Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Tuesday, 11 May 2010 09:02 UK

Camilla Kerslake aims for high note at Classical Brits

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Camilla Kerslake
Camilla Kerslake will perform with Blake and Howard Goodall's Enchanted Voices

Camilla Kerslake doesn't look like someone who's about to do battle with The Pope.

The 21-year old classical singer arrives for our interview dressed as glamorously as in her publicity shots.

Kerslake is currently rehearsing for this week's Classical Brits, where her debut album is up for an award against Alma Mater's Music From The Vatican, which features the voice of Pope Benedict XVI.

As we climb the stairs up to the interview room, she repeats an unlikely tale that's just been spun by her cabbie.

It's almost as fantastical as the story of Kerslake's own rapid rise to fame.

As part of the awards show at the Royal Albert Hall, Kerslake will sing Nessun Dorma alongside fellow best album nominees Blake and Howard Goodall's Enchanted Voices.

I'd like to think that Pixie Lott sings a bit of my version of Rule the World in her bedroom with her hairbrush
Camilla Kerslake

A year and a half ago things were very different.

As a university student in Guildford, Kerslake spent weeks making a daily trip to Take That's recording studio in London in order to hand her demo tape to Gary Barlow.

"I had to get up at 5am and I had to do my hair - in case I ran into him - and take it all the way there and bribe the receptionist, and get the train back to get to lectures so I didn't fail my university course," recalls Kerslake.

Operatic ambition

Her tenacity paid off: last year Kerslake became the first signing to Gary Barlow's Future Records label.

Now she's about to sing at the Royal Albert Hall for the third time. She's already sung at Wembley Stadium for 90,000 football fans.

Camilla and Gary Barlow on the story behind her record deal

So what chance is there that her version of Take That's Rule The World (in Italian) could become an unofficial World Cup song this year?

"Maybe there is - I couldn't say..." she grins.

She says she is a Preston North End supporter, having moved there aged nine after growing up in New Zealand.

"You've got to stay loyal," she says. "That's the first football match I ever saw. Preston North End versus Blackburn Rovers - and we lost."

Kerslake praises Howard Goodall's arrangement of Nessun Dorma - which is being released as a charity download single after the show is broadcast.

"It's very close to Puccini's original - instead of the one that everybody knows, but it's instantly recognisable. I'm so proud that the Brits have chosen it as the official single."

It is 20 years since the Three Tenors performed the song for the 1990 World Cup - when Kerslake was just one year old.

The singer still seems slightly shocked that she's even appearing at the Classical Brits.

"I've been watching them since I was young and you practise your acceptance speech in the mirror when you're 10, but you never think you're going to get nominated."

Kerslake sees herself as part of the "classical crossover" industry. She makes the point that she never calls herself an opera singer.

"Opera singers train for years. And then they'll do an opera course, I guess because they'll have trained for 12 years they would get a bit ticked off if someone like me - who has barely trained at all - gets the same name."

She adds: "I go out of way to never call myself an opera star. I'm a classical singer - I'm in the process of training."

Kerslake admits "it would be incredible" to train as a professional opera singer.

"Whether or not my talent allows, we'll see. Whether or not I have enough time to dedicate to the training... it would be something I would love to do."

Pop workout

It could have all been so different.

Before she found Barlow's patronage, Kerslake had a place in an all-girl group.

But then she was booted out for being "too old". She admits she was heartbroken at the time. Any regrets?

"None. The reason I wanted to be a pop singer was because I couldn't afford to train classically. If I had known what I know now then I wouldn't have ever pursued a pop career.

"I'm a musician. I want to be recognised as a musician and as a singer as opposed to a celebrity."

Asked if the girl group got off the ground, Kerslake shakes her head.

"I don't know - they haven't released anything. I hope they do well because a couple of my friends got in."

She admits to giving her vocal chords a pop workout in private.

"In my bedroom I'll do a bit of a JLS - maybe a bit of Pixie Lott. But they sing them far better than I would.

"I'd like to think that Pixie Lott sings a bit of my version of Rule the World in her bedroom with her hairbrush."

Kerslake is a "coloratura soprana" which she explains means she can "sing very, very high and very, very light".

She adds: "If Mariah Carey was a classical singer she would be a coloratura, because of all the trills she can do and the heights she can reach."

'Bit cheeky'

Kerslake, who is in the middle of recording her second album, is aware her image is an important selling point.

"I'm 21 years old," she says. "I don't want to be going out in opera gowns and making myself look in my 40s.

"It's important to get my personality across and sometimes I can be a bit cheeky and I like a laugh."

As the interview comes to an end, Kerslake proves her point. She says getting the right accent is "one of the hardest parts of the job".

Asked to sing Take That's Rule The World in Italian with a cockney accent, she duly obliges.

"Please don't put that on the interview!" she laughs.

It's a safe bet that Kerslake won't be slipping any "cor blimey" moments into Nessun Dorma at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday.

The Classical Brits, hosted by Myleene Klass, will be broadcast on ITV1 on 18 May at 2235 BST.

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