Interview: Connie Fisher, singer, producer, and presenter

18 December 2015

‘I was told that I would never sing again’

I’ve always thought of myself as an actress who could hold a good tune, really, though I went to drama school and studied musical theatre. Now that I work in TV, I work both sides of the lens.


I enjoy singing the most
— in the shower, in church. I sing all the time.


I had my first experience on stage when I was eight,
and I grew up on the Eisteddfod stage in Wales, as I learned to sing through the medium of Welsh.


When I was in secondary school,
I wanted to be a journalist; but, at the age of 15, I got into the National Youth Music Theatre, and caught the musical-theatre bug. From there, I auditioned for a London drama school, and went on to study for a degree in musical theatre.


As a child, I was a member of a Welsh-language choir,
Cor Iau Newyddion Da, which means “The Good News Choir”. Every weekend, we performed in chapels and churches across Wales. It was a wonderful way to spend my childhood, and was a key part of my decision to become a performer.


Songs of Praise
was part of my childhood. I’m really honoured to be part of the presenting team, to be the new Aled Jones — except I don’t wear such high-waisted trousers.


I was born a twin,
but unfortunately my twin died soon after we were born; so I was raised as an only child. I had a very happy childhood growing up on a mountain farm in Pembrokeshire, Wales. From there, I moved to London to attend drama school and earn my degree.


Soon after, I won the part of Maria
in The Sound of Music on the BBC1 talent contest How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?


Julie Andrews was a massive part of my childhood:
I listened to The Sound of Music thousands of times. It was no wonder that people said I sounded like her.

Advertisement


I was also very honoured
when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote an original song, “Dance the Dance”, for my first album. On my second album, Secret Love, all the tracks meant a great deal to me.


I noticed significant changes in my voice back in 2009.
I’d always found singing very natural. I was always very aware of my voice, although there was a natural husk. But doing eight shows a week, and all the press — it was like driving a sports car around a track for years and years, and wearing the tyres out. They told me it would probably have happened eventually in any case. It was just sad that I’d just won the role of lifetime.


I had to undergo a number of operations,
which revealed that I had a rare genetic condition,sulcus vocalis. I was told it would deteriorate, and that it was probable I would never sing again. It was difficult news to receive.


Something similar had happened to Julie Andrews.
She developed nodules on her vocal chords, and an operation to cure them went wrong. In the end, she was cured by a surgeon in Boston. When I met her for lunch, as part of a BBC documentary, she recommended him to me. At the time, I didn’t think about it, but he was the one who fixed me. With the help of a vocal coach in LA, I was able to return to the Palladium one last time.


I now sing the tenor line,
or second alto. I quite enjoy exploring my new voice.


Since these issues arose,
singing high notes is much, much harder. But I’m really enjoying my new lower voice, and discovering all of its colours. I made a documentary about my voice called Connie: I’ll sing once more, which was broadcast in July on BBC4.

 

If I had my time again, though, I would love to play Mary Poppins.


When I was told I would never sing again,
it felt like a T-junction. I could struggle on, or look for a new career pathway, which, at the age of 28, seemed quite late. But I was able to use my creativity and storytelling for a television workshop. I came up with some ideas for broadcasts; one got commissioned, then another, and suddenly I was a TV development producer.


I have been part of a team that won a BAFTA
for Best Single Documentary, for the documentary Jamie Baulch: Looking for my birth mum.


There’s a great line in The Sound of Music:
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”


I met my husband, Jeremy, on a train platform.
Afterwards, he was playing golf with Bryn Terfel’s musical director, and told him that he’d met this girl, and she was about to be in a show. They Googled me, and there was a picture of me in the same dress that I had been wearing.


When my show opened three weeks later,
I got a huge bouquet of flowers. I thought: “Oh, it’s from train man. It was from Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’ve never been so disappointed to get flowers from him!


Then I got a phone call from Bryn Terfel,
whom I knew. He said that a friend of a friend wanted to take me out to dinner, and was that all right? We did, and five years ago we were married.


We were married in church,
because we’re both people with a faith. I had a born-again period when I was younger. As a couple, we don’t go to church every Sunday, but felt strongly that we wanted to get married in church.


I’m going to have several Christmases.
I’ll be celebrating first with my mother and 92-year-old grandmother. It will be good to have some time together. Then, on Christmas Day, Jeremy and I will spend the morning together. Then we’ll be with the children in the afternoon; and then will spend Boxing Day with my mother-in-law.


I try not to get into Christmas too soon:
you can get sick of all the usual songs. But we always have the radio on over Christmas, and so will be singing carols along with that.


We live by the sea,
and I find the sound of the ocean such a reassuring sound. I also love the sound of rain: it’s an excuse to stay inside and have a lazy day.


Last year, there were two enormous trees outside my house.
I woke one morning to the sound of chainsaws: the council had decided to chop them down because they were an “obstruction to double-width pushchairs”. Now all that remains are two sections of untidy tarmac where two gorgeous healthy trees once stood. The sadness is that I rarely see a pushchair use the pavement. That made me very angry.


I am happiest when I’m doing something musical.


I’ve been helped by some amazing people,
who deserve all the recognition in the world; but if I name them all here it will be like a Kate Winslet award speech. Also, it’s not a good idea to idolise people, because if ever you meet them in the flesh, they can fall off their pedestal. But one person who matched up to the dream was Julie Andrews: she still deserves her pedestal.


I do pray,
when times are good and bad. I pray for health and happiness for those that I love.

 
If I was locked in a church with someone for a few hours, I’d like to hang out with Elvis. Well, who wouldn’t? We could have a right old sing-song.

 

Connie Fisher was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Forthcoming Events

16-18 February 2018
Church Times Festival of Faith & Literature

Our literary festival with a theological slant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. Speakers include Francis Spufford, Ruth Valerio, Eve Poole, Mark Oakley, James Runcie and many others. Find out more

5-6 May 2018
Church Times Festival of Poetry
With Sarum College, Salisbury. More details coming soon - register your interest here

Latest Cartoon

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.