Choir joins megastar on his mission to Mars
Appearing on one of the year's biggest TV talent shows is something most pupils would never forget. Recording a single with a judge from the show is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the song being beamed back from the surface of Mars is what will write the pupils into the history books.
A group of more than 30 pupils from Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield, who form the school's gospel choir, have provided backing vocals for a new song by megastar singer-songwriter Will.i.am, which will be transmitted from Mars as part of a mission by Nasa.
The honour was given to the pupils after they appeared on hit show The Voice, for which Will.i.am is a judge. The choir performed live on the BBC programme earlier this year, providing backing vocals for contestant Jaz Ellington. The soul-singing Mr Ellington has been choir leader at the school for two years and asked the group to play a supporting role in his live rendition of The Beatles' Let It Be.
The choir was set up by Oasis Academy Hadley in a bid to bring about behavioural and educational change through song - a move that struck a chord with Will.i.am. The young vocalists made such an impact on the Black Eyed Peas band member that he asked them to help record his new single the next day.
Phil Raw, the academy's head of music and assistant principal, explained that the star approached them after the show and asked whether they wanted to be "part of something amazing".
"Will.i.am said he had written a song, but he didn't really tell us anything about it because it had to remain really hush-hush," Mr Raw said. "It was only after we recorded the single that we heard it was something to do with Nasa and Mars."
The rapper has since said on Graham Norton's BBC One chat show that he was approached by the US space agency to produce an exclusive song, which will be beamed back to mission control as part of an operation to land a robotic rover the size of a car on the Red Planet next month.
The 37-year-old has become increasingly involved in education in the US, showing a particular interest in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
The unlikely day out in the recording studio has had a galvanising effect on the student choir, which started just three years ago with only a handful of singers. The problem facing Mr Raw now, however, is how to manage his pupils' expectations.
"The number of participants is going up and it's had a really positive impact on the whole school," he said.
"But the problem is that the students think, after appearing on The Voice and recording a single, that this is normal. I have to try to point out to them that maybe this was once in a lifetime."
OFF THE CHART
Oasis Academy Hadley's school choir is not the first to feature in a hit song.
In the 1970s, students from Islington Green School in London sang on Pink Floyd's number one single Another Brick in the Wall.
In 1980, There's No One Quite Like Grandma, sung by St Winifred's School Choir, became Christmas number one.
The fictional pupils from BBC show Grange Hill had a surprise anti-drugs hit with Just Say No in the mid-1980s. It even took them to the US at the invitation of then First Lady Nancy Reagan, who was leading a campaign with the same name.
And Only Boys Aloud, a Welsh all-male choir for 14- to 19-year-olds, finished third in this year's Britain's Got Talent.