Aled Jones talks to the soprano Lesley Garrett about her life. She leads the congregation at St Edmund's, Leeds, singing her favourite hymns.
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Lesley Garrett is one of Britain's most popular singers.
She's sung major roles in opera, performed in musicals
and starred in her own television series.
Today, she tells me about her life and the importance of her faith
and chooses her favourite Songs of Praise.
Lesley grew up in a musical family here in Thorne, near Doncaster,
and was drawn to the world of entertainment.
"I just knew," she said, "that I had to sing." And she did.
Here's a sample of her vocal talents.
MUSIC: "O Soave Fanciulla" from La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini
# He fills my heart with very special things
# With angels' songs
# With wild imaginings... #
# Oh, how my heart will dance
# When you caress me. #
Welcome to St Edmund's Church in Leeds, where we have our
musicians and congregation, and most important of all, our special guest.
Ladies and gentlemen, Lesley Garrett.
-Lesley, I've got to say, you look absolutely stunning.
-Aw, thank you.
-Well, not so bad yourself.
-Thank you very much! Especially on home turf?
-Yes, it's lovely to be back in Yorkshire.
-Well, listen, we can't wait to hear that voice.
You're going to lead us in our first hymn. What is it?
Well, it's a hymn that's about praising the Lord
and experiencing the love of Christ through the medium of song,
which is what we're all here to do.
-So it's My Song Is Love Unknown.
Well, I tell you what, it's been a few years since we sang together.
A couple? I think it was a chapel in Cardiff, was it?
-It's always chapels or churches.
-That's all right by me.
When little Lesley was growing up, was there a lot of music in the family?
Oh, are you kidding? We were the von Trapps of South Yorkshire!
There was always music. It's all we had, really.
We weren't a well-off family, it wasn't a well-off area. South Yorkshire. Coal industry.
Most of my family were miners or welders or...
My parents actually both worked for the railways.
My dad was a signalman, my mum worked in the ticket office.
But what we all had that bound us together and still does was music.
Because when we didn't have a telly or a record player, we always had a piano.
It was a fabulous childhood, actually. Full of music.
-And both grandfathers were involved in music, weren't they?
When I say it was a fabulous childhood, we didn't have a lot.
We didn't have a flush toilet, for instance.
We had ash middens in the back garden. Yeah, it was that impoverished.
But we just didn't know we were that impoverished.
But my grandfathers were a huge influence.
My Grandad Garrett, my dad's dad, had a dance band
-called Arthur Garrett and the Blackout Boys.
-It was. He formed it in the war.
It went on forever. But I think my mum's father, my Grandad Wall,
was my bigger influence.
He was too weak to go down the pits with his brothers,
so he was "put to the piano", as we say in Yorkshire.
And in the early part of the 20th century it was the second
-most reliable form of earning a living after mining.
-Can you imagine a world where music is that popular?
And he learned to play the piano and played for silent movies
and he was a terrific influence.
Well, we're going to hear you sing again now, I'm delighted to say.
And another hymn. Lesley's chosen that lovely Irish tune, Slane.
It's Lord Of All Hopefulness.
# It's not far... #
Lesley's stayed close to her Yorkshire roots.
And recently she joined with a brass band
and two South Yorkshire choirs for a concert at Sheffield City Hall.
It's an enormous responsibility, singing to a big audience, as I think we're going to have tonight.
I think there's getting on for 2,000 people coming to the City Hall.
And, when people come to a concert,
they expect to be changed by what they hear.
I think that's my job -
to make people cry if they need to cry or laugh if they need to laugh.
# Who can explain it?
# Who can tell you why? Fools... #
'For me, this kind of music making within the community is
'the foundation stone of all the great musical traditions of this country.
'This is where it starts, this is where I began.'
# Some enchanted evening... #
I've got a very special lady here tonight,
Vivien Pike, who was my very first singing teacher
when I was at school, 16, 17 and 18, and it was through her fantastic
teaching that I got into the Royal Academy Of Music when I was 18.
Of course, I'm incredibly nervous about her being here
because it is probably 30 years since she taught me!
And I don't want her to think I've deteriorated.
I'm very excited about singing Climb Ev'ry Mountain,
though it's a huge song. People misjudge it at their peril.
It's a really difficult song to sing because it literally climbs a mountain.
And you've got to save and save and save,
so you've got plenty for the end when you're on the top of that pinnacle.
# ..dream. #
Let's take you back to the Royal Academy Of Music in London.
-You're only 18. Were you out of your depth?
-Oh, totally. Totally.
Music and singing for me had always been a joyous hobby.
And when I got to the Royal Academy, I found people who had been
through choir school and had fantastic musical educations.
But also, you know, coming from Yorkshire to London,
-that must have been quite scary as well?
-Oh, it was terrifying.
I really didn't do very well to start with and my dear mum
sent this letter, and I opened the letter,
and a load of stones fell out on my feet.
I though, "What's she doing, sending me rubble?"
And I read the letter and it said...
"I thought you might need some Yorkshire grit, so I've sent you some."
And how did the rest of your family take to you wanting to go to London and be a professional singer?
Oh, well, my grandad had quite an interesting take on it -
Grandad Wall, who taught me to play the piano, who knew quite a lot of opera.
When I told him I was going to the Royal Academy Of Music
and I was going to become an opera singer, all being well,
he said, "Eh, lass, that's grand. I'm that proud of you."
He said, "I love opera.
"Except for t'singing."
So I had a bit of an uphill battle there, but I think I won!
Tell me why you love Bless This House.
Will, Bless This House is a song I've known since I was a child.
And I used to think it was a lovely song about God blessing our house.
And it meant such a lot to me for that reason.
I felt just very safe in that knowledge.
But since I've become older,
I've realised that in actual fact we're talking about God's house.
And that made it even more special.
Well, I can't wait to hear it. Go and get yourself ready.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's Lesley Garrett.
# Bless this house, oh, Lord we pray
# Make it safe by night and day
# Bless these walls so firm and stout
# Keeping want and trouble out
# Bless the roof and chimneys tall
# Let thy peace lie over all
# Bless this door that it may prove
# Ever open to joy and love
# Bless these windows shining bright
# Letting in God's heavenly light
# Bless the hearth, a-blazing there
# With smoke ascending like a prayer
# Bless the people here within
# Keep them safe and free from sin
# Bless us all that we may be
# Fit, oh Lord, to dwell with thee
# Bless us all that we, one day
# May dwell
# Oh, Lord
# With thee. #
-OK, next, next. Hello.
Lesley made her television debut
in the Bruce Forsyth Christmas Special back in 1989.
And the following year sang at the Last Night Of The Proms.
Since then, she's starred in her own series,
Lesley Garrett Tonight and The Lesley Garrett Show.
She's performed leading roles in numerous operas,
sung duets with some of the biggest names in entertainment,
starred in The Sound Of Music at the London Palladium
and appeared in the first series of Strictly Come Dancing.
She did a little better than me.
She came third with her partner Anton du Beke.
So, you made that move from opera to musical theatre as well.
Some purists say, you know, true opera singers shouldn't that.
I know, I got into bother for that with the purists, but, for me,
good music is just good music,
whether it's a hymn or an aria or a wonderful show tune
or a piece of folk music.
If it touches me, if it moves me...
And how could The Sound Of Music not move all of us?
And I had the wonderful honour of playing the Mother Abbess,
and it was a fantastic spiritual experience
every night, when I put the habit on.
And people laughed about the idea of Lesley being a nun. It was fabulous.
I just loved the simplicity of it,
the peace that I felt when I put this habit on.
It's a very special and very spiritual role.
I think it's time for another hymn. Now, this is a great hymn.
I think this hymn is really about
anyone who gives service to the community,
who loves their nation, loves this great country of ours.
-It's I Vow To Thee, My Country.
-And you're going to lead for us.
If you want to make your way to the microphone. Let's all stand,
ladies and gentlemen, and sing this inspirational hymn.
This is a beautiful, peaceful spot. Is this where you feel at home?
Oh, yes. This is very, very special to me.
There's a tranquillity, a spirituality here
that I don't find anywhere else.
I think it's probably very special because of its history.
St Andrew's, our church here in Epworth...
because it's been at the heart of the community here for 800 years.
It's where Samuel Wesley was the rector and his sons then, John and Charles, developed Methodism.
And you know when you're there on a Sunday morning, do you find that
everyone's listening out for Lesley Garrett's voice?
Yeah, they do turn round a bit. "The noisy one's in!
-"We might get a descant!"
-They don't know how lucky they are!
No, what I love about coming here is that I'm just an ordinary
member of the community. And that's, of course, what I am.
And nobody treats me as anything special.
They're all ever so friendly and want to know what I'm up to,
but I just can be myself.
You know, I can pop to the shop with my curlers in and it doesn't matter.
Most of Lesley's family
have continued to live in the area where she grew up.
And she's a patron of a South Yorkshire-based charity
that's very close to her heart.
It's a very special charity.
I got involved with them when my Auntie Joan developed dementia.
And the purpose of Lost Chord is twofold.
We employ young singers and musicians
to come in to Alzheimer and dementia care homes
such as the one we're in today...
MUSIC: "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller
..and perform for the residents.
And then the second part is obviously what those patients
derive from the music. And it is extraordinary
when a person can't remember their own child's name,
that you'll sing a song from their childhood or from years ago
and they will immediately be transported back to that time
and they will know every single word of that song.
And they'll sing along with you and their faces will smile
and be full of energy in a way that they normally never are.
Music has this unbelievable effect on Alzheimer and dementia patients.
And, of course, the musicians who are performing for them
derive an enormous benefit from holding the attention of such an audience
because you can be confident after you've done a gig like that that you can hold an audience anywhere.
And also they derive enormous satisfaction from seeing the pleasure they give.
So it's a fantastic charity and I'm very proud to be its patron.
# But you'll look sweet upon the seat
# Of a bicycle made for two. #
# Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace
# According to thy word
# For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
# Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people
# To be a light to lighten the Gentiles
# And to be the glory of thy people Israel
# Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost
# As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be
# World without end
# Amen. #
-That piece means a lot to you, doesn't it?
It's a very special prayer. It means a great deal.
-Last year, it's fair to say you had a very tough year personally.
2013 was the hardest year of my life.
lost both my parents and my oldest friend in a nine-month period.
nothing like that's ever happened to me before. It was...
It was really hard. Really hard.
-Was your faith tested at all?
It was reinforced, I think.
I don't know, I just sort of thought what my mum would say.
She used to say to me, "When I go, it's because I've had my turn."
And that was what it was, I suppose. They just had both had their turn.
Where do you think they are?
They're here. They're in my heart.
They're with me every day.
And they're with my children.
When I look at them, when I look at my kids,
I remember again what my mum used to say when I had my babies.
"Now I know I'm immortal.
"Because they're going to go on and have children of their own.
"And those children that you will see
"will have a little piece of me inside them."
And they'll have music inside them because she inspires me,
and my father, because they both had wonderful voices
and were completely committed to singing in the community.
And...they're in every song I sing.
And they always will be.
They had music inside them.
And thanks to you we've had wonderful music inside us as well.
Thank you so much for just being you.
Ladies and gentlemen, Lesley Garrett.
Well, unfortunately, we've come to our final hymn.
Don't worry, it's still your choice. What would you like to lead us in?
Well, I wanted us to finish today with a hymn that I've known all my life
that my mum cherished, and we had it at her funeral.
Even though it's a hymn about the end of life,
for me it's a hymn that's full of great joy and great love and great optimism.
-It's The Day Though Gavest Lord Is Ended.
My huge thanks to Lesley for her company.
Let's all stand, shall we, and sing our final wonderful hymn.
From all of us here in Leeds, goodbye.
Do join me next week as I look forward to the Football World Cup.
Meet the footballer whose career-threatening injury
was miraculously healed.
Plus a Catholic Mass with a Brazilian flavour
and favourite hymns from around the country.
One of Britain's best-loved singers, Lesley Garrett, talks to Aled Jones about her life and faith, and leads the congregation at St Edmund's Church, Leeds, in singing her favourite hymns.