The Cool Chorister - Ollie Baines
PUBLISHED: 13:30 12 January 2011 | UPDATED: 03:35 29 October 2013
Ollie Baines, from the acclaimed opera group Blake, talks to Alexandra Richards about his love for Wiltshire – and his thoughts on a certain royal couple...
Ollie Baines, from the acclaimed opera group Blake, talks to Alexandra Richards about his love for Wiltshire and his thoughts on a certain royal couple...
Blake, four incredible young male singers made up of tenors Ollie and Humphrey and baritones Jules and Stephen, stylishly bridge the gap between classical and pop. The group has toured the world entertaining thousands of international fans, but I find out from Ollie Baines how its his home in Wiltshire that he always strives to get back to.
I chat to Ollie in the middle of an exhausting UK tour. His Brit Award-winning group will clock up a total of nearly 50 performances by the time An Evening with Blake finishes in the New Year. Despite this gruelling schedule, the Ollie I speak to is charming, entertaining and forthcoming, recalling his childhood in Wiltshire with evocative humour.
Ollies singing talents were first discovered at his Pre-Prep School St Margarets in Calne. Karen Cordon, who is now the Headmistress, was Head of Music whilst Ollie attended the school. She said: Vocally he stood out from a very young age. He not only had an excellent tonal quality to his voice but also demonstrated pitching skills which were exceptional for such a young child. Additionally, he had a genuine enthusiasm for singing and performing, which is not always found in boys of his age. I wrote a song about badgers for a school production of The Fantastic Mr Fox, and thats when I first became aware of his talents. I encouraged his singing, talked with his parents and recommended he try for a choristership, which he got to New College School, Oxford in 1991.
When I read this out to Ollie he laughs. Where did you get hold of that? Thats amazing! Yes, I owe Mrs Cordon a huge debt of gratitude. I was so lucky to have had her as a teacher. She was the one who convinced my parents that I should go for a choristership, they changed their plans and so did the whole course of my life. I was very fortunate to have a teacher who took the initiative and made it happen. Theres an Oliver Baines singing cup awarded every year at St Margarets now. Its very touching.
He tells me about the play: We had to have our lessons in a portacabin in the late 80s after the huge storms and hurricanes. Our class was holed up in the music room, hiding behind tables as we heard tiles coming off the roof of the building. They were smashing back through the windows and even hit some of the children! So, while the building was being repaired, we moved everything to the portacabin. The Badgers song was brilliant; Mrs Cordon wrote it to the tune of Neighbours. (He launches into a rendition of the cult theme tune, substituting neighbours with badgers. Im very conscious of the privilege; most people have to pay to be serenaded by Ollie Baines!)
He continues: Mrs Cordon wrote the part of the fox for me, but I seem to remember not performing it. I believe I came down with the flu, but I have a sneaking suspicion it may have had more to do with my nerves. I suffered from really bad nerves when I performed until I went to Marlborough College. I always had all the high parts in the Vatican music, so I would get terribly nervous in front of a crowd. I used to prop myself up between the pew and the lectern, hoping that would prevent me from falling over from shaking so much!
On the day before Christmas Eve, the whole village comes over and we have mulled wine and sing carols
Ollie was a chorister at Winchester Cathedral for four years before going to Marlborough. He admits that the nerves were often due to the amount of teasing he received for being a chorister.
Of course there was a lot of teasing to begin with. The sheer workload of being a chorister was huge. On top of the 50 hours a week of school, there was 35 hours of singing a week. We sang three times a day; the training was extraordinary, very intensive. So that wasnt great, socially speaking.
Marlborough is a very sporty school so being a chorister wasnt hugely cool! In my first year there I was singing Mendelssons Hear My Prayer, with a two-minute solo before the choir joined in. Here I was, 14 years old, singing as a treble it was terrifying. At that age youre not supposed to make that sort of noise!
When I started singing, all the young school boys in my year were nudging each other and giggling. Then, after a minute or so they stopped, and soon the ringleaders were being told to shut up by the more mature boys. By the end of it, friends of mine and these ringleaders were silent. It was amazing. They came up to me afterwards to congratulate me, and promised never to tease me again! It was a real turning point. I really gained my nerve after that moment.
He goes on to say how things have changed.
As an adult, I find the hardest thing now is singing at funerals. Thats when the nerves come back as you have a real responsibility to perform well. You have to be professional and not think about the emotion. Its only after the performance, when the job is done, that it hits you.
I recently sang at the funeral for the former mayor of Malmesbury, John Bowen, who was also my tailor. He was a great friend and he died very suddenly, it was incredibly sad. As I knew him, I chose the music for his funeral and sang Faurs Requiem. It was held in Malmesbury Abbey and everyone wore the clothes he had made for them. He was an incredibly talented tailor and dressmaker my sister-in-law wore the wedding dress he had made for her.
Wiltshire and his childhood there are clearly very important to Ollie, as he explains.
I now live in London but I grew up in Wiltshire and my parents still live there. Ive lived in London for the past six years, and for the first four I went home every weekend, or at least tried to. As time has gone on, I appreciate London more and I dont get back home as much as Id like to, but I miss it and my dogs hugely. So I go back whenever I can, which works out to be about once a month.
We have between four and seven dogs it depends who is in the house at the time. Three lurchers, Thunder, Merlin and Wiggle, so named as she has threelegs. Shes the littlest as she never grew properly, but shes doing amazingly at ten years old! We also have a few Jack Russells and a whippet, as a cut-down lurcher for the city!
They are a well-suited couple. She is a very clever girl and he works very hard. He has achieved so much
Ollies talk of Marlborough College reminds me of something I read on Blakes official website. It mentions press rumours that the band may sing at the much anticipated wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, old friends of Jules and Ollie from the group. Ollie quickly dismisses this as hype.
No, its ridiculous. I mean, how could we know whats going on? I went to school with Kate but she didnt join Marlborough until VIth form, so I didnt know her for too long. Im actually better friends with Harry than William, but I see them both down the pub occasionally. They are a very well-suited couple, just perfectly ordinary really. She is a very clever girl and he works very hard. He has achieved so much. I think he just wants to get on with things and be normal.
Bearing in mind his hectic schedule, I ask Ollie what he would like for Christmas. World Peace! he laughs, but then adds No, um, a holiday.
I ask him how he would spend his ideal Christmas. Hmm, Ill tell you what my Christmas will actually be like, shall I? A lot of stress, my family yelling at me because the fire is smoking as I havent laid it properly, then hearing: Wheres Ollie?, Playing the piano, Typical! Get him in here to peel some veg!
Will there be much carol singing, I ask.
Oh, yes, loads of it! On the day before Christmas Eve, the whole village comes over about 80 or 90 people and we have mulled wine and all sing carols around the piano. Then we spend the whole of Christmas Eve getting the stains out of the carpets!
He elaborates: We always have Christmas at home. Im really hoping to get some hunting in this year. My family seems to have been enraptured with dangerous sports for a very long time. We love sailing, skiing and hunting!
I was completely crushed about two years ago when my horse rolled on top of me. I lay there for a while, trying to be brave, and even hacked back with my sister for a quarter of a mile until I had to stop and be sick! I sat at the side of the road and drank my entire flask of whiskey, and then my phone rang to do an interview. I did the interview on the way to the hospital. Unsurprisingly, they called me back a few days later, asking me to do it again due to background noise. However, it was definitely because I was in a state and kept yelling from pain every few seconds!
Fortunately for myself and the readers of Wiltshire magazine, my interview with Ollie was under much less dramatic circumstances. I really enjoyed chatting with him and discovering how important his upbringing in Wiltshire were to his current success. You can take the boy out of Wiltshire, you can even take him around the world, but you can never take the Wiltshire out of the boy.
An Evening with Blake continues in 2011 with dates across the UK.
OLLIE'S FAVOURITE WILTSHIRE PLACES:
Ive always loved the walk down to the viaduct over the Avon, down by Malmesbury and the 13 arches, an incredible piece of architecture. If you stand under one of the arches and sing, it has the most amazing acoustic! I also love the Marlborough Downs: they bring back wonderful memories of being punished on them during sports when I was at school there! And Banbury Castle, and Salisbury...