Singer Hayley Westenra is a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, although her family background is Irish; Westenra's father is a gemologist and her mother a photographer. At about the age of four, Westenra was cast as the lead in a local grade school Christmas play; afterward, the teacher took Westenra's parents aside and informed them that their daughter had perfect pitch. Westenra would spend the balance of her single-digit years performing inRead more musicals such as Annie and kid's parts in opera productions; however, when she was 11 she took up busking in shopping malls to earn extra change. Westenra had the presence of mind to bring along some home-burned CDs of her singing and the demand for them was so great that a family friend kicked in $5,000 in order to have a proper CD made for her to offer. One of these reached the offices of Universal Music in Christchurch, which won Westenra a contract with Universal in New Zealand. Her first two New Zealand-made albums both went platinum, and this caught the attention of Universal New Zealand's corporate parent Decca in the U.K. It issued Westenra's third album, Pure, in 2002 when she was still only 14; in New Zealand, it became the biggest-selling album ever, going platinum 12 times, and in the U.K. it went gold in one week -- since then it has gone double platinum there.
At 19, Westenra was one of the most popular singers in the English-speaking world, excepting the United States, and had already sold more than three million records. Her albums are usually a mixture of opera arias, hymns, pop songs, tunes from musical shows and traditional Maori, Australian, and Irish songs and whatnot, but it is not the material that her fans are interested in so much as her voice -- pure, light, and clear with no vibrato, yet well-pitched. She has recorded duets with established classical singers such as Bryn Terfel, Andrea Bocelli, and José Carreras, and has performed widely in symphony orchestra concerts and on a touring bill with the popular traditional group Celtic Woman. Westenra has not entirely wasted her largesse on frivolities, as she is the youngest-ever ambassador to UNICEF and has been on at least two relief missions to Ghana. Westenra has resettled in London, but remains the official mascot to New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team, and routinely sings New Zealand's national anthem at their matches when they are held in England. Read less