Bryn Terfel: 'I have to pinch myself to think how lucky I’ve been'

The Welsh opera singer talks to 'Books of My Life' about ignoring the bullies at school, moving to London as a young man and his global success on the stage

Bryn Terfel always loved to sing but the joy it brought him as a boy was tempered by sneering from his classmates. How things have changed. "You know the ones that would snigger in the background are the ones that have turned everything around now," says Terfel in an interview with Books of My Life, a new podcast from The National. "They want to be a part of the journey I've had, so they come and listen to me in operas. I just cannot believe it."

Terfel is box office. The bass-baritone has performed in operas around the world and won countless awards, including a Grammy Award in 2013 for Best Opera Recording. “I have to pinch myself to think how lucky I’ve been,” he says.

But Terfel is also one of the few singers to transcend the opera community. He is a celebrity – I’m sure he’d hate that term – in his own right, singing at the Rugby World Cup final with Shirley Bassey in 1999 and regularly delighting audiences at the Proms.

Part of the reason for this is Terfel's larger-than-life personality. He has a real presence in the room to support that formidable voice. This certainly came through in the interview, which we recorded in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, prior to Terfel's appearance in Tosca.

As ever, we were supposed to be talking about books but Terfel picked up the conversational thread and took it wherever he pleased. It would have been unwise to argue. Not that I’m complaining, of course. Terfel was frank about his childhood in Wales, the many problems he faced trying to break into the world of opera (“I wasn’t going to go to my parents and say, ‘Can I borrow some money for a suit?’”) and his subsequent global success.

And don’t worry, we managed to get some book recommendations out of him eventually.

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