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Dreaming of Oxfordshire
Katherine Jenkins usually tells audiences at the Henley Festival about her dream of one day living in the riverside town.
At her festival appearance on July 5, her longing to find a place besides the Thames to relax may well be given particularly heartfelt expression.
Just back from a prolonged stay in America, where she reached the final in the Dancing with the Stars show, she has managed to fit in a recording session at the Abbey Road Studios with a full orchestra.
There had been a trip to Epsom to sing for the Queen at The Derby, where her rendition of the national anthem was effectively the starting signal for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
In a few days’ time, she would be waving the Union Jack again after being unveiled as one of the British Olympic Association’s first three celebrity ambassadors.
Together with Davina McCall, host of Million Pound Drop, and the outdoor adventurer Bear Grylls, Ms Jenkins will be part of an incongruous trio of celebrities charged with whipping up public enthusiasm for Team GB before London 2012.
Little wonder then that Henley will be the 31-year-old singer’s only outdoor summer concert, before later heading for Japan.
Neither is it a surprise that she chose the South Oxfordshire festival, with classical music’s most glamorous blonde and Henley almost made for each other, as she herself seems to recognise.
“It is one of my favourite festivals, with such a wonderful setting. Everyone goes really dressed up, looking so gorgeous. It think is unique in that way.
“I think this is my third appearance and it’s really special to be coming back. I always say I’m going to start looking for a house there because it would be such a gorgeous place to live.”
There quickly follows even more encouragement for Henley estate agents.
“I don’t think I want to always live in London. Yes, if I saw the right house...”
But it would seem she has already come a long way from her childhood days spent in the town of Neath in South Wales, somehow managing to combine the ‘girl from the valleys’ image with that of glamorous opera singer, and that of ‘opera babe’ with the nearest thing we have to Vera Lynn, readily performing for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
You might feel hard pressed these days to think of any great national or sporting event without Ms Jenkins being handed the microphone at some point.
And yet the mezzo-soprano had little difficulty sweeping all before her in the American version of Strictly Come Dancing, making it to the final with her partner Mark Ballas.
Yet for all her success on both sides of the Atlantic, she arrives at Henley looking and sounding unusually vulnerable.
The end of her relationship with Gethin Jones, the television presenter whom she met on the set of Strictly Come Dancing, put her private life under the microscope — something she had previously experienced after telling Piers Morgan, of all people, that she had tried cocaine and ecstasy as a young woman.
Last year there was more evidence that fame was coming at a price when she revealed that for more than a year she had been harassed by a cyber bully, who, from a rundown home in South London, was repeatedly denigrating her on a personal blog.
And now there is her weight loss, which seems to be turning into something of a national obsession.
The months spent in America appear to have been something of a great escape, with the singer describing it as a cathartic experience.
When she says, “the whole process has gotten me back on my feet again”, she is not referring to the waltz or rumba.
“Everyone is aware that it has been a difficult time for me,” she said. “I wanted to do something for fun and just be myself, something that would put a smile on my face. I was the unknown in the competition and I had no idea how well I was going to do.
“The show was watched by 25m every week, so it was an amazing experience. It meant America got to know my personality.”
The weight loss she insists is purely down to the rigours of the competition.
“It is perfectly natural if you are dancing and training for 12 hours a day.
“Once I stop dancing I will put it on quickly. It won’t stay off. I am now eating for Wales.”
Henley — where Sting, Lulu and Olly Murs shall also be appearing — will offer a welcome opportunity to return to music for Ms Jenkins, who at the age of 17 won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London.
“It will just be nice to get back to the day job.”
To mark the Jubilee year, the Henley concert will include a best of British section, she says.
“In a way it is a celebration of everything British anyway.”
Her last appearance at Henley certainly saw her on a high. Fresh from America having recorded an album with one of her heroes, the multi Grammy-winning producer David Foster, who produced albums for the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, she was gearing herself for stadium shows at the O2.
This time could mark another watershed moment with the opportunity to capitalise on her high profile to crack America, while she hints that her Dancing with the Stars experience could lead to the West End, or even Broadway, for a musical or her own show.
Already she is contemplating incorporating dancing into her concerts.
“But I’m staying in the UK for the Olympics. It’s such an exciting time for Britain so it’s amazing to be a part of it,” she said, declining to reveal whether she will be involved in the opening and closing ceremonies of London 2012.
If only dancing became an Olympic sport.
“Yeah maybe, that’s the only way I’d ever be able to take part.”