WHEN you are going to sing for the Queen, it’s a given that you’d want to look your best. And she did. Until the rain came.
Victoria Gray and the other members of the opera group Amore, were on a boat on the Thames gearing up for the performance of a lifetime at last summer’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
“We got on the boat thinking this will be a nice day out,” says Victoria, 26, who grew up in Bilsthorpe.
They’d boarded the boat at nine o’clock that morning.
“When it started raining we had ponchos and umbrellas but they said to us ‘you do realise that when you are singing for the Queen you can’t have them. don’t you?’
“It didn’t matter anyway because the rain was coming from the side, from underneath... and it was hailing at one point. It was just ridiculous.
“We were all a bit hysterical because we were so cold and so wet. We were laughing so much... until the boat turned around and lined up opposite her boat.
“Then we realised the enormity of it.”
They had already sang Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem for the crowds but for the Queen it was to be the National Anthem.
Says Victoria: “By that time we were completely drenched and looking like drowned rats. Mascara was running down my face. And there was Kate Middleton just a few feet away looking gorgeous and pristine... and dry.
“It was one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself and think ‘Oh my God, I’m singing to the Queen.
“We were close enough that we could see her facial expressions. It was really amazing.”
But it’s not the biggest audience she and the group, who perform popular songs in an opera style, have performed to.
That was 82,000 people at Wembley Stadium earlier this year at the FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, where they sang Abide With Me and the National Anthem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
“There is nothing like it; stepping out on to that pitch and all those people are cheering and singing along and having a good time.”
She watched the game with her brother, George, a law graduate now working for an IT company, who’d replaced her fiance because he was too busy playing cricket for Kimberley.
“Would you believe it? He turned down a free ticket to the FA Cup Final to play cricket. And I think the match was rained off anyway.”
She and Sam Ogrizovic, the Kimberley Cricket Club captain, live in London.
“His uncle won the FA Cup with Coventry City the year I was born,” she says.
“So performing at Wembley gave me a bit of street cred with the future in-laws.”
They plan to marry next September.
“I had my heart set on Thoresby Hall but I love the idea of getting married in Bilsthrope Church where my mum and dad did. Nothing too flambouyant. Although there’ll be some good music. I’ll pull in a few favours for that.”
Sam regularly returns to Notts in order to play cricket.
“He loves that club,” she laughs.
“I don’t mind because I couldn’t do what I do without his support. I’m here there and everywhere with the group and Sam is such a rock.”
Victoria knows as much about cricket as she does football, although she saw a few games at the City Ground when she was younger as her dad is an avid Forest fan.
Dad is an ex-boxer who also worked as court usher, while mum works for the NHS. Her musical gift comes more from her grandparents.
“Both my parents are tone deaf,” she laughs. “The voice comes from my grandma. She did music at university. My grandad was one of the first members of the Salvation Army band and played trombone with the Edwinstowe Colliery Band.
“And my mum’s cousin is a trumpeter for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It was because of him I saw my very first opera as he gave us free tickets.”
It was while at Minster School in Southwell that she joined Cantamus, the all-girl choir based in Mansfield, whose founder Pamela Cook died last month after suffering a stroke, aged 76.
“That was very tough,” admits Victoria, who was with the choir for ten years.
“She was the most incredible woman I’ve ever known. She changed so many girls’ lives. I think it’s 408 who passed through Cantamus and I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for Miss Cooke.
“I was so glad that I got to see her not too long before she passed away.”
That was the day after the FA Cup Final in May when she presented awards at the Mansfield Music and Drama Festival.
“I won it about 13 years ago. I got to speak about the incredible journey I had with Cantamus and how grateful I was.”
She travelling with the choir to Germany, Italy and China, where, in 2007, they were crowned World Choir Olympic Champions.
“My gran was a very close friend of hers and I knew she’d not been well for a few weeks but she’s one of those people you expect to be there forever.
“I used to go back to see her for what I called an MoT. I’d sing for her to make sure I was still doing it right. You could always trust her opinion.”
Victoria was the first singer to win The Nottingham Young Musician Competition, in 2005.
At 18 she went to the Royal College of Music in London and six years later graduated with a degree in music and an MA in performance.
She paid her way by working as a singing waitress in a restaurant called Bel Canto.
“People would be eating their dinner, the piano would start up and one of us would sing opera while walking around the tables,” she laughs.
“It was such a funny concept but it seemed to work.”
While still studying, she formed Amore with three fellow music students after two record company managers were overheard in Starbucks talking about their struggle finding a new opera group.
They signed a six album deal and have since appeared on This Morning, The National Lottery, Sky News, BBC Breakfast, Songs of Praise and at Chelsea Flower Show. There’s even been a shoot for OK! Magazine.
“Apart from the FA Cup Final and the Jubilee, one of my proudest moments was performing at the Royal Albert Hall for the Festival of Remebrance in front of the forces families,” she says.
“It gave us goosebumps. And I use to steward there when I was a student.”
This summer Amore have been busy performing at outdoor concerts, including a concert with Katherine Jenkins last month.
“She couldn’t have been nicer,” says Victoria, who’ll be with Amore supporting Russell Watson at Clumber Park next weekend.
“We supported him last summer and learned a lot from him; he’s such a showman.”
In recent weeks she’s been blogging about her attempt to get in shape for a half-marathon in October.
“I’m the most unfit, allergic-to-exercise person I know,” she laughs.
“It was David (Webb of Amore) who challenged me. He was banging on about all the exercise he was doing while I was tucking into Big Macs. He’d been writing a column for OK! Magazine and said he’d get me fit in 30 days.”
She admits: “I’m suffering, although I am feeling the benefit. I’ve been doing a class called Body Pump, which sounds rude to me. And anti-gravity yoga which is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done. You’re hanging from a rope and doing weird positions. I got in trouble for laughing too much. The teacher shouted at me and said: ‘You’re obviously not at peace with yourself!’”
Next month they’ll be in Italy filming an advert for the Swiss watch manufacturer GC, that’ll be screened in the UK and Europe. She’s had two free watches so far.
“My dad teases me that I’m a wrist model. He says: ‘They don’t want your ugly mug on the telly, Victoria’”.
Amore, with a new member Harry Thatcher replacing Peter Brathwaite (CORR), will be recording a second album for release around Christmas, which may well include a version of Rihanna’s We Found Love.
“We’re playing around a lot more,” she says.
And there is talk of her and Sam moving back to Notts, because she misses it.
“We’ve been to all these ridiculous swanky parties and launches of various things over the past year but I’d much rather be at home with a takeaway watching a DVD or out with friends in Mansfield or Nottingham.
“I really miss my family and friends.”
Amore will support Russell Watson at Clumber Park on Sunday, August 18. For tickets, priced at £29.95 and £22 concs, call 0845 075 6101 or visit www.ukevents.neatticketing.co.uk.
Read Victoria’s blog at diaryofalazygirl87.blogspot.co.uk.