Carly Paoli started singing at age three
The world-renowned mezzo-soprano laughs heartily. Paoli shared a stage with a host of iconic artists, including Elaine Paige and Joseph Calleja. She performed with Carreras for Prince Charles at Windsor Castle and with Andrea Bocelli for Pope Francis, who said she had “the voice of an angel”. Not bad for a trucker’s daughter from Mansfield.
Carly, 33 on Friday January 28, rose to international stardom through a combination of talent, faith, serendipity and sheer hard work. “I’ve always liked to sing,” she tells me. “I sang from the age of three; you couldn’t shut me up. When I was eight I went to Stagecoach in Southwell, and after a few weeks the teacher, Liz Hetherington, an opera singer, took mum to a corner and told her my voice was special.
“She said my voice was bigger than my body. Liz took me under her wing. She was always there for me, like a second mom, and now she’s my musical director.
Liz gave Carly singing lessons from the age of nine, but there were problems getting started. “I had a classical voice, it was obvious from the start, but I had been inspired by musicals, Doris Day and Judy Garland, and it took forever for her to eradicate the American accent I had. copied from them.”
Paul and Tina Hopkinson, a former Thomas Cook travel agent, sacrificed a lot to give their talented daughter the breaks she needed. Now retired, they live with her on her farm in Wiltshire. Paul, who had set up a transport company, takes her to the concerts, Tina “takes care of the logistics”.
Young Carly won scholarships to study music and the performing arts. At 16, she entered Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Hertfordshire. “I did my baccalaureate in the morning, then the performing arts until 10 p.m., so that gave me my work ethic. I came home every weekend, doing dance, acting and musical theater lessons.
At 18, she started a four-year course at the Royal Northern College Of Music in Manchester, working at M&S to pay for her accommodation.
Carly Paoli performs at the O2 Arena
Paoli was his mother’s maiden name. “Mom looks like a southern Italian but she doesn’t speak Italian and she certainly doesn’t cook like an Italian!” Carly laughs. “She grew up in Bolsover, but her father was Italian. He came to work on MI, fell in love with my grandmother and never left.
“He was a lovely singer and his brother had a voice similar to Maria Lanza. He was known as ‘the head singer’ because he sang tunes while he cooked.
“We spent our summers in Puglia, in the heel of the boot of Italy. We bought an apartment there, near my aunts and cousins. One played the accordion and we sang together. Uncle Luigi was a folk singer who wrote his own songs about Puglia which were quite cheeky. He played the accordion and eventually had his own TV show in southern Italy. It’s an interesting band the Paolis, their evenings were always good!
“From the age of 16, I would go to Puglia every summer and perform in squares and churches, and celebrate their culture and classical music.”
After graduating, 23-year-old Carly worked as a voice teacher, supplementing her salary by performing at corporate events. Swiss luxury watch company Bedat & Co was so impressed that they hired her as their brand ambassador.
Then, multi-Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster asked her to perform at his charity gala in Calgary, Canada.
“I was thrust on stage with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Hudson of Aerosmith,” Carly recalls. “I was 24 and my heart was in my mouth. I said a prayer and never looked back.
For bilingual Paoli, however, all roads led to Rome. She was 26 when she sang a duet of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with Pavarotti’s favorite female soprano, Cynthia Lawrence, at a star-studded UNICEF fundraiser at the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, near the Coliseum. Carreras, Bocelli and flautist Andrea Griminelli were also there.
Carly’s modern take on Ave Maria, with poignant new lyrics by Romano Musumarra and Grant Black, so wowed the Vatican that they asked her to perform at the Pope’s Jubilee concert at the Roman Forum – an open-air museum. air transformed into an auditorium for the night. Pope Francis chose it as the theme song for his 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Carly Paoli during Northern Ireland’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Italy
Christianity is one of the cornerstones of Carly’s career. “My mother was in the Salvation Army so I was raised in the faith. It’s important to me. I like to think that my voice is a gift from God and that you are doing your part to make the world better.
She is about to embark on a tour of the cathedral with the “charming” Aled Jones. “I can’t wait to see the audience live again,” she said. “We’ve got some great songs lined up and in what settings to play!”
Jones appeared on her 2021 album, Carly Paoli & Friends with Calleja, Elaine Paige, Paul Carrack, Ramin Karimloo and American Christian gospel singer David Phelps.
His recent career highlights include performances at Windsor Park during Northern Ireland’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Italy, and last year’s Queen’s celebration, It’s A Kind Of Magic, in Floriana, Malta, with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Carly sang Barcelona and Tony Vincent reprized his We Will Rock You role as Freddie Mercury. “I was so excited,” she says. “I’ve looked up to Tony since I was 13. I have seen this show 17 times! I would be at the stage door for autographs, so singing with him was a particular thrill but I was determined to be cool.
“Then when I met him, my mom was like, ‘Oh our Carly, she loved you. She was like your stalker. Mom! I couldn’t stay cool for long…”
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Carly still has family in Mansfield – her builder brother Dean, along with his niece and nephew, and her paternal grandmother, Betty.
Her late maternal grandmother, who ran a market stall, bought Carly a dress when she was 14, “a beautiful olive green and gold wedding dress, I wore it on stage at the Terme di Caracalla in Rome in 2018 and I still wear it today. It still fits!”
Marriage, however, is not on his agenda. “There is no man in my life,” she said. “I’m too busy, I’m all focused on my career.”
Paoli describes himself as “an old soul”, with an undying love for opera and the golden age of Hollywood musicals. Schmigadon from Apple TV! and Ted Lasso are current favorites.
She relaxes by walking, dancing and working out in the gym. “We live in the countryside, not far from Stonehenge, so there are beautiful places all around.”
But she has no intention of “doing a Clarkson” – “we rent our field to real farmers,” she says.
Carly Paoli begins her cathedral tour with Aled Jones begins next month
Carly is returning to Italy this summer with an orchestra based in Puglia. As always, her pre-show rituals will include a prayer, espresso coffee and sweets (Percy Pigs or Haribos). All she eats before a show is al dente pasta with olive oil and parmesan, a Carreras trick.
Paoli wants to congratulate his fans, who leave him “wonderful” messages, and his parents – “I appreciate so much more now how hard they have worked to give me and my brother the life we have .
“I’m living the career I’ve always dreamed of, with the people who mean the most to me. It’s a blessing to wake up every morning and do what you love in life.
Carly Paoli & Friends is out now; his cathedral tour with Aled Jones begins next month
See more: carlypaoli.com/live