to us ahead of her Blackburn show on July 12.
A BOOKING to sing at a memorial event in honour of Australia and New Zealand’s contribution to the First World War at Passchendaele, in Belgium, was Hayley Westenra’s first taste of the forces.
“I discovered my family’s involvement in the world wars. The people who brought me over for it found that my great great uncle fought at Passchendaele and they showed me his name on a wall of soldiers,” she said.
“With that information I really became interested in the armed forces and I was invited to perform at a few events — like the Festival of Remembrance — and went to Iraq for the Poppy Appeal the year before last.
“Meeting people my age out there was eye-opening and since then I have been doing more work to support the forces.
“I’m learning more and more about my links and I get letters from people saying their husband was in the same squadron as my great uncle.”
This summer she is on the road with the College Band of the RAF for the Battle of Britain 70th Anniversary Tour, which stops off at Blackburn’s King George’s Hall next month — furthering her status as a forces' sweetheart.
She also has the backing of wartime songbird Dame Vera Lynn, who she says has been ‘really supportive’.
Dame Vera’s classics We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover feature in the tour, as well as other rousing classics from the era and a historic narration from the ‘Flying Ace’ Squadron Leader Tom Jones.
“The RAF band are crucial to this. They are the stars and I’m looking forward to performing with them,” said Hayley, who has lived in London since she was 18.
“The band will be playing the more rousing numbers. We’re trying to capture the feelings of the time so it’ll be a mixture with the more sentimental ones.
“I performed We’ll Meet Again at last year’s Festival of Remembrance as a tribute to Vera. There were two big screens showing her singing an old recording. I joined in and the whole Royal Albert Hall got to its feet.
“She was so humbled by the appreciation of her work.”
Once the tour finishes, Hayley will be back in the studio to record her fourth international album, with Italian composer Ennio Morricone, well-known for iconic film scores including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Not bad going for a 23-year-old. But having duets with opera greats Andrea Bocelli, José Carreras and Bryn Terfel under her belt, Hayley has hardly had the ‘average’ career.
Now she has made London her home, she’s catching up with 20-something life, hosting friends from New Zealand when they visit the city while travelling — which has been ‘awesome’. And she makes the most of the seasonal changes Down Under, timing her annual trips home for Christmas and the antipodean summer.
“My record company is here, although I could have based myself somewhere like New York or LA, but London suited me,” she said.
“I really like it here and feel comfortable but it’s a shame it is so far from New Zealand.
“I’ve done a lot of touring over the years, but Blackburn is somewhere I haven’t performed at yet so I’m looking forward to that show.
“It’s fun doing a mixture of venues; I’ve done a cathedral tour and a lot of outdoor venues in the summer — which is always a bit of a gamble. It’s nice indoors. You don’t have to worry about the weather!”
Hayley Westenra and College Band of the RAF, July 12, King George’s Hall, Blackburn, 0844 8471664.