Brian AlexanderKatie Melua has sold millions of albums worldwide and is appearing at the 20th Hampton Court Music Festival next month, along with Liza Minnelli. She tells Brian Alexander about the pleasure – and the pressure – of performing
Katie Melua was just 19 when her first album topped the UK sales charts. The intervening nine years have been a mixture of triumph and occasional trauma – and a lot of hard work. Elfin-like and strikingly pretty, Katie is as pleasant a performer as you would ever wish to talk to. Above all, she is firmly grounded, having experienced what the press described as a ‘nervous breakdown’ a couple of years after the slog of recording and promoting albums with endless tours across the globe eventually took its toll.
“Everything happened to me very quickly from a very young age when I was spotted at the Brit School in Croydon. It went from nothing to everything in a very short space of time. In the last few months we’ve seen how that pressure can affect superstars like Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse.”
Thankfully, Katie is now back to fine form with a well-received fifth studio album Secret Symphony and she’s back on the road in the UK in October. But first, she’s making an appearance at one of her favourite venues, the Hampton Court Music Festival, on Friday June 22. The festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
She says: “It is absolutely unique. So much history, such beautifull buildings and when I played there before the atmosphere is lovely. It’s a gig I really look forward to.”
Another big event for Katie later this year will be her wedding. In January she confirmed rumours of her engagement to World Superbike racer James Toseland. “We come from two very different worlds, but we get along so well,” she says. “He attended a concert of mine I did in Sheffield in May last year and one of my band spotted him in the audience.
“He then turned up for a second time and he came backstage afterwards and that was that. I’m very happy.”
Katie was born in Georgia before she moved with her family to Belfast when she was 8 and then to Redhill in Surrey six years later. Her father was trained as a heart specialist, but life was pretty tough in her youth in Georgia. She recalls having to carry buckets of water up five flights of stairs to her family flat five times a day and she says: “Now, when I'm staying in luxurious hotels, I think back to those days.”
We all know Batt for writing the signature tune for the TV show The Wombles. But there’s a bit more to him than that. He is recognised as one of Britain's songwriters and composers, having won five Ivor Novello Awards and worked with Art Garfunkel, Elkie Brookes, Roger Daltry, George Harrison and a raft of other international stars. He has also conducted many of the world's great orchestras, including the London Symphony, The London Philharmonic, The Royal Philharmonic, The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the State Orchestra of Victoria and The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.
Katie signed to Batt’s Dramatico label and made her musical debut in 2003. By 2006, she was Europe’s best-selling female artist when Call off the Search reached the top of the UK album charts and sold 1.8 million copies in its first five months of release. Her second album, Piece by Piece, was released in September 2005 and to date has gone platinum four times.
She’s a demure young woman with a great talent and great looks, but don’t let that appearance give you the impression that she’s dull. Far from it. She has a reputation for being what it commonly called an ‘adrenaline junkie’, enjoying everything from paragliding and hang-gliding to the scariest rides at fair grounds and theme parks she can find.
Her entire career so far has been a record-breaking rollercoaster ride involving several massive world tours, numerous awards and many special moments, such as playing on stage for Nelson Mandela with the Queen, dining at Buckingham Palace with Queen, performing a gig at the bottom of the North Sea, walking the Great Wall of China and playing at London’s vast O2 Arena.
She won’t quite find those thrills at Hampton Court, but she says: “The biggest thrill for me is that I’m feeling well and healthy again and I have lost that fear of performing that gripped me just before I decided to take a break. It will be lovely to walk onto that stage at Hampton Court and perform again.”
And if you haven’t been to the Festival before, take a tip from me. Book early and while you’re at it, order a Jamie Oliver picnic to eat in the grounds before the concert. It makes for a great evening.
If you can’t make Hampton Court (tickets have sold very quickly), you can also catch Katie at The Hammersmith Apollo on October 9 and 10.
essence infoHampton Court Festival
The 10-day Festival opens with the legendary Liza Minnelli and closes with Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, performing their first concert in the UK for 18 years.
14 June: Liza Minnelli (tickets £105 & £130)
15 June: Jools Holland (£45 & £50)
16 June: 20th Anniversary Gala & Fireworks with the Royal Philharmonic (£45 & £50)
20 June: James Morrison (£45 & £55)
21 June: Caro Emerald (£37.50 & £45)
22 June: Katie Melua (£45 & £50)
23 June: Franki Valli & The Four Seasons (£60 & £75)
24 June: John Barrowman (£45 & £50)
Tickets: via www.hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com or in person at the Welcome Centre, Hampton Court Palace Telephone: 020 8241 9818