Aled Jones and Russell Watson bring festive cheer to church restoration

The classical singers spoke from the London event to reflect on community, Christmas and album fever

Beloved classical voices Aled Jones and Russell Watson have joined the campaign to renovate a grade 1 listed church in London’s East End.

The pair visited St Anne’s Limehouse church on December 12 to help kick off an effort to raise £3 million, the amount needed to restore the building and establish it as the largest and most accessible community space in the area.

The singers were treated to carols by the local children’s choir plus a reception with parents and other community members, before trying their hand at some bell ringing.

Jones told The Big Issue: “Of course a lot of very well known churches in central London struggle with raising money as well, but projects like this deserve an extra little push. It’s an enormous church that probably doesn’t get many column inches in papers or on radio or national television.

“If we can help in any way and raise awareness, we will. It’s an amazing space and it would be such a shame to lose a building like this because of not just the history but because it’s always been the heart of the surrounding area.”

Built in 1727, some renovations were made to the building between 2007 and 2009 but locals want to solidify the church’s place as a social and cultural hub in the community.

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The Walking In The Air singer added: “Fundraising like this is important to me because it has always been a part of my life. I’ve sung in these places all my life. It’s so important to keep them alive because I have very happy memories of spending time in churches exactly like this one.”

Watson compared the campaign to a community effort in his hometown of Manchester, where Gorton Monastery was successfully restored to become a centre for music and entertainment and is now “absolutely thriving”.

But the vocalists are glowing from more than Christmas cheer and charity – their album In Harmony skyrocketed up the charts and is well on its way to being certified gold after debuting in the top 10 last month. The friends of 20 years are on track for 100,000 sales by the end of the year for the album which features favourites such as Ave Maria and You Raise Me Up.

Watson said: “It’s a great feeling because Aled and I, we’ve been doing this for a long, long time and to be able to sustain success is quite an achievement. The thrill of the success, particularly with selling records, it never goes away for an artist.

“There’s always a certain amount of trepidation before the release of a record, when you’re not quite sure how it’ll be received, but this one’s done so well. The feeling you get from that is quite something.”

The duo’s classical croonings are festive favourites for thousands across the UK, but as they change gear to slow down for Christmas, their feelings are mixed.

“I always feel this sense of melancholy around Christmas,” Watson said. “I tend to think back to when my grandparents were alive, and to friends that I’ve lost along the way, and I think about the pressure to be happy at Christmas.

“I’m not getting down on it – but a lot of people aren’t happy.

“I think Christmas has this habit of bringing back memories of times gone by and I always feel really quite melancholy and sad on Christmas Day. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy it, it’s great to have all the people that matter to me around, but there is a sense of… Ah, I wish my gran was here.”

As well as fundraising events, donations for the St Anne’s renovation are being accepted online.