Music

Aled Jones: 'My parents gave up so much to let me follow my dreams'

He was a childhood singing sensation, so why wouldn't Spandau Ballet let him join the band?

Aled Jones

Aled Jones was born in December 1970 in Bangor, Wales. He joined the choir at Bangor Cathedral aged nine and was lead soloist within two years. In 1985 Jones’ cover version of Howard Blake’s song Walking in The Air from the 1982 animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman (sung by Peter Auty in the film) reached number five in the UK charts, making the schoolboy a star.

Over the following years he became a familiar face on UK TV screens – he holds the record for most appearances on the BBC’s then-flagship chat show, Wogan. He was invited to record three TV programmes for the BBC from Israel. These programmes were huge hits and the resulting two album releases sold over a million copies.  At one point both albums were in the top five of the Official UK Album Chart.

By the time his voice broke at the age of 16, Jones had sold more than six million albums and sang for Pope John Paul II, the Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales, as well as presenting numerous children’s television programmes.

Jones went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School before being asked to perform the role of Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1990. Roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and White Christmas followed.

His career in broadcasting began in 2000 with a chat show on BBC Radio Wales that is still running to this day. Two years later he made his debut on BBC One’s Songs Of Praise and went on to become the main presenter. In 2004, he was a contestant on the second series of Strictly Come Dancing and made it through to the semi-final. After a successful stint at Classic FM in the late 00s, Jones returned to the station in 2013 to host a Sunday breakfast show, which reaches over a million listeners.

Speaking to The Big Issue for his Letter to My Younger Self, Jones reflects on early fame, the grounding effect of his parents and getting his career back on track.

By 16, I’d retired from one career. I retired on my 16th birthday – thanks to some PR person in London for coming up with the line “on a high note” – to concentrate on my O levels. So I was stuck in the BBC in Bangor in north Wales for what seemed like a week doing TV for America and all around the world explaining that my voice had broken. The scary thing was, I had no plans. Literally none. 

I was back in north Wales concentrating solely on playing tennis and my girlfriend at the time. Tennis took over my life for a while. I played for about five hours every day around school. I played for north Wales in mixed doubles. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  

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I wasn’t falling out of nightclubs and pubs, mostly because I wasn’t allowed in them – everyone knew my age. But I would tell my younger self he played it just right. I had to grow up very quickly because I found myself in an adult world. I’d like to thank him for working as hard as he did. But also for having a good time and realising what was important. The only time I felt pressure was the last couple of months, when it seemed like I was on daytime TV every day saying: “I don’t know when my voice is going to break.” “No, it’s not going to happen today.” “I don’t know if it is going to hurt.” I was like, “Shut up about the voice!”  

Aled Jones in 1985
1985: Getting a silver record for his album Voices from the Holy Land. Image: Stoddart/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s funny how fate plays a part. Japan got to hear my voice through a fan that came to Britain, bought all my albums, and was friends with the boss of JVC Victor, which is EMI. She played my music to him and he said he didn’t care that my voice had broken. So I went to Japan at 16 – not to sing, just to do interviews and narrate concerts. They released 16 albums in two years and the reaction from fans was incredible. I was asked to do other media stuff and quite enjoyed it. So that became the plan.  

At the Brit Awards I would go around with my autograph book. Then me and my mum would get the train back to Bangor and try to work out who had signed. I remember going up to the Pet Shop Boys the year West End Girls won [Best Single in 1987] and I was on with Walking in the Air. All they’d written was, “Haha, we got to No 1!” We sat on Virgin’s table so my mum, if she was lucky, would be next to Roger Daltrey and I would be next to Phil Collins or Boy George.  

The most starry event I sang at was Bob Geldof and Paula Yates’s wedding. I think I really peed off the Spandau Ballet boys because I was following them around like I was the new member of the group. But it was thrilling for me. Both Bob and Paula, bless her, were so kind to me and my parents. We had never seen anything like it. There is that infamous photo where I’m standing behind David Bowie – it was just a crazy, crazy occurrence. But I was invited there to sing, and what a joy it was to do that. 

When I was singing at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic, I was more excited about going to Disneyland. We were backstage and two executives came up saying, “Johnny Carson wants to devote his whole TV show to you next week.” My mum and dad and I just looked at each other. I went, “I’m supposed to go home tomorrow. My school’s got a football match. And I miss my girlfriend. Nah, we won’t bother.” So we just went home. But that’s how we were. We’d sit around the kitchen table and my parents would say, you have this offer and that offer. And they let me decide.  

I’m completely shaped by my upbringing. When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to leave Wales to go to the bright lights of London. But now when I go home, I realise I’ve always carried Wales in my heart. Every record, I have a Welsh song on. I’m a Welsh speaker. I’m a true 100% Welshman. And my parents very much have made me who I am. I appreciate my parents a hell of a lot more than I did when I was young. They were younger than me when they had to give up so much to let me follow my dreams. My dad is a fiercely private man. For him, having to be in London hobnobbing with bloody celebrities was his idea of hell. 

I went to the Royal Academy of Music at 18 to study music and learn how to write. I wanted to be allowed the opportunity to find out who I was as an adult – but the past got in the way of that a bit. They used to sing Walking In The Air – and not a day goes by when that doesn’t happen. But I realised early on that there wasn’t a way I’d be able to forget about it, so the clever thing was to embrace it. I did a couple of plays there, then went to Bristol Old Vic Theatre school – and that’s what gave me the ammunition to come back and perform again.  

I met my wife doing Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I went straight from theatre school into Joseph, which was the biggest musical in the world. We were doing it for a year, eight shows a week, but the feeling and emotion I had as a kid wasn’t there. I walked on stage in nothing but a loincloth. Everyone went, wow, look at Aled’s six pack – but it was just my ribs because I was so young. But I was lucky to have that opportunity. And everything happens for a reason – I met my wife and we had a very happy time in Blackpool for the summer season.  

Aled Jones in a technicolour dreamcoat
1995: Modelling a technicolour dreamcoat as he prepares to takes on the role of Joseph in the hit musical. Image: Alex Lentati/Evening Standard/Shutterstock

There were years I call the This Morning years. I would just be on the couch watching Richard and Judy and not working much. It was by going back to the music I used to do as a kid, and starting to present Songs of Praise, that it all took off again.  

Terry Wogan was my radio dad – that’s what I always called him. I had, as he said it, the dubious honour of being on Wogan more than any other act. And I learned so much from him. If I’m even half the broadcaster he was then I’m very happy. He was a really special man. We even got to do a duet for Children in Need, which was a big chart hit.  

All the music on this record has come from a BBC series I did in 1983. So there I am, a tiny little thing with a dodgy haircut and ties. Through these records, I’ve had to acknowledge what I did as a boy. And I’m really proud. When I look at these performances, I see this little professional singing away. Everything was so instinctive. Recording with little Aled on this record [One Voice Full Circle] has been poignant because it’s the last time I’ll do anything with my boy voice.  

The thing my younger self would be most excited to know about his future is that he has a family and we all love each other and look out for one another. And that he’d still be as good friends with his parents as he was when he was a kid. What I’ve taken from my parents is that I always try to make everything fun for my kids. But more than anything, it is about being there for them. We are very close, and they feel they can say anything to me. I can’t ask for more than that, really. 

Aled Jones and Russell Watson
2020: Performing onstage with Russell Watson at the Global Awards in London. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

If I could have one last conversation with someone, it would be a lady called Hefina Orwig Evans. She was in the congregation in Bangor Cathedral, very often on a Thursday night in the rain, the only person. And she wrote to the local recording company in Wales, asking them to sign me up and record my voice. So I would love, now, as an adult, to make sure she knew how appreciated she was. She did anyway, I think. Because she always got the first copy of every album and I always went to see her. I would have also loved for my grandparents to see me up there doing it as a professional. But they saw me sing on their kitchen table. And for them that was the Royal Albert Hall, wasn’t it?  

 Aled Jones’s One Voice Full Circle is out now via Decca Records in association with Classic FM.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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