Singer and presenter Aled Jones tells Catherine Francis about his new album, and why working on Songs Of Praise is such a joy
"It would be impossible to present Songs Of Praise if you weren't a Christian," says Aled Jones. "I'm not a chandelier-swinging type – my faith is quite private. But I can honestly say that when I stand on stage, I'm singing to God, and thanking him for giving me everything I have."
Aled shot to fame at 14 as a boy soprano with Walking In The Air, the theme of Christmas animated film The Snowman. Now 34, Aled's first love is still singing – he recently released his fifth adult album, New Horizons, and completed a major UK tour. But BBC1's Songs Of Praise, on which he's a regular presenter, is also very close to his heart.
"Working on Songs Of Praise has changed my faith completely – and for the better," says Aled. "It allows me to meet and interview so many inspirational people, some of whom have had horrendous experiences, and have only got through them because of their faith. I always come away from interviews feeling a slightly better person, as if their faith has rubbed off on me."
Aled grew up in a Christian home and went to church from a young age. "My first realisation of God and Jesus was at Sunday School aged about four," he remembers.
At nine, Aled became a chorister at Bangor Cathedral in North Wales, where he helped to lead worship – as well as recording a number of albums. "It was a happy time, though I think the music was the biggest pull for me," he recalls. "There's nothing quite so rewarding as learning to sing a note so pure that it reverberates around God's house. I still consider sacred choral music and especially hymns as the best music ever written."
After his voice broke at 16, Aled took an enforced break from singing – and like many teenagers, drifted away from the Church. He renewed his faith as an adult.
"I'm not sure I'd be able to exist without my faith," says Aled. "And my life has really been enriched by working on Songs Of Praise. Often, during breaks in filming, I'll sit in a pew and think quietly. At those times, I feel completely open to God. My faith isn't as simplistic as it used to be, and I question a lot, which can only be healthy. It's more real and honest now."
Last year, Aled – who lives in London with wife Claire and children Emilia, three, and Lucas, seven months – won the Andrew Cross Religious Broadcaster Of The Year award. He describes his mission on Songs Of Praise as making Christianity more accessible.
"Songs Of Praise aims to uplift and spiritually enhance its viewers, whether or not they're Christian, and they need to feel comfortable watching it," he explains. "It's easy to forget how big the programme is – at last count, it had 20 million viewers around the globe. It's a genuine honour to be associated with it. I receive many letters from viewers, most of which are complimentary, although one common complaint is that I rarely wear a suit and tie!"
And Aled's passion is clear to see about the Christian faith: "Christianity is real, it's now, it's happening and it's exciting – it's not sedate or simply part of history. Jesus toppled over the market stalls in the Temple – this is a person with passion, a person with love, with blood running through his veins. That's what it's all about for me."
* For news of Aled's albums and tours, visit www.aledjones.co.uk. And watch out for him in BBC1's The Sound Of Musicals, from 8 January. Aled's autobiography, simply entitled Aled, is published by Virgin Books, priced £18.99.
Catherine Francis is a journalist and sub-editor based in London.
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