"It's a unique and powerful instrument." The singer-songwriter, Take That star and astute businessman didn't stop at pure admiration though. Certain of her potential for future success, he sought immediately to sign her to his new record label, Future, and declares himself excited to have brought her on board. Now, with Camilla's debut album scheduled for autumn release, one thing is certain - a new star is most definitely born. More than a little daunting, perhaps, for an artist who has only just turned 21 to find herself plucked from music school and put into the recording studio with producer Mike Hedges, famed for his work with U2, the Manic Street Preachers and Dido among many highly-successful others. Luckily Camilla, while hugely grateful for the good fortune that has befallen her, is also secure in her musical gift and in her sense of self.
As such, she is remaining grounded and is taking the experience in her stride. "Gary's one of the biggest talents in the whole of the British music industry and an amazing mentor. How lucky am I? Any advice he gives me is going to be incredible." Equally, she is learning daily about what does and does not suit her pure and vaulting classical voice, a coloratura soprano. Just how wide is its range, incidentally? "On a good day and with the wind behind me, I've got about four octaves." Even so, it's not an operatic voice? "Katherine Jenkins is operatic, being a trained vocalist with a rich and fully-rounded sound. I, on the other hand, being previously untrained (Camilla is now working with the head of musical theatre at the Royal Academy Mary Hammond to strengthen and preserve her vocal chords) am more like a boy soprano, someone who can sing so lightly and so high that, in the upper ranges, I become almost like an instrument.
And that's why the material we've chosen is not operatic crossover but classical, to which my voice lends itself so much better." Hence audiences will be introduced to Camilla via her interpretations of music that has been loved not just for months or years but, in many cases, for centuries. None of which will be surprising to anyone who knows her well, not least her mother Deborah. "If anything, mum's more of a Celine Dion fan but says that strangely, when she was pregnant with me, all she ever wanted to do was sit with a big bag of oranges on her lap, listening to classical music. She like to think it was me, urging her in that direction." Born in London but brought up until the age of eight outside of Auckland on New Zealand's North Island, Camilla says she herself seemed always to gravitate towards serious music. "A teacher at my primary school told mum at a parents' evening, 'most kids come in singing nursery rhymes but your daughter sings opera.' I was five at the time." And so it went on, even after the family's return to the UK to live.
No peer pressure to change, as she grew older? Camilla laughs and shakes her head. "My mother's a psychotherapist, she raised me to be secure and happy in myself, so peer pressure wasn't really a big issue. That's not to say I didn't know it was uncool for a kid to listen to opera ... Of course I knew. It just didn't bother me because I loved it." Even so, she remembers precisely the moment at which she was made aware that she had a gift few others possess.
"I was 14 and in detention in the music room after school for having chucked a pencil at a friend during lessons. Our teacher was late arriving so I started messing around on the piano, hamming up the title song from The Sound of Music. You know, 'The hills are alive...' As I went up the register, the other kids who'd been kept behind were all saying, 'Wow, that's so high!', and just for fun I went higher and higher and it was at that point the teacher walked in ... "He'd been listening outside and said to me, 'Do you realise you've just sung half an octave higher than the highest note ever written for the human voice?' My gran and my mum both have great voices and because we'd always sung around the house I'd never thought my voice was anything special but suddenly it dawned on me how well people responded to my voice and that I might just have something different, something that shouldn't be wasted." So, semi-reluctantly, out of the window went triple science lessons and plans to be a doctor, and after 'A' levels, I auditioned for Guildford's Academy of Contemporary Music. "For the first two years the concentration was on learning to use my voice properly and on reading music.
Then I went on to a two-year course on the business aspects of the music industry." But just three months in, Camilla's life changed irrevocably. Having saved up enough money to buy studio time locally, and singing with a £2.99 backing track, Camilla recorded her own versions of two classic pieces, 'Ave Maria' and 'Pie Jesu' to show off her remarkable voice. Armed with the knowledge that Take That were recording at London's Sarm Studios at the time, Camilla turned up on an almost daily basis hoping to give Gary Barlow the demos. Having received numerous copies of Camilla's demo over a four-week period, Gary finally relented and listened. In true fairytale fashion, he loved what he heard.
Soon after Camilla sang those two songs live for Gary who immediately offered to sign her to his record label. Now begins the countdown to the release of that debut album, newly recorded in Ireland. The acclaimed Sally Herbert has provided the choral and orchestral arrangements to what is a succession of quite literally breathtaking performances, ones for which all vocal arrangements have been supplied by Camilla herself. "I've put my heart and soul into this - we all have," the new young star says. "I believe you can tell that when you listen to the album.
It's very relaxing, very spiritual, but also uplifting and, I think, beautiful. I just hope that the emotions I felt while performing the songs will transmit to the listeners and make this a really inclusive experience. I want to move them in the way that I myself was moved." There's no doubt but that she is right in her summation. Camilla Kerslake has a quite extraordinary vocal gift and here and now begins what should be a remarkable career. Read more on Last.fm.
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