The singer, TV and radio presenter recalls becoming the soundtrack to everyone’s Christmas as a 14-year-old soprano, and releasing a children’s book
Aled himself was still a child when he joined Bangor Cathedral choir as a cherubic Welsh boy soprano. The outstanding quality of his voice was soon recognised and before you could say “rising star”, he was singing “Walking in The Air”, the song from the animated film, The Snowman. He was 14 when it catapulted him to stardom and worldwide success.
“It was only meant to be an ad for Toys ‘R’ Us [a now defunct children’s toy store]”, says Aled. But when the song was released in 1985 as a single, it became a hit, reaching number five. “No one had ever followed that path before. I was one of the first to make that kind of music popular. Little did I know it would become part of everyone’s Christmas for years to come.”
However, Aled insists he was not a child star. “I was just a singer who was given great opportunities,” he says. “Monday to Friday I was a normal, football-playing comprehensive schoolboy, then the weekend would come and I would be jetting here, there and everywhere meeting my heroes. I had the best of both worlds.”
Despite being a shy person and hating the spotlight (he admits he still gets stage fright), Aled sang at rock star Bob Geldof’s wedding to presenter Paula Yates, and was snapped in one of their wedding photographs standing next to David Bowie. Eighties icons such as George Michael and pop groups Ultravox, and Duran Duran, also share the picture. “I was there with my mum and dad. They had never seen anything like it in their lives,” says Aled. “I went around with this autograph book asking all these legends to sign it.”
Though most did, apparently “the guys from Spandau Ballet” told him “to leave them alone”, he relates.
American music composer Leonard Bernstein and a young Aled Jones
Other performances included singing for the Prince and Princess of Wales, appearing on the Royal Variety Show and at the Hollywood Bowl (LA), where he shared the stage with conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein. He “had more impact on me than almost any other of countless great talents I was privileged to meet as a boy”, he adds.
School, homework, and family life must have been very tricky, I venture. Aled agrees. “It was a mad, mad year. Probably the busiest I have ever been. And I was trying to do my O levels! I look back and think, It would have been a lot easier for my parents, if their son had been a normal kid. My father is very shy; I think he would have much rather been in the garden than have to come to London with me every weekend. They were fantastically supportive but secretly I think my father was thrilled when I was 18 and I could go on my own.”
"Bernstein had more impact on me than almost any other of countless great talents I was privileged to meet as a boy"
I press him a little more on the famous people he has met and sung for (The Queen, The Pope) but the perpetual harking back to his superstar boyhood, is, you get the impression, a little tiring, even for someone as laidback as Aled.
“I’m 50 now and it was over 30 years ago”, he says. So, we revert to the subject of our interview, his first children’s book. The story had been inside him “for a very long time,” he says. But he had never had a chance to work on it. Then, when lockdown happened, everything changed. “It’s been a very strange 18 months. It was like a scene from Harry Potter. My diary was on my phone and all my live concerts just disappeared in front of my eyes,” he says. Although the pandemic was devastating and caused a great deal of hardship for many people, being stuck at home was, in his case, a great opportunity.
Aled Jones, Rachel Stanley, Louise Bowden, and Tom Chambers from White Christmas
Aled parked himself in front of his computer and started tapping out the idea: he had to create a plot, a plan and a story with authentic dialogue. “My editor helped me and he was brutally honest. I embrace challenge, but writing the book was a challenge. It’s all in the preparation, isn’t it?”, he says. The whole process took about six months. When he had finally hammered out a story which his editor was happy with, he then teamed up with Rosie Brooks, whom he calls “one of the best illustrators in the world.”
“She has done an amazing job. If nothing else comes from it, I have made a friendship that will last a lifetime. I am a huge fan of her work,” he says. Earlier this month the finished book, a festive red with a cheerful rosie-cheeked drawing of Bobby Dean on the front, was delivered.
“I was probably more excited than I was over an album. It was like holding your baby in your arms; not quite, but a bit like that,” he grins. In writing a children’s book, Aled is joining illustrious company. A string of celebrities have turned their hands to children’s fiction, including the Duchess of York, Frank Lampard and the chart-busting David Walliams. Aled already has plans for more.
"I was probably more excited than I was over an album. It was like holding your baby in your arms; not quite, but a bit like that"
"I love doing something where I can learn. I feel that book two and book three will be even better,” he says. Practising, improving and not being afraid to try new things has been central to Aled’s development as a singer and presenter and was a habit formed in childhood.
He grew up in Anglesey, North Wales where his mother was a primary school teacher and his father was an engineer. “There was always music in my family. My family and grandparents sang and I was encouraged to sing and perform at school”, he says.
Aled Jones with his children Emilia and Lucas and wife Claire Fossett in 2015
Soon after he joined the choir at Bangor Cathedral, he was made lead soloist. The remarkable quality of his treble voice was noticed by a member of the congregation who wrote to a local recording company about it, “without even my mum and dad knowing. The first my parents knew of it was when they received a letter from the company, asking if I fancied doing a record”, says Aled.
He went on to make several and had made 12 albums before recording the mega-selling “Walking In The Air”. It should have made him a teen multi-millionaire but Aled denies this. “I didn’t become very rich. My father put the money away for me for later. It wasn’t about the money. I was more interested in singing at Hollywood Bowl (in Los Angeles) or going to Disneyland.”
When his voice broke at 16, it made national news. His soprano career was over although by now he had sold an astonishing 6 million albums. As he was advised to rest his voice for a couple of years, he took an acting course at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and in 1990 launched himself into plays and musicals. There are two shows which stand out for him, one was White Christmas, in London’s West End. “Who wouldn’t want to do a musical where it snows in the auditorium?”, he says. The show was also a complete sell-out and a success.
The second and earlier show in his career, was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Aled was playing Joseph in Blackpool in 1995, when he met his future wife, Claire Fossett who is a member of the famous Fossett Circus family. They were married shortly after and have two children, Lucas, now 16, and daughter Emilia, 19.
The youngsters have not followed their father’s singing career so far, although Emilia acts and has been in Doctor Who and the Netflix series, Locke & Key. What do they think when they see old pictures of their dad dressed as a nine-year-old chorister and singing his heart out?
"When his voice broke at 16, it made national news. His soprano career was over although by now he had sold an astonishing 6 million albums"
“They think it’s hilarious but I am just Dad to them, they don’t care about my work really,” he says. I ask what his biggest challenge has been, and Aled admits one or two albums haven’t always hit the mark. But having made over 30, he is phlegmatic. “You can’t always be on top,” he says.
Another challenging time was in 2017 when an allegation of inappropriate behaviour was made against him at the BBC. His career was temporarily put on hold while it was investigated. He denied any inappropriate contact, apologised for his “juvenile” behaviour and was reinstated as a presenter. On the topic itself he says: “I’m not talking about it at all. It is very much in the past. It’s been and gone”.
Moving on, like all singers and entertainers, he is desperately keen to resume performing again. The closure of so many venues over the last year and a half has been particularly hard for the entertainment industry, and he is thrilled that things are opening up again.
He has a cathedral tour next spring, “which I am really looking forward to”, in between his regular show for Classic FM, TV presenting and other concerts and records. Given his overwhelming success, I do wonder why he works so hard? “I like the variety. I like the fact I do radio, TV and singing. No two days are the same really,” he says. “I pinch myself that I am still able to do what I love”. But then, with a voice like his, it is hardly surprising.
Bobby Dean Saves Christmas is published by Hodder & Stoughton in £8.99 hardback and is out now
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