It's not often that you find an 18-year-old that knows exactly what she wants in life and where she is going, that is of course unless you are Hayley Westenra, the New Zealand-born, singing sensation with the 'voice of an angel' who rose to fame with the release of her debut album 'Pure'.From its release in 2003 'Pure' went on to become the fastest-selling classical album ever, which made the then 16-year-old Hayley a national treasure in her homeland and a star across the world.The last few years have been an amazing time for Hayley. Not only has she met the Queen, sang for George Bush, performed with her hero Andrea Bocelli and become an ambassador for Unicef, she has done a lot of growing up along the way. Now Hayley continues her journey with the release of her brand new album 'Odyssey,' a beautifully crafted album that once again showcases her incredible vocal ability.Instead of doing a 'Charlotte' on us, Hayley has stayed true to her classical roots while embracing a wider range of musical styles that take in a little bit of pop and folk. The album also includes a track that she co-wrote and a gorgeous cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now.'You would think that will all her success, Hayley may have let the fame go to her head, but as Femalefirst finds out, she is still just a down-to-earth kiwi girl at heart.
While most other girls your age are into pop, your passion lies in classical music, where does this passion come from?When I was younger I played the violin and the piano so I guess that was my first induction to classical music. Apparently my mum used to play classical music to me when I was a baby because it's supposed to be good for brain development. I enjoyed classical musical because it really suited my voice and something seemed to click. I enjoy singing other styles but I enjoy classical just that little bit more.
Do you have a very musical family?Yeah, I have a younger brother (Isaac) and sister (Sophie) they both have gorgeous voices but I think my musical talent came from my mum's side. My grandmother was a great singer and apparently her mother had an even better voice. My grandfather could play almost any instrument and they would go around entertaining in hotels and pubs around the South Island in New Zealand. And on my dads side my grandmother used to sing too.
Do you think your brother or sister might one day follow in your footsteps?I don't know? Sophie is fifteen and she is a great singer but also very academic. Isaac's twelve and he is more interested in hanging out with his friends. But I wouldn't be surprised.
You have had massive success the world over with your debut album 'Pure' did you feel there was more pressure on you when making your second album 'The Odyssey'?I did feel a bit of pressure but I think it was actually easier the second time round because I had a clearer idea of what sort of album I wanted to make. I guess after touring none stop with Pure I have now learnt what songs I really like and what criteria I need to meet for me to put a song on my album and sing. I think this time around, lyrics were hugely important to me. If you sing the same songs over again there are some songs that you always love performing and you think why did this song work? It usually comes down to the lyrics and whether you believe in them, even if you haven't written them.
How is your new album different from 'Pure'?It's really diverse in terms of style. I have a mixture of classical, folk and easy listening pop. I think my voice has matured and I feel like I have matured a lot in the last two years. I think my interpretation of the music is better and also my voice has developed. I am really pleased with it. I think it is a good representation of me as a person and a singer.
You co-wrote one of the songs on the album 'What You Never Know (won't hurt you)' is song writing something you would like to develop in the future?Definitely, I am actually doing a lot of writing at the moment for my next album. I was hoping to do more writing on this album but I was involved with a lot of the arranging which was exciting. It's nice because it's a way of putting your own individual stamp on a song, though it's already been written you're putting your own twist on it. But writing is something I definitely want to progress in.
You have worked hard and been successful from a very early age, do you ever feel like you have missed out on anything?I have missed out on things, but nothing of huge importance in my mind when you compare it to what I am doing at the moment or what I was doing at fourteen. I missed out things like my school ball, partying hard and getting drunk, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's something that so many people out there would love to be doing so I don't feel sorry for myself. When I was studying I was trying to fit in my school work and sing at the same time. It was stressful but it was all worth it. When I get tired it's like a really happy exhausted. I am really satisfied with what I am doing and what I am achieving.
What is the best thing about living your dream?Not having to go to university or high school and worry about what I am going to do when I am older. Having this opportunity at an early age it meant that I didn't have to go through that. I have always known that I wanted to sing but there are people that have dreams of becoming a singer but they have to settle for something else because the opportunity just doesn't come along. People say, you make your own opportunities, but luck does come into it and I feel so lucky that I have had this opportunity.
What's the worst thing about being away from New Zealand?Being away from my closest friends and family.
Are you enjoying living in London?I am really enjoying it. I love the city, it's so multicultural and there is so much going on. There are so many things happening, it's a city buzzing with excitement.
You have performed in front of George Bush and met the Queen but what has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?Performing with Andrea Bocelli last year on his New Zealand and Australian tour, which was a dream come true. The first album I ever bought was his, when I was eleven and I had been singing along and performing his songs since then. It was pretty weird, one minute I was singing along to his songs in my bedroom and then I was up on stage with him. I had always hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to sing with him but I never really expected it to happen that quickly. I have recorded a duet with him on my album 'Odyssey' which has taken it one step further, it just incredible, I still can't believe it.
Did he give you any advice for your career?Yeah, it was to live my life tranquilly.
What are these rumours about you and fellow New Zealander Daniel Bedingfield seeing each other?It was when he had his car crash in New Zealand. I only met him the once the year before, so it was quite strange, but since then we have actually become quite good friends, but the rumours are not true.
Do you have a boyfriend at the moment?No I don't have a boyfriend, I don't really have time. At the moment I am keen to be really focused. You have to be really disciplined and look after yourself, which means not really going out and partying. I don't really mind at the moment because I am enjoying what I am doing. Eventually I will have some time for guys but its all about the career at the moment.
You have appeared in an episode of the US series 'American Dreams' is acting something you would consider trying out in the future?Yeah I would like to try it and be more involved in that, but I want to focus on my singing because that's my passion. But it would be fun, it would be nice to have some variety in my life, but I still have time to try out various things.
I have to ask you about Charlotte Church because in the past you both were very similar earlier in your careers, what do you think of her new image?I think it's really great that she is following her heart. If this is the music that she is passionate about then I think it's fantastic that she has made this career change, because you have to believe in the music. I think she is doing really well and she has got some catchy tunes.
What other artists are you listening to on your iPod/CD player at the moment?I am listening to John Legend at the moment. I have kind of overdosed on him a bit. I have been listening to his album none stop since I got it. I listen to Aretha Franklin, Black Eyed Peas, Jill Scott, Dusty Springfield and Kate Bush. My music collection is very eclectic but it keeps me happy!
Hayley Westenra's new album 'The Odyssey' is out now.Sarah Williams
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