Valentine’s spectacular from classic young talent

Emma LeeTenor Jonathan Ansell shot to fame on the X Factor as part of the 'popera' group G4. Now a solo artist, he's teaming up with soprano Hayley Westenra for a show at the Lowestoft Marina Theatre on Monday. EMMA LEE spoke to him.Emma Lee

Sometimes the smallest action can be life changing. For singer Jonathan Ansell, it was making a simple phone call. Then a student at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in London, busking in Covent Garden to try to make ends meet, he saw an advert for a new TV talent show.

The programme in question turned out to be the X Factor, and Jonathan and friends Mike Christie, Matthew Stiff and Ben Thapa, collectively known as G4, came away as runners up.

Their unique take on pop classics, giving tracks such as Creep by Radiohead and Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen a classical twist, was a real hit with viewers. In fact, they went on to greater success than the show's actual winner, Steve Brookstein.

For Jonathan the X Factor was a helping hand to achieving a long-held dream - and he's still a fan of the show.

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'I love singing. I love recording. I grew up dreaming of being able to do what I'm doing,' he says.

'I have great memories of the whole X Factor experience and I'm really pleased I saw the advert and phoned up. It's changed our lives. I always get hooked on the series - it's surreal to think that we were once part of that hysteria.'

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After releasing a number of successful albums, G4 went their separate ways. Now tenor - and heart-throb - Jonathan is an established solo star with two chart-topping albums of his own under his belt - Tenor at the Movies and Forever, which were both released last year.

And on Monday, in a coup for the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft, he's teaming up with acclaimed New Zealand soprano Hayley Westenra for a Valentine's-themed night of music.

It's one of just a handful of dates in the country - the only one in the eastern region - and will feature a mixture of romantic classical and pop favourites, such as All I Ask of You from Phantom of the Opera and Time to Say Goodbye.

Jonathan has worked with Hayley on numerous occasions over the last few years - including at an England-New Zealand rugby match where G4 and Hayley were representing their respective countries.

'I love the purity of her voice,' Jonathan says.

'My voice and Hayley's seemed to connect. I was really fortunate that she was available to record a duet for my first album.'

Jonathan has performed before audiences of tens of thousands at events such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's 60th birthday tribute concert and the Rugby League World Cup Final at Wembley.

But his talent was first spotted in an altogether smaller arena.

'I was singing in assembly one day, and I was apparently singing a bit louder than the other kids.

'The teacher spoke to my parents and said I should audition for a choir. I went along and auditioned - I was seven and a half - I was really nervous, but I got in.

'And I was with them for years and years. So I guess I found out I could sing by accident. I found a huge amount of pleasure and release in doing it,' he says.

But at school in West Sussex (he's originally from Bognor Regis), Jonathan suffered at the hands of bullies who picked on him for both singing and the fact that he suffered from acne. He describes himself as a bit of a contradiction - a rebel with an angelic voice.

'Unfortunately people couldn't understand that and I got picked on,' he says.

Another hurdle was his dyslexia, which was only picked up on when he won a place at the Guildhall School of Music when he was 18.

Then came the X Factor audition, and the rest is history. But Jonathan is modest about his achievements.

'Someone called me the Justin Timberlake of classical music, which is surreal. I have to take it with a pinch of salt,' he laughs.

Of course, Jonathan has to take good care of his most valuable asset - that voice.

'I've always lived by the rule that you need to have a certain amount of resilience in your voice, otherwise when you get a cold your voice will give up.

'I'm not one of those people who refuses to travel in air conditioned cars, though,' he says.

While he describes himself as a down to earth sort of guy, who enjoys nothing more than a night down the pub with his friends 'chatting rubbish' in his down time, he is a bit of a thrill-seeker too.

As well as regularly braving the London traffic on his bike, he's bombed round the race track at Brands Hatch.

Jonathan's also a keen amateur cook, and last year he took part in a celebrity version of Channel 4's cult cookery show Come Dine With Me, which saw him trying to impress Lynsey De Paul, Tamara Beckwith and MC Harvey with his culinary skills.

Despite his evening not quite going to plan, he managed to finish joint first, winning a share of �1,000 for charity.

'When you have friends round you know who's coming and what they like.

'I hosted the first evening so I didn't even know who was coming until they arrived, so it's hard to pitch the evening. I was so nervous. The camera crew was putting me off, the smoke alarm went off. It was just hysterical. And a real blast,' he says.

t Jonathan Ansell and Hayley Westenra's Valentine's Tour calls at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, on Monday, February 9. Box office: 0871 424 4444.

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