“I always dreamed about being a singer, but I was quite realistic about what I hoped for. I thought, ‘Well, maybe when I’m older I could do part-time professional singing and have a job too.’ Once I got to the stage of getting a record contract with Universal, that’s when things started to get exciting. Now I’ve got an international contract with the Decca Music Group and I’m doing things like singing in front of the Queen!” Hayley Westenra
A New Zealand soprano, Hayley Westenra achieved international stardom at age sixteen with her international debut album, Pure, which became a No. 1 classical hit in such countries as the UK, Australia and Hong Kong, in addition to New Zealand. The album’s success has made Westenra the fastest-selling debut classical artist to date. Since then, she has performed in many concerts throughout the world, including America and Germany, and contributed to several movie soundtracks. She has also released two more widely distributed albums: Odyssey (2005) and Treasure (2007).
A successful artist, Westenra has collected a number of honors. In 2004, she was handed two Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards for Highest Selling New Zealand Album and International Achievement. The same year, she earned praise from Prime Minister Helen Clark for becoming the first New Zealand artist to obtain the tenfold platinum rank in the New Zealand market. She also nabbed two Japanese Grammy Awards.
Away from the spotlight, Westenra, who was named one of Junior Chamber International’s “10 Outstanding Young People in the World” (2006), is a philanthropist. She is the youngest-ever Ambassador for UNICEF, and in 2005, she flew to Ghana to advertise her latest project and actively give financial support for UNICEF. She has also been the Ambassador for Save the Children in Hong Kong. More recently, she was involved in a breast cancer charity awareness campaign in New Zealand. On a more personal note, Westenra enjoys swimming, netball and indoor rock-climbing, and has represented her school in cross-country running. She also enjoys ballet, reading, shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. Additionally, she likes listening to music and mentions Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado and Vanessa Carlton as her favorite artists.
The Littlest Star
Childhood and Family:
Hayley Dee Westenra was born on April 10, 1987, in Christchurch, New Zealand. She is the daughter of New Zealanders Jill and Gerald Westenra and has two siblings, Isaac and Sophie. At age six, Hayley starred in her school’s Christmas play called “The Littlest Star,” and after that impressing performance, was encouraged to pick up a musical instrument to develop her talent. The girl then started to attend violin, piano, and music lessons. Hayley also received coaching from Dame Malvina Major.
Born and raised in New Zealand, Hayley Westenra began her musical career at age six when she won the title role in a school show called “The Littlest Star,” where she impressed audiences with her singing part. After taking music lessons, she performed in more than 40 stage productions by the time she was 11. Westenra made her professional recording studio debut at age 13 with Walking in the Air, an independently produced demo made for family and friends.
While performing on the Christchurch streets with her sister Sophie, Westenra caught the eye of a CTV journalist who invited her to appear on air. Her hard work paid off when Gray Bartlett, a concert promoter who was impressed by Westenra’s performance on the on-air-show, signed her to the Universal New Zealand Label. Hayley Westenra, a self-titled album of show tunes and light classical songs, and My Gift To You, a Christmas Music CD, were released in 2001 and both proved successful in New Zealand.
Westenra’s huge breakthrough arrived when she scored a deal with the London-based Decca Music Group and recorded Pure, a CD of classical, light pop, and conventional Māori songs. Released in 2003, the album created history in the New Zealand music industry by becoming the longest running No. 1 album, staying on the pop charts at No. 1 for 18 weeks, and receiving 10x platinum certification. With Pure, the young singer also enjoyed international success when it debuted at No. 1 on the UK Classical charts and went on to become the fastest-selling first album in the history of the UK classical charts. It sold over 500 copies in the first week of its release. The album also went platinum in Australia and was certified gold in Hong Kong and Singapore. She also performed in the 2003 Russell Watson Live, where she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Pokarekare Ana,” a duet.
After the international recognition, Westenra could be seen performing the end-title song for Disney’s direct-to-video movie Mulan 2 (2004) and participating in the studio’s national Radio music education tour for middle-school students. In November 2004, she staged a special concert for Her Majesty The Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush and a month later, appeared on a live TV special aired on PBS Great Performances titled “Hayley Westenra: Live from New Zealand.” The same year, Westenra also landed her first acting job in an episode of NBC’s “American Dreams,” where she was cast as a Singer in the Lair. Still in 2004, she began her world tour in New Zealand, the UK, Japan and Australia.
The following year, Westenra was featured in the song “Bridal Ballad” created for the 2004 movie William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, and released Odyssey, her next international album on August 8 in New Zealand. She co-wrote and arranged several of the songs on the album, which debuted at No. 1 in New Zealand. A blend of classical, pop, Celtic, and new age, Odyssey was released in the US on October 18, 2005, and was a Top Ten hit in the UK.
Westenra joined the pop-opera quartet Il Divo on a worldwide tour as their supporting act for the first half of 2006, although in March she presented some solo concerts in America as well. After the tour ended, she held several other solo concerts, this time in the UK and Germany. She joined the group Celtic Woman in August 2006 in the production of their next DVD/CD release, Celtic Woman - A New Journey.
Treasure, Westenra’s new international album, was launched in the UK on February 26, 2007, and in the US on March 13 (under the name Celtic Treasure). It consists of such tracks as “E Pari Ra,” “One Fine Day,” “Let Me Lie” and “Danny Boy, Abide With Me.”
- Vodafone New Zealand Music: Highest Selling New Zealand Album, 2004
- Vodafone New Zealand Music: International Achievement, 2004
- Japanese Grammy: Song of the Year, “Amazing Grace”
- Japanese Grammy: Album of the Year, Pure, 2004