I started having singing lessons at the age of nine. I met Olive Quantrill, who’s choir, ‘The Olive Quantrill Singers’ had won the BBC’s ‘Let the People Sing’ competition in the 1970s. She heard me singing in a local choir and offered to give me lessons even though I was so young. I was inspired by her beautiful voice and extraordinary teaching skills. Soon I was singing solos in all of my school concerts and local churches and taking part in county singing competitions.
Instead of going to music college after school, I decided to study English at Oxford. I couldn’t resist the thought of spending years in such a stunningly beautiful, historic town. I was drawn then, as now, to any old building with a rich past! It turns out that it was the luckiest decision I ever made, because, as well as having three happy years at the university, I also met my best friend, Nic. He and I went on to buy the Chateau de Lalande together, and if I’d never met him, maybe none of this would have happened.
After Oxford, I thought that I would become an opera singer. I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Voice at Trinity College of Music in London. At just the same time that I would have been starting my career, I was renovating a very ugly flat in London. I very quickly realised that the decoration was taking far more of my concentration than the singing. My true passion was buildings and interiors.
I had to make a decision – was I going to throw myself into making a career in music, or was I going to sell my flat and move to a chateau in the middle of nowhere with my best friend? Both would require all of my time and energy. In the end, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Lalande was my love.
It was after a few years of major renovations here that the strangest thing happened. A Frenchman and a Dutchman turned up at the door one day. The Frenchman – Cyril Huve – wanted to arrange concerts at the chateau. The Dutchman – Rob Drabbe – wanted to arrange workshops. In one single moment music had come back into my life.
Cyril Huve is a great concert pianist, who won a ‘Victoire de la Musique Classique’ in France. And it turned out that we’re practically neighbours! He found out (from my mother!) that I sing, and dragged me back on stage. He created a music festival, ‘Pentecote en Berry’, and each year extraordinarily talented classical musicians come from around the world to perform in his home – a barn transformed into a concert hall.
We’ve even hosted some concerts at Lalande. And, every year, all of the musicians stay here, so the whole house is filled with the sounds of different instruments.
With Cyril, I’ve had incredible opportunity to sing at Nohant, the chateau where George Sand lived with her lover, Chopin. It was a dream to be singing the songs that Pauline Viardot had composed over his mazurkas when she was staying with him in that very chateau.
The ‘Pentecote en Berry’ festival has staged many operas over the years. These I loved the most, as I enjoy the acting as much as the singing! And they’ve given me the opportunity to perform with truly great singers.
My favourite opera of all was ‘Une Education Manquee’ by Chabrier. I played the role of a man who has just got married, but doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do on his wedding night. He spends the opera desperately trying to find out!
Recently, I have been performing much less as Lalande is becoming busier and busier and I haven’t got time to practise my voice as I should! I suppose that, even after all these years, Lalande still comes first in my heart.