CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Lesley Garrett - A soprano in Surrey

PUBLISHED: 20:22 17 February 2011 | UPDATED: 15:13 20 February 2013

Lesley Garrett is one of Britain's best-known sopranos and is set to perform at Wisley Music Festival

Lesley Garrett is one of Britain's best-known sopranos and is set to perform at Wisley Music Festival

World famous soprano Lesley Garrett will be performing at Wisley Music Festival, near Woking, on Thursday June 12. TRACY COOK caught up with the down-to-earth Doncaster lass to find out what she has in store for her many fans in Surrey

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2006

World famous soprano Lesley Garrett will be performing at Wisley Music Festival, near Woking, this summer. TRACY COOK caught up with the down-to-earth Doncaster lass to find out what she has in store for her many fans in Surrey

Britain's favourite soprano has a cold the day I speak to her, so her famous voice sounds bunged up, as if she has a peg on her nose. Not that she gets any sympathy from her GP husband, Peter. "Oh no, you have to be at death's door to warrant any attention from him," she laughs.

Not one to give in to a minor sniffle, however, Lesley is currently in the thick of preparations for her forthcoming concert tour and is particularly excited about performing at Wisley Music Festival on Thursday June 12.

"I'm really looking forward to it, especially as I've never been there before," says the 53-year-old, who lives in north London but admits to having a real soft spot for Surrey. "It should be lovely if the sun shines!"

Singing at open air concerts is one of Lesley's favourite ways to spend an evening.

"I love them - it's like a big party," she says. "On a glorious summer evening, there's nothing I'd rather do than stand on a stage and sing along with several thousand people!

"Everyone's picnicking and getting merry - I usually try and throw in a couple of good sing-along numbers like Jerusalem to get everyone going. And then it gets dark and the candles come out - it all gets quite carnival-like."

For all the advantages of performing in the open air, however, singing outdoors does bring its own particular set of problems for a singer.

"Oh yes, it's a real challenge," admits Lesley, who has performed everywhere from London to Sydney, including the Hollywood Bowl and Wembley Stadium. "There are no natural acoustics so I have to rely heavily on my sound engineer so the audience can hear me in a truthful way. And if it's a sunny evening, the orchestra can't see their music, or if it's windy, the sheets of music blow off the stands! And if it's raining, I have large umbrellas and wellies on standby and several burly security guards to carry me over the mud!

"But you know, the resourcefulness and stoicism of the British public never cease to amaze me and they come equipped with everything from candelabra to plastic macs!"

Opera to the masses

These open air events are important to Lesley for another reason as well; because they provide the opportunity to bring opera to a wider audience. Opera has always been her first love, and the music she loves to sing the most, so she has spent a lifetime trying to make it more accessible to people who have never heard it before.

To this end, for the past five years she has also presented her own show on Classic FM.

"It's the highlight of my week," says Lesley, who also has her series, 20 Operas To See Before You Die, on Sky Arts Channel 267. "It gives me enormous pleasure when someone writes to me and says that they've been to one of my concerts, heard me sing opera and then have gone to watch a whole opera and now they go to opera regularly."

She has also just released a new recording of Cosi Fan Tutti singing the part of Despina. But although opera singing is her passion - she was principal soloist at the English National Opera for more than ten years - she hasn't followed the conventional path of the opera singer.

"It was when I had my children - Jeremy, now 15, and Chloe, 14 - I realised I couldn't travel all over Europe doing long opera runs," explains Lesley. "But my career has taken on a wonderful diversity, which I just love."

It certainly has. She has released more than 11 solo CDs and done lots of television too: most recently BBC2's Who Do You Think You Are? in which she traced her family roots, and BBC1's Comic Relief Meets Fame Academy, never mind her appearance in Strictly Come Dancing when she made it to the semi-finals! "I would love to have my own show again!" she says.

But while she may see herself as an entertainer, Lesley is no lightweight. She is a stickler for things being done properly and believes in rigorous training.

"Training is all," she declares. "It does worry me that young singers today tend to neglect it, with this whole getting famous quickly thing. It's like being an athlete - you have to keep your voice toned, your ears toned, your body toned. After all, my body is my instrument."

She still has singing lessons every week with her teacher from her days at the Royal Academy of Music - and another lesson in rigour came with her part as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, which she finished last year.

"I have a new found respect for singers of musical theatre," she says, "for the discipline to get up every night, give your best performance and keep the standard up, that's tough. An opera singer would find singing twice in a week hard."

She loved doing the show, however, and counts its opening night as one of the many highlights of her career. I wonder if there are any as yet unachieved ambitions to come and she laughs. "Oh, I think Glastonbury would be good fun. They've had Rolf Harris and Shirley Bassey; I think they could do with a bit of Lesley Garrett!" She would certainly know how to cope with the mud.

Down to earth

She may be a diva by profession, but in person she is down to earth, open and would be horrified at being thought grand. She grew up in Thorne, a small village in south Yorkshire, and went to the local grammar school. As Parky has famously said of her: "You can take the girl out of Doncaster, but you can't take Doncaster out of the girl."

Having grown up surrounded by music, it was almost inevitable she would become a singer. Her grandfather was a classical pianist, the other played in a dance band, and music was part of her everyday life, from the pit colliery bands to village singalongs round the piano.

But she has different hopes for her own children. "I don't want them to grow up with musical careers - it's too precarious," she says. "I hope they do something sensible. Having one flighty one in this family is enough! Jeremy seems interested in engineering or design technology and Chloe is good at so many things she will be able to take her pick."

And with that, it's time for her to get back to her busy life and hurry off for an appointment with a designer for one of her gorgeous dresses for Wisley.



Surrey Soundbites...

Favourite place to visit: "It has to be Guildford. It's such a lovely town for a day's shopping."
Best loved building: "Guildford Cathedral. I've never performed there, but I went to a friend's wedding and it's beautiful."
Ideal way to relax: "Watching the Surrey County Cricket team. I love cricket and watch it a lot. I've seen a great deal of Surrey - they're a brilliant team."

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 16:30

She may have recently moved to the seaside, but Surrey still holds a uniquely “precious” place in the heart of legendary children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson – not to mention the crucial role the county played in bringing everyone’s favourite and newly-returning feisty foster-kid to life

Read more
Yesterday, 11:59

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (23, 24 and 25 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search