I started music lessons from the age of nine, and was the youngest in a professional choir. The closest to me in age was 38. I just loved singing and wanted to be around music.
I achieved the music scholarship at school through to sixth form, and at 14 I was accepted into the junior Royal Northern College of Music programme to study classical music, composition, and musicianship for four years. Then I returned to the Royal Northern College of Music to complete my degree on the pop course.
Classical singing teachers have had long careers in opera, or they’re musical directors and conductors. You’re trained in breathing, projection, performance, embodying a character. There’s no microphone technique, no vocal bending: it’s about placing the sound in your head, and allowing the breath to do the work for you. So, lots of breathing techniques and singing on the breath, engaging the diaphragm, and learning languages. It’s a beautiful training. I take a lot of pride in being part of its history and developing my voice’s full range and power.
Pop’s all about being very unique: writing, recording, creating a completely different sound, pushing more on the vocal chords, bending notes, using chest voice and speech quality in singing, and using a microphone.
I’m really grateful I did switch, though my first love is classical music, and I always write a score first, whereas pop singers usually start with words or a melody. Learning music theory, too, gave me the tools and scope to explore my creativity.
My songs would appeal to an audience that enjoys the story behind a song, and the emotional journey that the artist takes you on, through a song and the album. With my forthcoming album, I Am, I wrote and arranged many of the songs by myself, mainly because they’re personal songs from moments and memories of my life. I found it cathartic to sit by myself and express myself through this creative process.
Every artist I heard influenced me, from Hans Zimmer to Hillsong. I’ve always loved different genres and styles, but my favourites are those who share a message with the world.
My first album, Whispers, combined my two loves, classical music and literature, in a soundtrack of nature, music, and poetry, whereas I Am is all about me, peeling back the layers and sharing my experiences, struggles and heartbreak as well as the best moments.
I started a degree in English literature at Nottingham, with theology as a subsidiary module, before completing my degree at the Royal Northern College of Music. I was surprised that the weekly theology studies became one of my favourite studies. I loved looking at how the biblical books came to be, and at pagan historical evidence that support events documented in the Bible.
But I was lonely, and my mum entered me into the Miss England contest after seeing the advertisement, thinking it would be a great way for me to make friends. The competition was nothing like I expected. It was about empowering women, giving a voice to causes and charities and celebrating ambitions. The current Miss England was a doctor from Cambridge.
There were many challenges and rounds, such as fund-raising, designing and making a garment, talent, sports, and intelligence tests, which gave each person opportunities to shine. [She won Miss England 2015.]
The most important thing I gained was the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures around the world. Seeing poverty in China and India was eye-opening, and encourages me to help where I can. I was 19, and hadn’t seen anything like that.
I did make friends, but I also became friends with the Miss England organisation and what they represent, and I host the final every year now, because our values align. Beauty with a Purpose [linked with the Miss World contest] donates millions to children all over the world. They’ve done a massive campaign on cleft palates in the UK, and invested in an autism centre. They encourage contestants to work for their own charities, as well. Mine were autism and a pioneering private medical facility developing rapid skin- and muscle-tissue reproduction. . . They’re hoping that, in time, it will allow people to regrow limbs or breasts.
As a contestant, I did a walk from Leicester to Blackpool with a young boy who was an amputee. It was really inspiring to spend time with someone who’d had all these different experiences of life. You don’t have to be a winner to experience this — just be a part of it.
People think Miss England is just a beauty competition with no substance, parading women for their looks. I wanted to show what it was really about: girls coming together with ambitions to make the world a better place. As a Christian, I think the most important thing is to remember your intentions and what’s important, as you battle the challenges of modern society.
In the age of social media, we’re constantly battling the demands of perception and the perfect life and image society expects to see. I express my thoughts on this in my latest single, “Invisible”.
I’d remind young people that your worth is nothing to do with your physical appearance. Beauty is your thoughts, the way you treat others, and the way you treat yourself. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that we’re in control of our own self-esteem, and we should never give a stranger or society the power to take it from us.
I have a twin brother who I am very close with, a little sister, and another older brother and sister. I’m very close with my mum and dad, even though my dad isn’t my biological father. Family are those that are there for you and you can turn to when you are in need, and I’m lucky I have that. My mum does the driving and helps me get ready backstage when I’m touring.
On a tour with Aled Jones and Russell Watson, mum and I were struck by a young homeless girl in Glasgow, sat by herself, looking very vulnerable, with a group of men lurking round the corner; but we weren’t able to help her directly. It inspired me to write a song about how we have a responsibility to fight for these people and not look the other way. You can’t fix everyone’s issues, but you have a responsibility to try.
I don’t remember my earliest memory of learning about God, but I remember the first time I felt his presence in my life. It was more a feeling like the warmth of the sun than anything else. Quite difficult to explain.
I speak with God every day in prayer, and I try to surround myself with his influences. I’m still finding my feet with everything, but I’m on the journey, and he is with me.
There are lots of things about the world that make me angry, but especially bullying.
God, my family, and friends make me happy, as well as my two dogs and music. Unconditional love.
I love instrumental music, the sound of the rain or the crackling of a fireplace.
I always have hope for the future. Each day is a new start to make wonderful memories, spread happiness, and make others smile.
I pray for my family and friends to know God, for their health and happiness, and for God to keep leading me in his will.
I would like to be locked in a church with my grandad, who recently passed away. He was one of the strongest supporters of my music, and always believed in me. . . I think of him every time I go on at night.
Natasha Hemmings was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Ms Hemmings has just completed a tour with Ronan Keating. Her latest single, “Invisible” is out now. natashahemmings.com