Music

Katherine Jenkins: "My dad died when I was 15. He was the driving force"

Singing star Katherine Jenkins on the music industry's double standards for women, being friends with Kylie and the joy she's found in being a mum

My father passed away when I was 15 so I was still in the middle of dealing with the aftermath when I was 16. I was going through the grieving process. His death was a complete shock. My dad was older than my mum, he was 55 when he had me, 70 when he passed away. I just remember them telling me one day, out of the blue, that my dad had cancer. I think at that point we had the idea that we were talking six months at least. But within two months he was in a coma in a hospice. And he passed away very quickly. It was a few weeks before my GCSE exams. It was a really difficult, unexpected time. I don’t think anyone ever deals with it well, it’s a shock to lose a parent at any age. But at that time in my life it was really hard. I look back now and wonder how I managed to keep it all together.

I guess losing my dad at 15 shaped me for the rest of my life. You know, we all go through trauma and it can either become an excuse for everything that goes wrong in the future or it can be the reason things go right. Even if I didn’t recognise it at the time, I think it did spur me on. It taught me at a young age that life is very short. Your life can change in one day. So for dad, I wanted to make the most of every opportunity. That is why still, to this day, every time I win an award or make an album I dedicate it to him. Because he was the driving force. I feel he’s on the journey with me. Too much good stuff has happened not to think someone is guiding me along a path. Every time I’m about to go in front of an audience I have a word with him, I ask him to bless my performance. So he’s always the last person I speak to before I go on stage.

Katherine Jenkins singing ahead of England v Wales at the Six Nations 2016. Credit: Matthew Impey / Rex / Shutterstock

It would be lovely to go back and tell the 16-year-old me that she’d get a contract with Decca in just seven years’ time. I always knew I wanted to sing but I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough for that to really happen. My mum and me didn’t tell anyone about the contract for six months, we were so shocked. My mum kept saying things like this don’t happen to people from Neath. We had no knowledge of the music business, no idea how any of it was going to go. I think I’d say to my younger self, this is just the beginning of the ride. Because I always had that thing of thinking, well this is as good as it’s ever going to get. It just can’t get any better.

I don’t think my character is well suited to being a celebrity. There was a time a few years ago when I had a bit of a wobble. I was getting stick left, right and centre and I thought, I don’t know what to do any more. The person I was being presented as [a demanding diva] was so far from the person I actually am. I was making standard industry requests but for some reason there’s a different attitude to that if you’re a woman. I thought, maybe it’s not worth it any more. I remember having a conversation with my mum and she said: “Let’s see how you feel in a few months and if you still feel like this you have to do what you want.” After that the press happened to back off a bit, then I had my daughter and I stopped caring about those things so much. It didn’t matter how stressful my day was, I always got my cuddle time with her and I couldn’t care less what anyone thought.

My teenage self would not believe she’d one day be friends with Kylie. I admired Kylie all my childhood. I had all her albums, my sister and I learned all her dance routines, watched her every day in Neighbours. I remember when I was at school, my dad religiously taping Neighbours every day for me because I loved it so much. She recently asked me to come on and do a song with her as her special guest at her big Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which happened just last week. I think back to my young self, dancing along to her albums, and I had no idea what would happen in the future. How amazed I would have been at the thought of it.

Katherine Jenkins onstage with Kylie, Christmas 2016. Credit: YouTube

I’d like to go back to my younger self and tell her it’s okay, she will become a mother. I remember being around 27 and really worrying that my career had taken off in such a way – was I going to miss out on having a family? I always wanted to be a mum. It was so important to me. But my life was going at a million miles an hour. I now feel it happened at the perfect time, when I really appreciated it and really wanted it. I’ve been able to adjust my career appropriately. To say, I’m taking the time off to be with my daughter.

From the first minute I saw my daughter, I knew this was what I was meant to be doing. I’m absolutely obsessed with her. Being a mum has made me the best version of myself. I’m more patient, I’m more loving, I’m more considerate to other people. You identify with women in a different way. I’m just incredibly happy. I also definitely worry 500 times more about new things, everything to do with her. I’m a crazy, crazy worrier. But I guess that’s just part of being a parent.

I’ve never moved to America, that’s another misconception that came at the time when all these untruths were being written about me. ‘Oh, she’s upped and left, she doesn’t want to live in the UK any more’. I live in southwest London. My husband’s a New Yorker, so we spend time there. But Andrew is learning to love the UK and he understands I have to be here for my singing. And I want Aaliyah to grow up being proud to be British like I am.

If you could relive any time in my life, I would go back to the touring caravan trips we took before my dad passed away. We would go away on weekends, often just locally, sometimes just six miles down the road. In the evenings after dinner we’d sit, just me and Laura and mum and dad, and play Newmarket card games for pistachio nuts. It was very simple but we just laughed so hard. I look back at that time and think, gosh, we were all together. That really was just the most fantastic time.

Katherine’s latest album, Celebration, is out now. She is touring the UK, including at London’s Barbican Hall on December 27. katherinejenkins.co.uk

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