Meeting Katherine Jenkins | Features reviews, news & interviews
Meeting Katherine Jenkins
The Welsh popular soprano discusses drugs, singing to troops in Helmand and cracking the pop market
It’s pretty well understood that talent, good looks and hard work are not enough to guarantee you safe passage through the celebrity jungle nowadays. But for five years it looked as though they might be enough for Katherine Jenkins. Until recently the general view of Jenkins held that she was a nice, polite, touchingly naive, and unaffected young woman from Neath in South Wales, who just happened to be the most popular classically trained singer to emerge here in this century.
Her reticence appeared almost saintly. Jenkins never talked in public about her boyfriends, never dissed less musically gifted rivals such as Charlotte Church and was never photographed falling out of taxis at 4 in the morning. Until November of last year the notion that her past might contain embarrassing secrets – a phase of class A drug use, say, or a tangled family history – seemed highly unlikely.
It still does today. On the eve of a big show in Las Vegas - where her first interview since all the tabloid hoohah takes place in and out of the broiling desert heat - Jenkins does not come across as the secretive type. She chats for Wales and while occasionally saying that “she doesn’t want to dwell” on this or that she accepts that unwelcome media revelations are “all part of the job.” She insists that she has only “tried to draw a line between my music and my personal life.”
Jenkins does not come across as the secretive type. She chats for Wales
This hasn’t been easy. She tells of the problems she’s had with stalkers and overzealous fans. One man managed to sneak into her dressing room during a London concert. “ I was like, ‘hello, do I know you?’” Another cunningly identified her address in North London via the satellite pictures on Google Earth and started posting notes through her letter box. “He would always begin by saying ‘I’m not stalking you, Katherine, but' …!” Five guys on motorbikes once chased her car after spotting her leaving an event in the West End. “That was quite intimidating actually.” Even though the police haven’t responded to her complaints, she still won’t use bodyguards, except for one at her concerts.
Not that a bodyguard would have been much use to fend off the intrusions she’s endured recently. The trouble started with an interview Jenkins did with Piers Morgan for the men’s lifestyle magazine GQ in which Morgan laddishly pressed her to reveal the devil within Miss Jenkins – if there was one. She cheerfully declined to play the minx and when Morgan asked her if she had ever taken drugs she denied it.
The truth was, though, that Jenkins had taken cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis during her student days at the Royal Academy of Music. With a wide-eyed astonishment that seems to belong to a more innocent time than the one we all live in now, Jenkins says she’s “amazed that stuff I did at parties as a student is news.” But it was. After the GQ article ran last October one of her former party pals contacted Britain’s leading scandal-broker, the PR Max Clifford.
Forewarned about the imminent sale of a drugs exposé to a tabloid, Jenkins rang Morgan, whom she likes and calls “great fun”, and told him loads. She admitted snorting up to three lines of cocaine a night “usually at parties after getting drunk on too many Malibus and Cokes,” and suffering terrible hangovers the next day in which she felt “depressed and paranoid.” The comedown from Ecstasy, she said, was even worse: “I didn’t want to live.” She put it down to having fallen in with “a bad crowd” and insisted that she was “very naive about things like drugs. There was nothing like that around where I grew up.”
Morgan’s graphic but sympathetic account in a Sunday newspaper averted much of the "shock horror". There was however plenty of tabloid tittering and a droll "Excess All Arias!" headline. Although she says she hasn’t touched drugs since signing her first record contract in 2003 Jenkins seems slightly less repentant now, claiming that she “was just experimenting, really.” The most hurtful part of the disclosure, she admits in a pained whisper, was the betrayal by her so-called "friend". And she doesn’t want to dwell on that.
The first time I saw pictures of my sisters was in a national newspaper. I wanted to send them some flowers to say sorry, but I don’t have their addresses
No sooner had this storm died down than another blew up. This time the uncomfortable revelations were news to Jenkins herself. In March the Daily Mail ran a story claiming that she had two twin half-sisters by her late father’s first marriage. The women, both now 56, still live, as they have done all their lives, in Neath in South Wales, the town where Jenkins grew up. Following a tip-off, the reporter doorstepped Pauline Jenkins, who appeared wearing a towelling dressing gown and slippers. She said that, yes, she was Katherine's sister but that she “didn’t want to get involved in all of that”. Two months later Jenkins and the twins still haven’t met, and she hasn’t spoken publicly on the subject.
She again professes to be perplexed by what counts as news these days. “The first time I saw pictures of my sisters was in a national newspaper, which was quite upsetting for me. And I feel really sorry for them that they’ve got dragged into my world because I don’t think they wanted it. I wanted to send them some flowers or something to say sorry but I don’t have their addresses. Neath is quite a big town but I’m amazed that we’ve not met before. I still have friends there who are trying to sort that out.”
Though her mother apparently knew about her two step-daughters, neither she nor her husband ever spoke of them to Katherine or her younger sister. She doesn’t resent her mother’s silence, she says, “because mum’s like me, we don’t like to argue. If something’s an uncomfortable subject for us, we’d rather sidestep it.” Not dwelling on awkward matters is clearly a Jenkins family trait.
People who’ve worked with Katherine Jenkins in the past are quick to stress how ambitious she is. “Ruthless” is the term used by one who says “she’s good at moving on. There came a point when Katherine wanted to be seen at the Baftas and in Vogue magazine, and she made sure that she got new people in place who could deliver that.” She swiftly fired her first manager and, according to a former staffer at her record label Universal, “became quite demanding, and costly, in terms of hair and make-up.”
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