In a special Christmas interview, David Johns talks to the now-all-grown-up child singing star Connie Talbot.
Ten years ago, six-year-old Connie Talbot strode onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent and with a precocious talent, angelic voice and delightful gap-toothed grin launched into Somewhere Over The Rainbow. A couple of minutes later, the life of the girl from Streetly had been changed forever as she sent the studio audience into raptures and captured the hearts of millions of TV viewers watching at home.
Since that amazing debut Connie has become an international phenomenon appearing in shows around the world as well as having hit albums and becoming a multi-million YouTube sensation. When I caught up with the 16-year-old this month she was on her way to ‘knock around’ some ideas with the producer of American superstar Mary J Blige. Having had a successful album Matters To Me in March 2016, Connie is in the midst of ‘some big projects’ due in early 2017.
Being a child star is seriously tricky stuff. There are plenty of examples in showbiz of lovely, talented kids who have been seriously good at six and seriously a pain in the ass and off the rails at 16. But not Connie. This is one teenage sensation with a seriously screwed-on head. And she’s in no doubt who to thank for that. “It’s all down to mum and dad,” she says.
“People think that if a child is very successful at something and ambitious it’s because they have pushy parents. But nothing could be further from the truth with my parents. I have always just pushed myself. I decided I wanted to audition for Britain’s Got Talent and they supported me in that, just as they do with everything else. They’ve always encouraged me with my music, but also stressed the importance of getting a good education, doing well in exams and having a career to fall back on if my music all goes wrong. We all know music is a risky business. One day you’re everyone’s favourite but it can easily all change round very quickly.”
Family is all-important to Connie (“I’m spending a quiet Christmas with my family at my auntie’s – she’s just round the corner in the same road as us”). Connie lives with mum Sharon, dad Gavin and her older brother Josh and sister Mollie. It was her late grandmother Violet who was first to recognise Connie’s talent for singing when her grand-daughter watched The Wizard of Oz with her – and sang the songs from the musical over and over. After her sensational appearances on BGT, Connie’s debut album Over The Rainbow won a gold disc in the UK and platinum and double platinum in other countries. Connie became the youngest artist in the UK to reach the charts and the youngest-ever to receive a gold record.
Two years later she released an album in America and recorded a one-hour TV special. She was just aged eight. The following year she performed for world leaders in South Korea at the opening ceremony of the G20 World Summit. Then in 2011, she sang at China’s New Year celebrations watched by a TV audience of 600 million! Tours of the UK, including top venues such as London’s O2, followed before trips to Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
As well as developing into a prolific songwriter, Connie also plays piano and guitar. “I love songwriting,” she says. “I like being creative. The way I write music is pretty random really. Often if I have something on my mind I might write about it. It can be the music that comes first or the words, or a mix of both.
“Right now it’s important to get the balance between my music and schoolwork right. It’s never been a problem though because it has always been second nature to me to have to deal with both in my life right from when I was very young. I’ve got GCSEs next June and then I will probably do A-Levels, but really I want to make my career moving forward in music.”
Mum Sharon is keen to stress how seriously Connie takes her academic work. “Connie’s attendance at school never suffers,” she says. “It’s always been well above 92 per cent.” Indeed, you get the impression talking to Sharon that she’d be quite as happy for her daughter to have a successful ‘normal’ career. “The careers lady came into Connie’s school and didn’t know who Connie was or anything about her,” says Sharon. “She asked Connie what career she wanted to do and when she told her she wanted to be a singer the careers lady told her to come to her senses and concentrate on her strength in sciences!”
Like all 16-year-olds, Connie is on the cusp of the rest of her life. Music has always been what her life revolves around, whether it’s sitting at the piano at home keying out a few chords of a new song, recording some new material or performing at gigs – including events supporting charities such as Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
“Being on BGT at six really feels like a lifetime ago,” she says. “When you’re young and you want achieve something the years seem to pass so slowly. Then when you get older they go so quickly.” As mentioned earlier, because of her age and education, there have been times when developing her musical dream has had to be put on the back-burner a bit, but that hasn’t worried the teenager. “The hardest thing of all with a music career is to get into it in the first place, and that’s mostly down to luck as well as having the talent. I’ve had that break with BGT and it’s just gone on from there.”
So, who would bet against Connie, post-GCSEs, becoming as big a star as her hero Adele? “I love Adele, she is amazing and a real role model,” says Connie. “It’s my dream to sing with her.” Maybe if Adele’s available over Christmas and is reading this…. who knows?