She’s the Kiwi singing sensation who almost gave it all up after a breakdown in 2008. Now, Hayley Westenra is back at the top of her game professionally, is engaged to the man of her dreams, and has finally worked out how to achieve balance in life. She will also be one of the voices Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby will hear most, after she was chosen to record a lullaby especially for the newborn next month.
“I think William will be a wonderful dad. He is the real deal, very grounded,” says Hayley (26), who has been a favourite of the royal family for more than a decade – she once performed for the Queen three times in the space of two weeks. The singer and Prince William have bonded, due to their love of rugby and music, and Hayley fondly recalls the time she attended a barbecue at her hometown of Christchurch, where Wills was ruling the tongs during an official visit in 2011.
“I really got to see how compassionate he is,” she says.
“I introduced him to my family and he instantly wanted to know how they’d been affected by the quake. He’s genuinely interested when you talk to him.”
Although she did have to pinch herself when he gave her a burger at the memorial for earthquake victims.
“He is down-to-earth whenever I’ve met him, but having him serve me at a barbecue was really bizarre,” she laughs.
“Afterwards, we were joking about how we had to both go for a long run, to make up for all the desserts we’d eaten."
"Sometimes I really do have to pinch myself when I think about some of the amazing things I have experienced.”
Hayley’s new album, Hushabye, features Sleep On, the lullaby written especially for the royal baby.
“The idea took me by surprise, as I only expected to do an album like this when I was with child myself,” smiles Hayley, who confirmed her engagement to Frenchman and fellow rugby fan Arnaud Sabard on New Year’s Day in 2012.
“But then I realised that I could put some of my favourite tunes on it and record the sort of album I’ve always wanted to do.”
It’s all a far cry from the classically trained 14-year-old being spotted busking in the street by record label executives. Her 2003 album, Pure, is the fastest-selling classical debut album of all time, and to date she has sold an estimated four million records.
But it hasn’t all been a dream ride. In 2008, having been chaperoned around the world by one or other of her parents, Gerald and Jill, she decided to make a break and told them she didn’t need them with her any more. She moved into a flat by herself, committed totally to her work – and quickly lost her way, spiralling into a pit of despair, that almost led to her giving up singing altogether. Having seen a “chubby” picture of herself, Hayley began obsessing about food, and it wasn’t long before she was in the throes of an eating disorder.
Then, a bout of bronchitis forced her to abandon her UK tour, and the broken singer came home to Christchurch – where her life fell apart.
“I thought if I said no to anything, it would all be over – I just wanted to run away,” says Hayley, who was hooked on a destructive diet of fast-food gorging and starving herself.
“It felt like my life was out of control, so I went on a mission to self-destruct. I became so obsessed with food, that controlling my diet took over whole days. The more weight I lost, the more I wanted to lose. I was in a frighteningly dark space and nothing could drag me out of it.”
Luckily, with the help of her parents, as well as her devoted partner Arnaud, who she met on tour (he was one of her sound engineers), Hayley has been able to put her demons behind her. And thanks to him, she has also discovered a passion for food and wine. The one-carat white diamond, created by Hayley and Arnaud with the help of her gemologist father, sparkles on her left hand, reflecting their love.And with the world’s most famous new lullaby on her album – a copy of which she is giving free to every child born in New Zealand, Australia and the UK on the same day as Will and Kate’s baby – and a wedding to plan, Hayley says today she is in an entirely different place.
“I’ve worked out that my family is more important than my career,” says Hayley, who has been dating 34-year-old Arnaud for several years, and is tipped to marry in New Zealand.
“Every day I wake up and I’m happy. And I know that’s the best thing of all.”
Elisabeth Searle, Photo of arnaud & hayley: instagram, other photos by Rex features.