My best teacher

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Even though I was only four, I think I realised it was not every headmaster who sat down and played the piano with his pupils

I have a standing joke with Ieuen Thomas, the head of my primary school, that I will have "Bananas In Pyjamas" on one of my albums in honour of him.

He used to take each class in the school for an hour's group singing once a week. Thirty children would sit round the piano on the woodblock floor in the main hall while he played and we sang. Some of the songs were such fun, like "Hungry, Hungry, I Am Hungry", but my favourite was "Bananas In Pyjamas". They were the first songs that I learned, because I did not come from a musical family. They really got me hooked.

Mr Thomas ran a talent show at the school and when I found out about it I was determined to sing something. We have a video of me aged four singing "Going Down the Garden to Feed the Worms", with Mr Thomas introducing me.

He had trouble getting me off the stage because I was enjoying myself so much. That planted the seed. I decided then that singing was what I wanted to do with my life.

We all really loved him; he was such a warm man, but also firm. Even though I was only four, I think I realised it was not every headmaster who sat down and played the piano with his pupils. I still see him when I go home to Wales because he goes to the church where I was a chorister, next door to the school. He has become a family friend.

I loved school all the way through and enjoyed working hard; so did my friends, and we got good academic results. I was lucky that I went to schools where the teachers were so encouraging. At Dwr-y-Felin, my music teachers Mrs Howells and later Mrs Brown got so many extracurricular activities going - shows like Calamity Jane, Grease, Guys and Dolls, and concerts - as well as music in assemblies. I didn't stop; every night and every lunchtime I had something. I am so grateful for the opportunities they gave us. Having taught for a while I know how much effort these things take.

You do not always know, as a child, what is going to be important in the future, but I often have reason to thank my Welsh teacher, Mrs Evans. She inspired me with a real love of the language, so that, although my family is not Welsh-speaking, I can now do interviews in Welsh. In my third year we did an exercise writing out the Welsh national anthem. I have to sing it so often these days, but thanks to her I never have trouble remembering the words.

Recently I was asked back to Dwr-y-Felin to be a guest speaker for their prize evening. It was strange to be on the platform looking down at all my teachers. I was a bit anxious about singing to the pupils because you never know how they are going to respond to classical music, but they were so receptive. Afterwards my teachers came up and gave me a hug. I did not expect anything else really, because they were like that when I was there.

I chose to go to Gorseinon College to do my A-levels even though it was an extra hour to travel, because the principal, Penelope Ryan, was a singer and her husband taught music. They gave me opportunities to perform and encouraged me to go to music college.

Beatrice Unsworth was my singing teacher at the Royal Academy. She has been amazing. It was hard moving from Neath to London, but she became like a second mother to me. I still have lessons from her about once a month. I know that I can call her from anywhere in the world if I have a problem.

In everything I have done, I reserve a special place for my father, who died when I was 14. He retired early to devote himself to ferrying me and my sister from music lesson to dancing lesson or rehearsal after school. He had total faith in me, and because of his influence I never doubted that if I went for my dream, I would get it.

Mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins was talking to Rachel Pugh


1980 Born Neath, South Wales

1984-91 Attends Alderman Davies primary school, Neath

1990 Wins BBC Radio 2 Welsh Choirgirl of the Year

1991-96 Dwr-y-Felin school, Neath

1996-98 Gorseinon College, Swansea

1998-2002 Wins scholarship to Royal Academy of Music to study singing

2003 Signs largest deal in classical recording history with Universal Classics. Official mascot to Welsh team at the rugby world cup in Australia

2004 Debut album Premiere goes straight to No 1 in classical charts

2005 Release of debut single Time To Say GoodbyeYou'll Never Walk Alone.

May 8: Performs in Trafalgar Square for VE Day

Portrait by Richard Lea-Hair

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today