Aled Jones on his friendship with Terry Wogan and 35 years of Walking in the Air
Aled Jones has come a long way from the little boy warbling lyrically in the choir stalls of Bangor Cathedral.
Catapulted to fame as a teenager, thanks to his pristine rendition of Walking In The Air, the child-star-turned-superstar now has a glittering adult singing career, supplemented by media work spanning Songs Of Praise to a Sunday slot on Classic FM.
As he prepares to tour around UK cathedrals including Wakefield Cathedral and Beverley Minster later this year, we sat down with Jones to discuss the rigours of touring, and why his unusual childhood remains more a blessing than a curse.
“As long as you enjoy what you’re doing and keep your feet on the ground, I don’t think there’s a problem with performing as a youngster.”
One of the world’s most successful boy sopranos, Jones made his professional debut at 12 years old, performing the role of the Angel in Handel’s Oratorio Jeptha on BBC2 and BBC Radio 3.
By the time he was 16, he had recorded 16 albums, with more than six million copies sold, and had sung for Pope John Paul II, the Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales in a private recital, as well as presenting numerous children’s television programmes.
But when his voice broke, his recording career was temporarily halted. “It was a relief, really,” he reflects of his voice breaking, “because people had been asking me that question for the last two years of my boy soprano life, and I knew that unless I had a very uncomfortable operation, it was on the way.
“It was easy in the end. I remember doing a press conference in Bangor, saying I was ‘ending on a high’ – oh my God – to concentrate on my O-levels, and that was that.
“No one had really done it in the public eye before, which meant there was no blueprint, whereas now the crossover into classical is big business. Back then, it was just me, Pavarotti and Julian Lloyd Webber.”
Whilst some child stars struggle to translate their success into adulthood, Jones certainly managed it.
“To be honest, I don’t know [how],” he says. “Foolishly, I didn’t have anything else to fall back on, and I knew if I was going to carry on singing in the public eye, I wanted to be trained, so I went to the Royal Academy of Music. That way, at least if someone reviewed me, they’d have to say I was trained, not just little Aled Jones resting on his laurels.
“Terry Wogan was my ‘radio dad’ and a real mentor to me, and he always told me to spread myself out as much as possible. It makes it harder for people to get rid of you.”
Jones has held presenting roles on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio 2 and 3, as well as Classic FM, where he hosts a Sunday morning show.
It was Wogan’s doing, he says, that he made the jump between singing and radio. “It’s Terry Wogan’s fault. I remember telling him I wanted his job, so one day on The Wogan Show, he got me to interview him, and it was the most cringe-worthy thing in the world.
“He answered every question with the words ‘Prince Philip’ in front of about 10 million people, but I enjoyed the process.
“These days I focus on long-form interviews, when it’s a one-on-one, hour-long show. I love those because there’s nowhere to hide – you have to have read the book, listened to the album, done your research.”
Alongside his broadcasting work, Jones has continued to perform. In 2016 and 2017, he released a trilogy of albums under the One Voice banner, the latter One Voice: Believe featuring a duet between him and his son.
“My daughter acts and sings and wants to follow that path, while my son sang on an album of mine when he was younger,” Jones says. “His voice has broken now and he’s much taller than me.”
In September, Jones is due to begin a tour of UK cathedrals. It will come to a conclusion in Bangor, where Jones joined the cathedral choir at the age of nine. “That’s who I am,” he says of his affinity with Wales.
"Wherever I go, I sing in Welsh, I still speak Welsh to my mum and dad, and when I go back home it feels like a first language. I’m a proud Brit as well, but if you cut me in half, it says Wales.
“It’s funny how things change when you get older. When I was 16, I couldn’t wait to reach the bright lights of London, but now when I go home to Anglesey, I feel the tension drop from my shoulders. I was so lucky to be able to roam free, climb trees, play football, etc. It was a very happy childhood.”
“Every lesson at school was punctuated by music,” he reflects. “Even during maths, the teacher might get out a guitar and play a song that would help our times tables – and we were always encouraged to perform.
“There came a time as a teenager when singing was a bit ‘sissy’, but I think that’s changed now. My kids’ MP3 players have everything from Rachmaninoff to Eminem, and that’s how it should be. At the end of the day, music is music.”
Tours can be pretty gruelling, but Jones says he’s been lucky to keep his voice in shape. “It’s a muscle at the end of the day, so the more you use it, the easier it gets. Touch wood, I’ve been lucky with my voice, but you have to be careful around December and January when everyone’s got colds.
“I’ve been doing [shows] for so long, I can go off stage and straight to bed – and I’ve travelled so much, I can sleep anywhere. In the dressing room, on the floor, coat as a pillow – we’re not starry-eyed when it comes to the set-up.
“On tour, it’s Premier Inns because they’re always the same – no surprises, no disappointments – or if the journey is less than three hours, I’ll come home.”
Despite his success, Jones is happiest away from the limelight. “On a beach somewhere with my family, with no one else around. I’m probably in the wrong job, because I’m insanely private, and I’m quite shy when I’m not on stage.
"I feel physically sick if I have to queue up for the red carpet, so I always go behind my good mate Myleene Klass, because she will obviously get into the papers ahead of me.”
For Jones, the past four decades have had many highlights and his success as a boy is up there with the best. “I travelled to places like Japan, did the Hollywood Bowl, performed with Leonard Bernstein, and sang for the Prince and Princess of Wales in their living room,” he reflects.
“Equally, when I came back as an adult, my first album could have been a fluke, but when my second album went to number one, then I knew I was getting a second bite of the apple.”
Still today, Jones is often called the Walking in the Air singer. “That will never change,” he says. “There was a time when my mates would put it on jukeboxes and laugh when it came on in department stores, but I’m an old man now so I can front it out quite well. It feels like it was somebody else who did it – it was 35 years ago this year.”
Aled Jones is due to appear in Beverley on October 7 and Wakefield on October 3.