When Camilla Kerslake plays a charity concert at Blackburn Cathedral next month, her choice of opening number will be part inspired by Valentine’s Day and part by her beloved Preston North End.
The 24-year-old classical crossover star said she won’t be able to resist singing terrace anthem Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, to tie in with the gig’s Valentine theme and her favourite football team.
Camilla spent a happy two years of her childhood in the village of Nateby, near Garstang, and was invited to sing the Elvis classic at Deepdale during Sir Tom Finney’s 90th birthday celebrations last year.
“There will be a lot of love in the air at the cathedral,” smiles Camilla.
“I used to love living in Nateby. It was idyllic English countryside. I ran around with the kids next door and played in the fields.
“I can remember a farmer telling us not to play on the hay bales because they were dangerous but I jumped off one and broke my ankle.
“My friend had to carry me home in a wheelbarrow!
“I still have friends in Lancashire and went to a wedding at Bartle Hall recently.”
Camilla’s family had emigrated to Lancashire from New Zealand and they were soon on the move again, relocating to Surrey when she was 10.
The seeds of her singing talent were already sown from a young age, both in Kiwi schools and at home, where Camilla’s mum and grandma were also keen singers.
Camilla says it was switching from pop to classical that proved tricky, with operatic training costing the earth, but a demo played to Take That megastar Gary Barlow gave her her big break.
“It’s so dear to train classically,” she says. “My dad was washing dishes at Weeton Barracks and my mum was a secretary.
“When I was at college, I managed to save a few hundred pounds to get some classical lessons.
“I got a £2.99 backing track of Ave Maria, did a recording in a friend’s bedroom and started taking it to Gary Barlow’s studio.”
Within four days of meeting Gary in 2008, a gobsmacked Camilla became the first singer signed to a new label the songwriter was launching.
Her debut album went on to be nominated for Best Album at the 2010 Classical BRIT Awards and she made her West End stage debut in Les Miserables the same year, starring alongside fellow Lancashire classical star, Alfie Boe.
“I love Alfie,” Camilla enthuses. “Everyone adored him. It was so funny having this properly-trained opera star there.
“He knocks the socks off everyone.”
Just as life was looking up, Camilla received the difficult news in June 2011 that her mum Deborah had breast cancer.
Camilla put her work on hold to help care for her mother until she received the all-clear a year later.
“It was really weird,” Camilla recalls about the time of her mum’s diagnosis.
“Everything seemed quite frivolous then: going to amazing events in beautiful gowns and singing. I realised then if you are there without the people you love around you, there is no point. It was singing I lived for but it paled into insignificance.
“I didn’t do any work for profit when my mum was ill, everything I did was charitable.
“We raised nearly £1m but by the end I was nearly bankrupt. I was at the end of my overdraft.
“A lot of people were horrible when I stopped working.
“Their cash cow was walking out. I realised what the industry was like.”
Happily, Camilla returned to recording after her mum was given the all-clear last summer. She is working on her third album at the moment but is still a keen charity supporter and will headline Rosemere Cancer Foundation’s Valentine’s Appeal Candlelight Concert at Blackburn Cathedral on Friday February 15.
It will be a chance for Camilla’s fans to enjoy a more intimate gig than many of the others she has performed at, including in front of the Queen and 140,000 racegoers at Epsom and ahead of a rugby international featuring her boyfriend, England star Chris Robshaw.
“My boyfriend hears me sing all the time,” Camilla laughs. “He is hard pushed to get me to shut up! I have (sung) at rugby so many times but it was interesting to do it and have a person on the team you were genuinely singing for.
“But I had no idea what a big deal Epsom was until I stepped out and it was 140,000 people. No-one told me - I hadn’t even washed my hair!
“My mum was standing right behind the Queen and she told my mum, ‘That was lovely.’
l Tickets for the Blackburn gig, which also features lassical pianist Paul Grenhalgh and the Junior Cathedral Choir, cost £7.50 to £25. Call 01772 522913 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book.