I'm tapping my feet in the court room, agitated. It's the 19th of November. I have been pulled into Jury Service. I'm currently five minutes late to an interview with a brand new crossover artist. I'm desperately waiting for the judge to let us go, and after another five minutes, she says the magic words. Knowing I'm late, I leap out of the bench, barge past my fellow jurors, apologising too quietly for any of them to hear, and I race down nine flights of stairs. I smash the door open into the jury lounge and crash land into the nearest couch. I turn my bag upside down, and vaguely find a pen and notebook, before guiding my hand around to find my phone. Fingers fumbling, I grab it. I punch in the number. I'm fifteen minutes late by this point, but all the same, the new soprano is more than accomodating: 'Take your time!' she insists.
Camilla Kerslake is the first artist to be signed under Future Records, a label set up by Gary Barlow, and she is set to be noticed in a big way. She spares me thirty minutes of her time to tell me all about her new album, what she hopes for in the future and how she pays no mind to the elitist critics.
Your debut album is released on Monday (23rd November); that must be really exciting! In the attempt to have us get to know you better, can you tell us about your journey into music? When and where did it all start for you?
All the women in my family sing, so noone really knew that I was gifted. We all just thought everyone can sing; that's just how it is. When I was five, my teacher sat my mum down and said most children come in singing nursery rhymes, and that I was singing arias from The Magic Flute, badly, but still... we just dismissed it. When I was fourteen my class were doingThe Sound of Music - we were actually in detention for being naughty! We were just singing higher, higher and higher, and my voice went the highest. It turned out that I was half an octave above the highest note ever written for the human voice. I didn't realise that the teacher was standing outside, and he walked in and said 'Do you realise what you've done?!' I hadn't! But he was really sweet; he arranged for me to get discounted singing lessons and it was then that I thought that maybe I could do this; maybe I could do this for a living. At the time, I was studying to be a doctor; I was taking triple science. I was expecting my parents to be mad, but they were really supportive. My dad said that they were just waiting for me to figure it out and that they didn't want to push me into anything. My mum said: 'Well, about time!'
How did it go from there?
Classical has always been my first love, but it's just so expensive - the lessons are £50-70 an hour, it's something that would never be available to someone like me, so I did contemporary. I did the pub and club circuit; it was really fun but it wasn't what I really wanted to do. About September last year, I auditioned for a girl band and I got it. I was so excited because I finally got some recognition! After about a week though, they found out how old I was. I didn't lie about it in the first place, I just didn't mention it because I didn't think 20 was too old, but when they found out, they kicked me out. At that stage, I was thinking even if I can break into this industry, do I really want to be working in an industry that hires children and not young adults? After that, I started working a lot harder - I started financing myself to get singing lessons, because I wanted to do classical, it's what I love! So, I made the demo, and then started stalking Gary! (laughs) [she's referring to the story of her giving Gary Barlow demo tracks every day for six weeks]
(laughs) Yes! Gary Barlow has certainly worked with crossover artists before; penning tracks for Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson and Charlotte Church, but he doesn't seem to be the most obvious person to approach in the field; what made you target Gary?
I had doors slammed in my face - being told that I was too old, and giving my demo tracks to labels and managers and not getting any feedback. This industry from the outside is like a fortress - if you don't have a name, you're stuffed. So, I didn't contact Gary thinking that he was going to sign me, I went to him because I knew where he was and he seemed like such a nice man. I was really just looking for advice; just more of opening doors than getting signed. I was just incredibly lucky that he signed me. It was a complete fairytale. I have to keep pinching myself because it just doesn't happen to normal people!
Gary is a very talented song-writer! Are we likely to hear his compositions on later albums?
I jolly well hope so! I'm a bit annoyed that he hasn't written me anything! (laughs) No, no, not really! (laughs) I chose some of my favourites, and there are some wild cards in there as well, like 'Balulalow' and 'In Paradisum', stuff that people don't necessarily think of. I mean, 'Closest Thing to Crazy': it was random to cover that, but it works really well. But at the same time there are the 'Pie Jesu's and 'Panis Angelicus's; things that everyone would think of. We wanted to play this record fairly safe. Next record: watch out. It's going to completely different!
How much control did you have over this album?
Quite a lot. Having Gary as the record boss - he knows what it's like to be on my side of things, he knows how frustrating it can be when you don't have control over your own career. At the same time, I know classical music, and he didn't. He really listened to me - the majority of the classical material on the record is what I chose. And the producers, that also produced The Priests record, suggested other things as well, and the contemporary tracks were decided by the label - it was just a real collaboration. There's nothing on there that I don't like, I adore all the songs. I was just so lucky, and it was kind of them all to involve me so heavily.
Which track is your favourite from the album?
Oh no! No... You know what? I think 'Balulalow'. It's really haunting. To me, it sounds like it should be in a creepy fairytale or something. It's spine-tingling. But at the same time, you've got to love the covers. I was so pleased the way 'Rule the World' turned out. I originally did a cover of 'Patience' which I really liked but it didn't really lend itself to classical so we tried 'Rule the World'. At the time, I wasn't so sure but now I love it. It really worked as a classical piece and it's a real testament to Gary's song-writing.
You said earlier that your second album will be different to your first. What direction do you see your music going in the future?
I would like it to be more epic. Like 'Rule the World' where it gets big towards the end and makes me really want to get up and do something; it gets me all excited! There are only a few songs on this record that are like that, so on the next record I would like more Il Divo type songs with all the massive crescendos! So, more of them on my second record! I know what they are going to be, but I can't tell you! But I would love to do a cover of 'Wind Beneath My Wings' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' but Il Divo have done that song now!
Let's talk about your voice, what's the highest note you can sing?
F6 is the highest note written for the human voice, and I can go half an octave higher than that. I can reach A6, but on a good day with the right wind behind me, I can just about reach B6.
Would you say your voice is particularly operatic?
It can be. When we sat down to make this record I thought it was going to be a lot different to the way it turned out. The direction that the record label wanted to take, and the direction that was best suited to me was my lighter, more contemporary soprano. I would say on this record that I am definitely boy soprano - kind of like in the Hayley Westenra style, so it's really calming and relaxing.
So do you have any ambition to enter opera at any stage in your life?
I do think about it a lot, but at twenty one I am far too young to be singing opera. I admire Sumi Jo - she is absolutely the most amazing coloratura soprano I have ever heard in my entire life. It's so humbling to listen to her. If I get half as good as her when I am fifty, then I will be happy! It will be incredible if in 10-15 years that my voice would have matured enough to maybe sing a minor role in an opera but for now it just wouldn't be possible.
Classical crossover artists are nearly always attacked by the classical elite. If you received such criticism, how do you think you would respond to it?
I have had it!
Already! Well, it was only one article, all the others have been positive. People my age do not tend to listen to classical music and I think that is such a shame. What I have tried to do was to put some purely classical and contemporary songs on there so people my age will listen to the 'Rule the World' and 'The Closest Thing to Crazy' covers and think 'Wow, what a fantastic version' then get the record, listen to the classical material and think 'This is incredible, maybe I should check it out.' At the same time, classical musicians, like the purists, will hopefully listen to my versions - maybe to poo-poo me - but they'll listen to the contemporary covers and maybe think 'this is actually a well written song maybe I should investigate the original', so for me this record was all about crossing genres. I didn't make the record for the critics! I made this record to make a genre that isn't usually accessible, into something accessible. I made it for people that love music. It's about creating an emotional response with my listeners. If people want to say mean things about me, then that's fine. I am never going to be able to please everyone. If I made an entirely classical record, purists will not particularly like it. It's just snobbery, really.
Were you inspired by any classical artists in particular?
Lesley Garrett, for me. She was the principle soprano at the ENO, and you have to be someone pretty amazing to then start singing into something to make it more accessible to the public. She took her incredible instrument to the masses and I really admire her because without her there would be no Hayley Westenra, there would be no Katherine Jenkins. And her voice is just out of this world. I won't compare her to me because that would be an insult to her!
Can you name a favourite crossover album?
The Promise! By Il Divo! I have all of their albums but The Promise is mine and my mum's favourite!
You are set to share the stage with Il Divo and Vanessa-Mae at the Hammersmith Apollo in London on the 7th and 8th December. Excited much?!
Massively! Il Divo have sold over 22 million records, and Vanessa-Mae is literally a living legend! I can't believe I am going to be on the same stage as them! It's such an honour! I don't really know what to say! Whenever people ask me I am just like: "YAY!" but that doesn't write well! I'm thrilled!
Who else would you like to perform and work with if they're not enough?!
Ooh! Oh! Oh! Andrea Bocelli would be incredible! You know what would be amazing? To do two very different shows, one with Hayley Westenra where we would perform celtic type songs, because I think her voice is amazing for it. I loved her work for the Celtic Woman soundtrack. And then I'd like to perform 'The Flower Duet' with Katherine Jenkins so I could bring out my real operatic voice with her. I have a higher voice than her as well so we could do it really well together. And Russell Watson... I'll stop now, I'm going too far - just everyone! Everyone!
Fan question! Graham Gall askes if there are any particular venues that you dream of performing in?
(Instantly) The Royal Albert Hall! I went to the Proms this year, and they played that contemporary cello piece and it sounded really good. The acoustics are really amazing there, but it's not just that, it's the incredible people that have graced that stage so it would just be an absolute honour.
What can we expect from from Camilla Kerslake in 2010?
Hopefully I'll be touring! The whole reason I'm doing what I'm doing is because I love connecting with an audience! I have been singing in an studio to just three people for the past three months! Yesterday was amazing - I did a gig at Selfridges and there were only about 300 people there but it was still really good. So, I would really like to tour, bring out a second record probably... we'll see!
Lastly, is there anything you want to say to your fans?
Yes! If anyone ever wants to ask me a question or speak to me, please, please, please feel free to contact me on Twitter! Always feel welcome to talk to me!
Camilla Kerslake's debut album, Camilla Kerslake, is out in the UK on 23rd November; pre-order the album at amazon.
Find out Camilla's concert dates by clicking here.
Interview by Nicola Jarvis