It’s a funny old world: Olly Smith

‘There was some­thing deeper to my po­ten­tial than just a treble with a ter­ri­ble hair­cut!’

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - HELLO! - This is­sue’s colum­nist: TV pre­sen­ter and wine ex­pert Olly Smith

These days, all singing is cool. But cast your mind back to the mid-80s and pic­ture me with a blonde, bowl hair­cut in a shiny top hat, short, coal-black gown and pin­stripe trousers. No mat­ter how an­gelic my 10-year-old voice, those clothes just weren’t con­sid­ered cool. But, de­spite

that, when I re­flect on my years

as a cho­ris­ter at King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge, I couldn’t feel prouder.

When I was grow­ing up, my mum was a nurse and Dad was a teacher, and I loved singing. But I wasn’t just in love with singing – I was an avid fan of choral mu­sic. I re­mem­ber sav­ing up my pocket money to buy old vinyl records in the Mu­sic & Video Ex­change. In fact, I’ve still got them to­day, with their MVE price tags on – mainly 30p a pop.

Two of my mu­sic teach­ers were adamant that there was some­thing deeper to my po­ten­tial than just a treble with a ter­ri­ble hair­cut! How­ever, when I first went up to

Cam­bridge to au­di­tion for King’s Col­lege at the ripe old age of 10, not only was I clue­less about hair fash­ion, I was clue­less as to what board­ing school was, or what it re­ally meant to live away from home with around 25 hours of singing ev­ery week on top of school work.

But I know now that singing around the clock, through­out the year, cul­mi­nat­ing at Christ­mas with the Nine Les­sons and Car­ols, was prob­a­bly the pin­na­cle of any­thing I’ve ever done. So much train­ing, de­vo­tion and em­pa­thy made the whole Olly as a cho­ris­ter thing feel like an elec­tri­cal cur­rent, charg­ing the Chapel from deep down the ages. It still blows my mind to think of all the his­tory locked in the walls of that build­ing, with my lit­tle voice a tiny part of its mem­ory.

Lis­ten­ing to one an­other as we sang was vi­tal, but learn­ing to lis­ten to the sound of the build­ing, to drift deeply in the silent mo­ments has been one of the most en­rich­ing gifts of my life. And as if per­form­ing in the world’s great­est man-made acous­tic wasn’t cool enough, the choir also took me on tour to Fin­land, East Ber­lin be­hind the Iron Cur­tain, Ja­pan – and even Nor­wich!

I took my wife and daugh­ters to King’s Col­lege Chapel re­cently to hear Brit­ten’s Hymn To Saint Ce­cilia. It felt like a trans­for­ma­tive mo­ment of sheer ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the face of in­cred­i­ble ef­fort and dis­ci­pline from the choir, led by Stephen Cleobury. Now near­ing the end of his ten­ure, my re­spect for him is undi­min­ished.

This Christ­mas Eve, when you tune in to Nine Les­sons and Car­ols, that sin­gle young lad’s voice open­ing Once In Royal David’s City will be a ral­ly­ing call for us to lis­ten – ideally to one an­other – and cel­e­brate our con­nec­tions. That’s what I’ll be rais­ing my glass to this Christ­mas – that and the long-ago demise of that ter­ri­ble bowl hair­cut.

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