So Rhys, tell me a bit about yourself.I was born in Blaenau Ffestiniog, and because my father was a young policeman we moved around a bit in my younger years. By the time I was 5 we had lived in Blaenau, Llandudno and Garndolbenmaen and then when I was 6, we settled in Tremadog where I attended the local Primary School and then Ysgol Eifionydd in Porthmadog. After 4 years in Trinity College Carmarthen I became a Primary School Teacher and then four years later in 1993 I became a very young Headteacher (one of the youngest, if not the youngest, ever in Wales and the UK). All that seems ages ago, as I have now been a Professional singer for 20 years, living in Pwllgals, near Rhuthun with my wife Nia, and a proud father of 3 children, Osian, Elan and Erin.
And you’re certainly no stranger to this part of the world?The area the EGO® covers is very close to my heart. I couldn’t hazard a guess of how many concerts I have sung in here over the years, but what I am very aware of is the warm welcome I receive on every occasion.
So what projects are you currently working on? I am in the middle of filming a new four part series for S4C called Corau Rhys Meirion, which will be broadcast in April and May. This is a follow up to the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the song Anfonaf Angel which was on S4C during the Christmas period of 2018, where we put a choir together of people who had experience of mental health problems, and explored the benefits of singing in a choir. I am also writing an English version of my book ‘Storis Grav’ (Grav Tales), full of tales and anecdotes about the legend Ray Gravell. I also have many concerts in the pipeline and will be recording a new album to celebrate 20 years in the business in June. So, plenty to do!!!
Talk me through the transition from full time education to being a professional singer. When I became a headteacher, my life changed. There was a lot of hard work and responsibility but “All work and no play….” This is when I took up singing as a bit of a relaxing hobby. After 2 years of singing lessons with Brian Hughes in Gresford, Wrexham, I won the Blue Riband at the 1996 National Eisteddfod in Llandeilo. That’s when I realised that there was an opportunity to take the plunge and become a professional classical singer. When I married Nia in April 1995, she was marrying a Headteacher with a steady wage and a pension but she was magnificent and so supportive. They say that “behind every good man is a better woman” and that’s certainly true in my case. It was a huge decision but with Nia’s full blessing, I tendered my resignation as the Headteacher of Pentercelyn Primary School, to start a two year Opera Course at The Guild Hall School of Music and Drama, London, in September 1997, and the rest as they say, is history.
Since then your career has gone from strength to strength. What have been the highlights? There have been so many highlights and so many memories and experiences. I have recorded 8 albums including a duets album with Sir Bryn Terfel and I’ve sung in some wonderful venues all over the world including the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Festival Hall, the Coliseum, the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto and some amazing cities like Honk Kong, Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Los Angeles. But the highlight has to be singing as a soloist at the Carnegie Hall in New York, at the Karl Jenkins 70th birthday celebration concert in January 2014. That was unforgettable and a huge honour.
Have you got anything special planned for the twentieth anniversary? I can’t believe that August 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of my first professional gig, when I sang Edmondo in the Opera Manon Lescaut by Puccini in Glyndebourne in August 1999. To mark the milestone, I am organising a Celebrational Tour throughout Wales. My daughter Elan will be touring with me, and we will be including a local choir in every concert. Keep a lookout as we’re bound to include one or two venues within the EGO® catchment area!
Performing with your daughter must be very special. Is the whole family musical? Elan is in the middle of a BA Performance Course in Cardiff and is hoping to pursue a career in singing. We’ve sung together a few times, and we are the only parent and child combo to have sung together in a National Eisteddfod of Wales Concert (Denbigh 2013). We are indeed a musical family - Nia sings with “Côr Rhuthun” and Osian and Erin have sung with many choirs and ensembles over the years and have had many successes at The Urdd and National Eisteddfods.
What do you have hoped to have achieved when you look back in another twenty years’ time? After 20 years of singing professionally I am as motivated as ever, even more so in a way because I thirst for more experiences and wonderful memories. As you go through life and experience highs and lows, you become more emotionally involved with your performances. The words become something you can genuinely identify with, rather than having to imagine the emotion and motivation of a song, as I had to as a young singer. Life gives you the bank of emotional experiences that make your performances real and believable, and as a result the engagement between performer and audience becomes sincere and heartfelt.
Throughout your career fundraising for charity has been a large part of what you do hasn’t it? Being somewhat local // lleol well-known because of what you do carries some responsibility, but also offers opportunities. You can use your celebrity status to give something back to your community by supporting causes and charities. This has been very important to me over the years. I have supported many charities but the main two are the Wales Air Ambulance and Elen’s Fund. I was asked to be an ambassador for the former in 2011 and since then, with a number of friends, I have done three 200 mile walks across Wales, raising around £400,000 for what is such an important service in a mainly rural country like ours. We, as a family, set up Elen’s Fund in 2015, initially to raise awareness for the Organ Donation Discussion amongst families, because so many organ donation opportunities become possible if the discussion has taken place within the family of an individual who dies and has healthy organs. The fund is in memory of my sister Elen, who died tragically in 2012 aged 43. Her death saved or benefited five lives through organ donation, something we as a family, and Elen herself would be very proud of.
Finally, I get the impression that being Welsh is massively important to you? “Being born Welsh is to be born privileged. Not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music in your heart and poetry in you soul.” This quote is on a wall in my home in its original Welsh form
“Braint yw cael dy eni’n Gymro. Nid â llwy arian yn dy geg, ond â chân yn dy galon a cherdd yn dy waed” To me, it says it all, and I think of it every time I step on to a stage.