You’re a famous “northern lass” with a beautiful voice, but education was important to your parents and at school you got 10 “O” Levels and 2 “A” Levels, one in music. If music had not worked out for you – what career do you think you would have had?
I’m really interested in politics – I’m always watching the Prime Minister’s Question Time – so I probably would have pursued a career as a politician. It’s such a scary but exciting time in politics with the whole Brexit situation. Although I voted to stay in Europe, I have complete faith in the democratic system. We have a saying in Yorkshire “spit on your hands and take a fresh hold” so I take that approach!
A famous Wirral benefactor, Lord Leverhulme, thought education was very important and so he built the famous village of Port Sunlight for his workers which included a school, a museum and a theatre, all still very much in use today. Do you think that those who are able to do so today, should be more philanthropic and support communities and young people with access to art and music in the way that Lord Leverhulme did?
Absolutely! I believe that Lord Leverhulme was a saint – he was so enlightened and ahead of his time in the way that he provided such wonderful facilities for his workers. He fully understood how the arts could benefit his employees who became better workers as a result. I feel it is so short-sighted of the government to cut funding in the arts and it saddens me that music is often an optional extra in schools as music touches everyone’s lives. Children benefit so greatly from music, it helps them to discover who they are and introduces them to other subjects, such as language, geography, maths and history. Plus, music brings immense physical benefits – it helps you to breathe properly and promotes co-ordination of the mind and body. It’s such a powerful tool of expression, giving a real emotional release – feel good therapy if you like! I believe all children should have access to music lessons. I think people should definitely support their communities.
Whilst you were at the Royal Academy of Music you did some work as a life model to help fund your studies, did sitting as a model and being looked at so carefully help you prepare for performances in the future? Do you have any of the pictures that were done of you at that time?
Yes, it definitely prepared me for a role I had in an opera when I had to appear nude on stage and certainly helped me get rid of any self-consciousness! I enjoyed being a life model. Being nude never bothered me – it seemed very natural and it was much nicer than other jobs I had when I was a student which included pulling pints behind a bar and washing the dishes! I would be lay there on a mattress on a rotating turntable – I felt like a doner kebab! I used the time to learn my lines – I would go over them in my head. I have got two lovely statues that people made of me which are proudly displayed in our hallway. I have to walk past my 21-year-old self!
You’ve performed all over the world in various roles, which country did you like to perform in the best and what’s your favourite role?
Great Britain every time! I love singing in English to English audiences. I’ve performed in some great venues. I love the London Coliseum and I’ve had some lovely times performing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in Liverpool – they are magnificent. We are so lucky to have so many treasurable theatres in Britain.
How did you manage being on the road and touring when you had children and a husband at home? Did you find it difficult to be a wife and a mother as well as a singer and celebrity? Any regrets about missed events – school concerts etc?
I met my husband when I was 35 and didn’t have children till I was 40. But they were a real blessing. I had health problems with my kidney and was told I may not be able to have kids.
My career really changed when I had kids. Before having children, I performed all over the world but when I became a mother I started to do more work in the UK – I got involved in TV shows, made albums, talked on the radio, performed in West End Musicals – most of which was on my doorstep so I didn’t have to be away from them. And if I did any touring, for example, I performed at lots of open air theatres around the UK, they would come on the road with me – they loved it! I’d shove a couple of sleeping bags in the trailer for when they got tired. I am so lucky that I have been able to diversify my career to fit in with my family life.
My children are all grown up now – they have both just graduated from Sheffield University and my husband Peter is a GP so we’re all busy in our own ways. These days I do a couple of shows a week but I always try to get home on the same evening so I’m not away from home too much. I do love being at home! Now my kids have finished university, I have come back into the opera fold. I have four composers writing for me at the moment so watch this space…
You’ve done several tours of “An audience with…”, what is it about this format that you like? Presumably some of the questions can be tricky!
The show is very intimate – the antithesis of the big shows and places I’ve performed in. I get the opportunity to tell my life story – from my humble working class beginnings, growing up in a little village in Thorne, South Yorkshire where I had a wonderful childhood – to great adventures performing with some of the most renowned opera companies including English National Opera and Royal Opera. The first half of the show is classical pieces and the second half is musics from shows and films then we have a Q&A with the audience. I love this part – the trickier the questions the better! I get lots of political questions as people know I am fascinated by politics.
You have recently recorded two songs with G4 for their new album and are appearing in concert with them in March. Do you like the process of recording for an album?
Oh, they’re just gorgeous and they sound like Heaven on a Stick! I will be appearing on Loose Women with them soon. I have also performed with them in subterranean caves in Gibraltar and we had great fun playing with the monkeys afterwards! I do enjoy recording although it’s a completely different discipline to performing live which I much prefer. I always try to retain that live quality when I am recording which can be a challenge for it not to sound too sterile. There was no chance of that when I was performing with G4 though!
You’ve done photoshoots and performances wearing some beautiful gowns, do you choose these yourself and do you get to keep them?
I’ve worked with some wonderful designers over the years. David Emanuel was an early influence, as well as Vivienne Westwood. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with Maria Grachvogel and Castigliano. I keep them in an archive in my cottage in Yorkshire. I also have one of my Emanuel gowns on display in Cusworth Museum in Doncaster.
When you have a night off and it’s just you and your husband, do you have a quiet night in or do you like to go out?
We’ve got six youngsters living with us at the moment so I just love spending time with them and my husband at home, cooking and chatting about current affairs. We also love going to the theatre and going out walking. We have a cottage in France so we love to go there and enjoy some nice walks. I also have a passion for horse racing. My sister and I own a racehorse so we like to go and watch him race. I just love sport and like a good Yorkshire woman I love cricket so I like to watch that and I like to do charity work. I am president of the Lady Taverners which gives young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with disabilities to enjoy sport.
What’s the best meal that you’ve ever had and what made it the best?
You can’t beat a Sunday roast with roast beef and Yorkshire puddings of course, followed by bread and butter pudding.
As you’ve had a very successful career with your singing and TV work, is there an unfulfilled ambition that you still have?
I’ve always fancied doing a film score but my wish is coming true this year as I have been asked to sing arias in a new film featuring Stephen Fry about Marjory Booth the opera singer and British spy who was based in Germany during the war – she was called “The Knicker Spy” as smuggled a microphone in her knickers! I am so excited about that!
An Audience with Lesley Garrett
As part of her latest UK tour, Lesley is performing for one night only at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall on Friday 7 April 2017, 7.30pm. An Audience with Lesley Garrett will offer a delightful evening of song, reminiscences and chat. Tickets start from £29.70 and can be purchased in person at TicketQuarter, Echo Arena Liverpool, online at www.ticketquarter.co.uk or on 0844 800 0410.