Katherine Jenkins is no stranger to performing in the UAE, but you get the sense that her latest gig is the one she has been waiting for.
Ever since Dubai Opera opened in 2016, the popular British soprano has been watching the venue’s development with interest. So when the opportunity came to bring her latest world tour to the UAE, there was only one place she wanted to perform.
"I always have a great time in the UAE and audiences are really lovely and empathetic," she says. "But since Dubai Opera opened, it has been a place I have been dying to perform in. I know that the atmosphere and acoustics will be brilliant because one thing Dubai does is deliver everything to the highest quality."
And she is definitely coming. After the cancellation of numerous events around the country due to coronavirus, the Welsh singer assured fans on social media that she is definitely still coming.
Though Jenkins is an arena act back in the UK, the relative intimacy of the 2,000-seat Dubai Opera suits her new tour. Backed by a string quartet, she will perform her biggest hits as well as songs from her most recent album Guiding Light. Released in 2018, it is an intimate collection of tracks that features Jenkins singing personal favourites, such as Cat Stevens's Morning Has Broken, and Never Enough from The Greatest Showman soundtrack, as well as new material such as Xander's Song, in honour of her son, born in April 2018.
While Guiding Light doesn't feature Jenkins's signature vocal acrobatics, the hushed and serene vibe permeating the record is the sound of an artist comfortable in her skin. "With each album I am trying to show where I am in my life and with Guiding Light I do feel incredibly thankful and happy," she says. "That's what I am trying to convey with the new music. Sometimes it is not about me being showy and doing all the high notes and other technical vocal stuff, it is also about delivering real emotion and singing from the heart."
This is what being a parent does. Jenkins says that being a mother of two – her daughter, Aaliyah Reign, is 3, while her son, Xander, recently turned 2 – has influenced her career as it has offered her new creative and emotional reserves to draw from. "Having children changed everything for me," she says.
"It made me approach songs from a new perspective. I find certain pieces much more emotional because I am looking at the lyrics from a new angle. And that has been a massive change for me. There are songs that I have been singing for 15 years and only recently I am thinking, 'Wow, I am hearing this is in a new way now.'"
One such track is her signature showstopper, We Meet Again, originally recorded in 1939 by British singer Vera Lynn. Before, she viewed it as a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, but Jenkins says it now elicits a lump in her throat when delivering key lines such as: "We'll meet again / Don't know where, don't know when / But I know we'll meet again some sunny day."
"That is a Second World War song and I have sung that so many times," she says. "But when I think about it now, in 2020, and the idea of being apart from my children and family, that song now just breaks my heart."
Another aspect of Guiding Light that shines through is how settled Jenkins sounds. The album feels like a welcome breather in what has been a busy 17-year career.
Jenkins was born in Wales and rose through the UK classical music ranks by winning BBC 2 Radio 2 Welsh Choirgirl of the Year twice and joining London's prestigious Royal Academy of Music aged 17. Three years later Jenkins made international headlines when she was reportedly offered a £1 million (Dh470m) recording contract, which was a record for the UK's classical music industry.
The unprecedented nature of that deal was not only a shock to her and her non-musical parents, but it forced Jenkins to quickly entertain the unsavoury aspects of an entertainment career. Alongside big-selling albums, tours and television appearances, including the British version of talent show Dancing with the Stars in 2014 (she came second), and an acting role in the 2010 Christmas special episode for Doctor Who, Jenkins remains subject to occasional unflattering tabloid headlines, which comes with being a British celebrity. Getting used to that scrutiny was an adjustment, she says.
"I felt incredibly privileged but it was also a very steep learning curve. You know, nobody in my family is linked to the entertainment world, so I had to learn a lot about the business on my own. So that means coming to terms with being a familiar face and not allowing it to affect other parts of my life. It's really about doing the work and giving it your best."
It is a life lesson she credits to her late factory worker father (he died when Jenkins was 15 years old) and mother, who worked as a radiographer. "My parents were not particularly ambitious, but they worked hard in their jobs and that's what they taught my sister and I. They always showed us that you really get out of things what you put in," she says.
"The other day I was having lunch with the head of my record company and she said that I was the hardest-working person in classical music. I take that as a massive compliment. Because I do feel it is all about the commitment and the responsibility of being the best that you can."
But is Jenkins at risk of spreading herself too thin? In addition to her debut film role in the yet-to-be released drama Minamata, alongside Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy, and her frequent television appearances, is she concerned that her celebrity will overshadow her artistry? It is an emphatic "no" from Jenkins.
"One thing you need to know about me is that I never think of myself as a brand, ever," she says. "I've always looked at myself as an artist who wants to do things that excite and inspire me. I like the idea of stepping out of my comfort zone and being slightly terrified. I never had this plan of being a multifaceted entertainer. I just want to give things a try."
Katherine Jenkins performs at Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai, today. Tickets from Dh295 are available at www.dubaiopera.com