KATHERINE Jenkins is the alternative opera star. A popular phenomenon, rightly referred to as ‘Britain’s favourite singer’. She has pop star glamour with a girl-next-door personality, performs in rugby stadiums as much as opera houses and has outsold Maria Callas.

Re-defining the concept of classical crossover, Katherine has survived personal tragedy, classical snobbery and even insurgents’ missiles to become a superstar in a class of her own. That fact is evident in the details as much as the famous smile.

Katherine has achieved global sales of over 3 million. Her debut album, 2004’s appropriately titled Premiere was the fastest selling of all time by a Mezzo Soprano, with well over 30,000 copies snapped up in the first week.

She is the only singer in musical history to simultaneously hold the Number 1,2, 3 and 4 position in the classical album charts, which she achieved with Premiere, Second Nature, Living the Dream and Serenade in 2007. Serenade, released November 2006, went to Number 5 in the pop charts and has sold half a million copies to date.

Not bad for a former schoolteacher from Neath, South Wales who, while a fan of Marilyn Monroe glamour, has the business savvy of an opera Madonna. “I don’t understand where the idea came from that opera is only for the privileged,” says Katherine. “I’m as happy singing before 70,000 people at the Millennium Stadium, as I am in front of a few hundred in a small concert hall.”

Born in Neath 27 years ago, Katherine’s parents were dedicated to their daughter’s blossoming talents. Her mother, Susan, ran the local Sunday school and Katherine quickly became a star performer in the church choir. Meanwhile, her retired father Selwyn dedicated himself to driving Katherine to and from endless music lessons, doing whatever it took to further her musical talents.

Her latest studio album, released November 2007, called Rejoice debuted at No.3 in the UK pop album chart, and out-sold the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud. There’s little left to prove for a woman whose special voice, winning personality and captivating smile have won her millions of fans all over the world. And she’s still only 27.

It’s just five years since Katherine was a primary school teacher who got signed to the biggest record deal in classical history. Now, after four best-selling and record-breaking albums of classical tunes, hymns and arias, the former Choirgirl of the Year is starting to tackle her last remaining ambition.

With a set of songs written for her by some of the most successful songwriters and producers in the world – plus a set of stunning portraits by celebrity photographer Rankin - she’s ready to move on up into the kind of territory occupied by the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand.

“With my first four albums I’ve been trying to make more people aware of classical music, and to realise they know more classical music than they realise,” says Katherine. “It’s a natural progression to do songs written specially for me, with a big pop production. But it will still be very much me, singing songs in my style.”

The idea comes partly from her fans. Katherine has always listened closely to their views, choosing her material from suggestions whenever she meets her fans, from her fan mail, and from ideas posted on message boards. “I have always taken on those ideas with each new album and recently people have been asking me to start recording original songs,” she reveals.

Most of the songs are written and produced especially for Katherine by writers with a string of hits to their name – Swedish duo Per and David (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake), UK hit maker Steve Mac (Westlife, Toni Braxton), pop idol turned songwriter Gary Barlow (Take That, Blue) and Simon Franglen (Celine Dion, Bee Gees).

The songs explore universal themes of love and loss – and Katherine confesses that they contain a good deal of personal meaning for her. “Over the past year I have experienced a lot of change in my life,” she says. “A year ago I broke up with my boyfriend of a long time and I have found strength in the words of songs like Rejoice and How Do You Leave The One You Love.

Shout In Silence is also special, because Gary Barlow sang it to Katherine after telling her how he had written it about friends who split up – only to realise, too late, that they had made a huge mistake.

Other songs on the album include Katherine’s take on another Welsh idol, Dame Shirley Bassey, on the dramatic showstopper I (Who Have Nothing), Seal’s pop hit Kiss From A Rose, Somewhere from West Side Story, Requiem For A Soldier (the theme to Band Of Brothers), Sancta Maria (the Latin-lyric adaptation of Cavaliera Rusticana, popularised by Bocelli), and – for her old fans – the evergreen hymn Be Still My Soul.

Her achievements in the last three years have put her at the centre of British public life. She performed at VE Day Celebrations in Trafalgar Square, dubbed ‘The new Forces sweetheart.’ She sang at Live 8 in Berlin, London and Edinburgh, made numerous appearances before members of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace and sung for Cherie and Tony Blair at a star filled gala dinner for Breast Cancer Care at Chequers. A personal favourite was treating Pensioners at The Royal Hospital Chelsea to a 1940s sing–a-long in their pub where she bought them all a pint afterwards! Katherine even had a flower named after her.

2006 was a year of consolidation, performing for fans with sell out shows throughout the spring and summer in places as diverse as Lisbon, Miami, Dubai and Tokyo. In June MontBlanc International signed Katherine to an exclusive 3 year deal to be the “Face of Montblanc”, spearheading the marketing of their new jewellery range.

Last November, Katherine embarked on her latest venture, the two-handed touring show ‘Viva La Diva’ with Darcey Bussell; in the show, the pair pay homage to their heroes and heroines, including Fosse, Maria Callas and many more. Such a success has the show been, that the production will visit all the major UK arenas in May 2008, including two nights at the O2 Arena in London.

Katherine Jenkins