Hayley Westernra Talkasia Transcript
Hayley Westenra: HW
LH: Hello and welcome to Talk Asia. My guest today is Hayley Westenra, a young singer who at the age of 18 has been topping the classical charts and breaking musical records around the world.
Born in Christ Church New Zealand, Hayley first impressed her audience at age six when she sang at a school's Christmas play. Described by her music teacher as pitch perfect, Hayley was strongly encouraged to learn an instrument and to perform.
By the time she hit her teens, Hayley was buskin with her sister, attracting compliments from passersby and the attention of local media. TV appearances and record deals soon followed and her first international album Pure went straight to number one in the UK classical charts, making her the fastest selling debut classical artist of all time.
Hayley, welcome to Hong Kong, welcome to the show. (HW: Thank you, Lorraine) It is very good to see you. Now last year it seems to me by reading here, trying to catch up everything you've done, it's been a whirlwind year. You've performed for Tony Blair, the Queen; I mean the list goes on. How are you dealing with all this, first of all, the fame and of' course the busy schedule?
HW: Well I don't know I just, I tend to focus on the music and focus on my voice, so everything else that goes on around there I just try and block out and it can be quite tough, all the traveling. It takes this toll on your whole body and my voice of' course and so, but I'm loving every minute of it though. I'm really enjoying myself.
LH: You've also performed with some very important people like Andrea Bocelli, Jose Carreras, what was that like?
HW: Oh amazing. But I'm performing with both of us, incredible. I bought Andrea Bocelli's album when I was about 11 and it was the first time I ever bought. And so performing with him was just a complete dream come true and now he's recorded a duet with me for my album Odyssey which is amazing. It's such an honour. And performing with Jose Carreras was just what; he's such a legendary singer. And so it was amazing singing with him.
You've also worked with Charles Martin and his father, the legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Now that is impressive.
HW: Yeah, I first I chose, well I chose Giles Martin to be the producer of my album Pure and he's now produced my latest album Odyssey as well, but when he was obviously working on the album at Sir George Martin's, his father's studio. And so I think George must have like, heard about the music and he just wanted to get involved and he wrote a song for the album and he arranged the music and produced it, and so, it was just amazing. Just working with someone of, who's just had that much of experience and I don't think it really sank in initially. It took a while to sink in, and I was like, wow, Sir George Martin, producer of the Beatles.
LH: The Odyssey, your new album. It seems like such an odd title, I don't mean that negatively. I mean that because it really seems though you are at the start of a long career rather than when you think about when you sing about odyssey, you've lived a million years before. Why Odyssey?
HW: Well, first, I just feel the last couple of years since the release of my Pure have been one amazing odyssey, so I thought that word kind of described my last couple of years and also the album itself in my mind is a bit of a musical odyssey. And it kind of takes people on a journey, through different styles of music, through classical, folk, pop, and even the ones that are the gospel song of the album. So I just kind of thought it really described, well yeah, both things.
LH: Right. You've also written a song of your own. (HW: Yes) What was that like?
HW: A little nerve-wrecking actually. I was, 'cause I've been writing, I've been meaning to write my own music for a while, I was actually planning to write a bit more music for the album, but hopefully for the next one. I've been scribbling out lyrics and you know, recording melodies into my laptop, for the last couple of years, so it was just a bit unnerving, kind of opening yourself up and it's quite exposing- songwriting.
And also I was involved in a lot of the arranging of the music and that allowed me to sort of put my own individual stand upon each song and I was just more involved in the whole process with this album, so it's hopefully you know, I'll just be able to, keep taking it up a step, every album that I sort of make.
LH: Hayley, you mentioned earlier with all this traveling, it's taking a toll on your voice of course. How do you make sure that you keep your voice in good order?
HW: Well, for a start, the most important thing is that you look after you whole body because your body's health is reflecting your voice and so that can be quite scary sometimes because you know if you get sick, it's going to be obvious in your voice and so I just try and stay hydrated, try and get enough sleep, just eat well, avoid dairy products before I sing because it sort of makes your voice sort of filmy and it's not a good thing, and yeah I just try and look after my whole body. (LH: So a very strict routine) Yeah I guess it's a small sacrifice, avoiding a chocolate bar or whatever and you know. And also it's, I want to look after my body anyway. So, (LH: True) I don't mind.
LH: Hayley, we're going to take a very very short break. When we come back, we'll talk to Hayley about her album Pure and living it up to the image. Stay with us.
LH: Welcome back. My guest is singer Hayley Westenra. Hayley, your story really really started when you were what six years old?
HW: I guess so. I was singing before that, around the house, but mum and dad didn't really take much notice, it wasn't until I sang in my school play and got to sing a solo, then mum and dad were like, oh wow, she can sing, and the teachers were like you should start learning an instrument, and so I started learning the violin and yes one thing lead onto another.
LH: You and your sister I mentioned earlier, used to bask in Christ Church. One why did you do it and two, did you make a lot of money?
HW: Well, it kind of started off, there was a group of us kids and we were involved in a sort of children's opera group and we had four months on in the city. We had this lunch break, and a few of us didn't have money to buy lunch. So I don't know who it was but someone came up with the idea of basking, and so, we just, we started singing on the streets, put a hat in front of us, and before you knew it, we had enough money to buy everyone lunch and, so that kind of planted the seed, and I was like this is quite a good idea.
LH: Your siblings. They're all pretty musical. Have you ever performed with them at all, I mean now that you've recorded albums, etc?
HW: Yeah actually, a couple of years ago I did a tour around New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the UK and they came up on that tour. They came up on stage, my sister and I did a duet and then Sophie and Isaac and they both dueted as well, which is, the audience love it. It's just really nice to bring my family with me when I'm working, of' course most of the time they have to be at school and all that but I just love it when I'm on up on stage with them.
LH: When do you think you really decided that you would devote your life to music, that this would be something you really wanted to do?
HW: The thing is I've always loved singing, and I was pretty quite realistic when I was young, and I made sure that I still kept up with my schoolwork just in case I couldn't you know be a full-time singer and I had to have another job.
I think as soon as I got a record contract with Universal Music New Zealand, then I'd released my album and it had really well and that's kind of when it really dawned on me that this, it was possible, to be singing internationally and that was kind of very exciting.
LH: When you're not working, what do you listen to, what kind of music do you listen to?
HW: A whole range actually. I've got my I-tunes on my laptop and I've just a got a whole mixture. I listen to, people like John Legions, the Black Eyed Peas, and I've been listening to a bit of Aretha Franklin lately, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, and then like there's Kathleen Battle, yeah right from classical, folk, this is very much the sort of music that I'm singing, but not, I don't exactly sing like the Black Eyed Peas but I still appreciate their music.
LH: Your first international album sort of promoted an image of this young, pure girl. Is that a true reflection on you?
HW: Well, I like to think it is. When we sort of looking for a name for the album, someone came up with it, I'm not sure who it was, it did really fit with my music, fit with my mindset as well and my upbringing and I still feel that way. You know, I still feel pure.
Maybe things will change in the future, I don't see them changing but I'm pretty disciplined and I don't really drink, I can't really drink, the New Zealand thing, I don't see the need to. And it also comes back down to my voice really and I want to protect that, and it's my livelihood and so, that's the kind of the most important things to me.
LH: So you don't feel you've lost out or anything, like for example let's say if your friends are going down to the beach or they're doing something over the weekend, and you have to fly to Taipei or you have to come here to Hong Kong and sit with me to do this.
HW: I do get time, when I go back, which is not very often admittedly, I still relate to them, I still get a little bit of time to hang out with them and you know I feel like I'm, I feel pretty balanced actually, I feel like I'm, they're at university at the moment, they're studying hard, they're also partying hard but you know it's like a lot of people, like my friends could only dream about doing what I'm doing, they would love to be traveling the world and doing what they love and I feel very fortunate.
LH: So how does school fit into all this now?
HW: Well I've finished school so which is a bit of a relief actually. It was pretty tough when I was kind of you know, it's almost impossible studying and doing what I'm doing, singing full-time and I had a tutor over in London but even then, he would set me work and I would be on the plane going oh gosh, I've got maths to do but I really need my sleep, and so it was quite a struggle. (LH: So no college, university at least not for now?) Not for now, I mean I'm not ruling it out but at the moment, this is, it's kind of taken over.
LH: You know with all this adulation for so many people at your age, it's very hard to stay grounded and planted.
HW: I'd say it's probably the faith that I surround myself with really good people, people that I, down-to-earth people really, my family, I sometimes, a lot of the time, I have one of my parents traveling with me, not so much as I'm getting older, but you know that's, I've got my dad with me at the moment. I've got a great manager and the people who're with me are really lovely and I stay in touch with my friends, and I think also just my New Zealand upbringing, my Kiwi upbringing that kind of has a lot to do with it as well and just this, kind of the Kiwi mindset.
LH: That's very nice. We're going to take another very very short break. When we return, we'll talk to Hayley about charity work and life as a role model. Stay with us.
You're watching TalkAsia. We're spending the day with singing sensation Hayley Westenra. Hayley, aside from your musical work, you do a lot of charity work too.
HW: Yeah, I'm a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and, well I've been for the last couple of years, so that's hugely important in my life and it's just a great way to give back something to the world, the community and I'm just keen to sort of do whatever I can, I mean I just came back from a trip to Ghana. I was just there for five days, and it was pretty heart-wrenching as you can imagine but it was very very motivating.
LH: How so? What did you see?
HW: It's okay, for example, I saw a lot of good work that UNICEF has been doing, they've been setting up schools for young girls and teaching them life skills, taking them off the streets and giving them training and sewing and hair braiding, and tie dyeing and all that, skills that they can take back to their communities because a lot of these girls come down from the North, and looking to make money, and they end up on the streets, and involved in prostitution and it's just horrible. So these girls are encouraged off the streets, taught skills and they are sent back to their villages where they can set up small businesses, which was fantastic to see. Very encouraging, but there was also, you know, I was taken to villages where their main water source is this dried up pond, infested with guinea worm and I saw cases of these small children in such pain, with these huge open wounds. It was just really horrible; the most difficult thing was leaving and not being able to do anything immediately.
Now that I would be raising money, but there's just so much room for improvement. It was pretty tough, but I'm now working on this project with UNICEF, it's kind of my own personal project, it's just to raise money to provide bicycles for girls around Ghana and it kind of seems like an odd thing to provide them, but it helps them get an education, helps them get to school, because a lot of girls don't make it to school because the journey's so long and they're tied up with chores around the house, and looking after their siblings, if their parents have died from AIDS or whatever. And also the girls that do make it school, have to walk for many many miles, and they're open to all sorts of dangers along the way and so, these bicycles, they help the families and they help the girls. (LH: It's a wonderful idea.) Yeah, it's just a drop in a bucket but it's still worth my time.
LH: So how did this Ghana trip affect or influence you personally?
HW: It just reminded me of, just what it's all about really, it's like, but when I'm singing and working my way up, building my profile, and in my mind it's so that I have more power more access to reach people and then make them aware of UNICEF's work and encourage them to donate money to UNICEF and for these worthy causes, and it's sort of brought down to what life is all about.
LH: How did you get started with all this charity work? Was it just UNICEF right from the beginning?
HW: It was just, yeah, I was doing a lot charity work in New Zealand, and all around the world actually, and then UNICEF approached me and asked whether I was interested in becoming a goodwill ambassador for them, and initially I was kind of a little bit unsure, it was such a huge responsibility and in my mind, I was like , wow, what can I really do, and then I thought, well you know what, I do have some power and whatever I do is worth my time.
LH: I know, how do you prepare to be a role model for UNICEF?
HW: I guess I'm just carrying on being myself, I'm not trying to change the whole world but I'm just doing my bit really, you know, I've been given this amazing opportunity and I've living such a privileged life and it's just nice to be giving something back.
LH: Hayley, you live in London now, why did you leave New Zealand for London?
HW: I'm not; I mean I'm just temporarily living in London. Christ Church is still my home, I go back there every Christmas but I unfortunately, it's quite a distance from where my work is and I do need an overseas base and London is where my company's based. You know and I mean it's, (LH: Do you like it?)I do like London. I'm really enjoying my time there, it's a great city. But I do appreciate going back home, and I do wish I could spend more time with my friends and my family back home.
LH: What are you working on now?
HW: Well, I'm just working on, I'm promoting my new album Odyssey and whilst promoting, I'm working on my voice and I'm working on my music, and I am always, I want to progress with my writing, with my just, I 'm keen to sort of broaden myself musically in all the areas, arranging music, I'd love to be producing my own music individually, so I just, and I'm just keen to keep on progressing, keep on working my way up, and learning new skills.
LH: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you, where do you see yourself heading, as an artist and the direction you see your career taking, you know the next few years.
HW: Yeah well, I'm very where I am at the moment stylistically. I love doing, performing a range of styles in music, and the thing is I don't really see it a doubt to just covering a range of different styles, I just choose beautiful music to beautiful songs and songs with strong lyrics and strong melodies and so I just want to continue performing fantastic songs ad songs that really sort of capture people's imagination and just making good music no matter what style it is but I'd imagine that would be in the kind of the classical folk pop field.
LH: Well we wish you all the very very best. Thank you very much for spending your time with us. We really appreciate it. (HW: Thank you, Lorraine) I've been speaking with Hayley Westenra. This is Talk Asia and I'm Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.
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