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From Iraq under fire to songs of faith: Nikki's story

From treating injured soldiers in the theatre of war to performing at the major Christian festivals – it’s been an unusual journey for Gospel singer/songwriter Nikki Hopkins, discovers SHARON BARNARD ...

From treating injured soldiers in the theatre of war to performing at the BigChurchDayOut – it’s been an unusual journey for Gospel singer/songwriter Nikki Hopkins, discovers SHARON BARNARD

You would think performing in front of a friendly audience would be a doddle compared with working in a war zone. But Nikki admits she still finds it scary stepping out on stage.

“The nerves! That part of me is never going to change, but I just learn to deal with it.

“Before I go on for a performance, I take myself off somewhere quiet and focus my attention on God and pray. I’ve found that whenever I’ve been terrified and stepped out in faith, God’s been there.”

I spoke to her a day after the release of her debut EP Held by Love and as she was preparing for this year’s BigChurchDayOut in West Sussex. She’d won a public vote to appear at the event following her success at the national Gospel Rock competition in 2011. She’d won that too.

The nerves were beginning to kick in, but she was looking forward to it.

“I’m excited. It’s the first festival I’ve ever done.”

Now a single mum, Nikki has huge support from her church, Xcel, in Darlington. Her mum Sam and two daughters aged five and eight are her unofficial back-up team.

“My kids know all my songs and come to rehearsals. Mum is so supportive. She acts as a sort of manager and helps out with the girls.”

Looking back on her much younger self, Nikki says she can “definitely see God’s hand on my life”.
Brought up to go to church, she stopped attending at the age of 12 when her mum and stepfather split up.

“It’s a delicate time in a girl’s life. I felt rejected and was desperately seeking approval from my peers.

“I drank a lot and went out with lots of boys. I was desperate to feel loved and accepted and fit in. It carried on into my army time as well.”

Nikki was 17 when she joined the army as a combat medical technician, providing advanced first aid for the military. Within three weeks of completing her training she was posted to Germany and flew straight to Iraq.

“My job in the medical section was to support The Black Watch regiment in Basra. They were on the frontline and we were behind them.

“We’d treat the casualties and then take them back to the field hospital. We would hear gunfire – mainly outgoing gunfire though as we were behind the big artillery.

“I really just took it in my stride and saw it as an adventure.

“One night, the support we had with us got called forward and we were left as sitting ducks in our armoured field ambulance. It was quite frightening. We came under mortar fire but it missed us and landed nearby.

“That was the first night I actually prayed. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and prayed.”
Nikki came out of the army in 2004 and got married. Sadly, her marriage broke down and she and the girls returned to Darlington.

“My mum who had gone back to church, encouraged me to go back too. Eventually I decided to go and immediately knew I was in the right place.

“The worship music blew me away. Word got out that I had a nice singing voice so I joined the choir for a while. It was a huge feat as I had no confidence. I was so wrapped in fear. Gradually I got to lead the worship.

“I’ve always loved music and was singing before I could even string words together. Music has always been an influence on me.

“Certain songs have seen me through. Natalie Grant’s album Relentless was the soundtrack to my first couple of years as a Christian. One of her songs, Safe, had a huge impact on me.

“I also love Philippa Hanna and her album Taste. I relate to that as well. And I like Kari Jobe, an American.”

Now Nikki is a recording artist too. Her songs have been described as “a blend of Gospel and modern country”.

“The EP’s got off to an exceptional start and I look to see where God is going to take it. I hope people will be uplifted by the songs.”

  • Nikki’s EP Held by Love (Resound Media) is out now.

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