Ask any choral music lover to name the most famous treble voice of the last three decades and the answer would surely be Aled Jones. On the eve of the Welshman’s Australian tour, he speaks to Julie Houghton.
Welsh singer, and sometime actor and presenter, Aled Jones MBE, delighted music lovers across the globe with his glorious ’boy soprano’ voice from the age of nine when he became a cathedral chorister, until his voice changed at 16.
The now 46-year-old says that religious music is in his soul, and has been since he was born.
“I immersed myself in the world of choral music at Bangor Cathedral,” Aled tells Warcry. “I am at my happiest when I’m singing religious music—that is my connection in a cathedral or in the darkness with one light on me in the theatre. When I’m in the middle of ‘How Great Thou Art’ or ’Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’, I feel something special happens.”
Unlike some boy trebles who give up singing after their voice changes, Aled was determined to keep going, and, as a baritone, has made many albums. The latest is One Voice, in which Aled sings with his younger treble self, from recordings of folk songs he recorded in the 1980s, which were not released, but kept safe and dry in the airing cupboard in Aled’s parents’ home.
One Voice covers traditional territory for Aled, with songs by Handel, Purcell, Britten and Vaughan Williams, as well as Irish and Welsh folk music, but so popular is the singer in his native UK that, upon release, the album outperformed the debut album of one of the country’s most successful exports, former One Direction singer, Zayn Malik (One Voice shifted 10,115 copies to 6,144 copies of Malik’s Mind of Mine).
Apart from Aled's adult career as a singer, he is a well-known television face in Australia from his hosting roles in the travel documentary series Classical Destinations and as the genial, music-loving host of the weekly religious program Songs of Praise, which he has hosted since 2004.
Hosting Songs of Praise is a role close to his heart, and he describes it as a real privilege to be at the front of a show that means so much to so many people.
“It’s a form of ministry for so many people who can’t make their way to church. It’s also a reminder for a lot of people of maybe happier times when they were at school belting out these hymns cross-legged in assembly,” he muses.
“My faith has grown a lot through presenting Songs of Praise,” he tells Warcry.
“I come into contact with amazing people who’ve done extraordinary things in their life through Christ. One can’t help but be impacted.”
Not surprisingly, Aled says that his belief in God is enhanced through music.
“I feel closer to God through music. When I sing religious music, I feel an energy surge through my body—it feels the most natural thing in the world for me to do. Like breathing, really,” he explains.
Aled’s early religious background was in a tiny church in Anglesey in North Wales, where he recalls there was an old organist with perfect white hair and a congregation of about 15 on a good day. He learned his Bible in Sunday school before starting singing at Bangor Cathedral, where he says his love affair with church music began.
“I remember walking into the cathedral for the first time and thinking it was the largest building in the world, but it’s basically just a glorified church. We sang on Tuesdays and Thursdays, rehearsals on Friday and two services on Sunday. It took over my life,” he reminisces.
Aled recorded several albums where his ethereal treble voice caught the imagination of the world, and even sang the theme song ’Walking in the Air’ for the British television show The Snowman, which reached number five on the UK music charts—a most unusual achievement for a young chorister!
His new-found celebrity led to performances for the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales, Pope John Paul II and the wedding of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates in 1986.
Following his studies at the Royal Academy of Music and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Aled diversified into acting, with lead roles in a famous Welsh stage show How Green Was My Valley and later playing the male lead Caractacus Potts in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Cardiff.
And it seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as his daughter Emilia is a child actor who has appeared in Doctor Who and in London’s West End as Young Fiona in the musical Shrek. Aled and wife Claire also have a son, Lucas.
Aled’s popularity in Australia as a treble is such that several fans named their sons after him (including this writer), a fact which amuses him.
“I still think of myself as a relatively young man, so when people come up to me and say, ’Oh, my teenage son is named after you’, I feel flattered, but I also feel very old,” he quips.
Aled is currently touring Australia to promote his new album. When asked what he likes about our wide brown land, his trademark humour asserts itself.
“What is there not to like about Australia? I would live here if I could. An ideal scenario would be six months in the UK and six months in Australia. More than anything I would love to do a cathedral and large-church tour in Australia, so if anybody wants to organise it, then I’d love to be there and do it!” he says.
Aled Jones’ One Voice album has just been released on the Decca label.