Victoria Gray presents Summer Serenades at Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield tomorrow from 6pm, with guest Natalie Montakhab. Tickets are £12, call 01623 822567 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
IT was always meant to be a bit of a giggle; a chance to taste fame, make a few quid and have fun.
But when Bilsthorpe’s Victoria Gray now looks back on the two years with Amore, a classical crossover - or ‘popera’ - group based in London, she knows that her heart lay elsewhere.
“It was great fun, don’t get me wrong,” says the 27-year-old, who now lives in Burton Joyce with her fiance.
“But that showbiz world wasn’t really me. There was a thing I used to call Meerkat syndrome that people used to do at celebrity parties. You’d be talking to them and they’d be constantly bobbing up and down and looking around the room for celebrities.
“I’d couldn’t wait to get back home and get in my onesie,” she adds with a laugh.
Amore were four members of the Royal College of Music, from where Victoria graduated with an MA in Performance, the end of eight years of study.
Her plan was always to be an opera singer but the opportunity for a bit of fun and possible fame came along when they were signed to major record label, Universal.
Highlights over the past two years include performing on a boat on the Thames in front of the Queen as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations and singing Abide With Me and the National Anthem at last year’s FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, where 82,000 people packed out Wembley Stadium.
Amore also opened shows for Katherine Jenkins and Russell Watson, two of the biggest classical crossover artist in the UK. There has been modelling for GC Watches, that included a starring role in a TV campaign.
“I’m still doing that,” says Victoria.
And various celebrity parties.
“We did a lot with Samuel L Jackson, performing at his events. They were the best parties. He loved classical music and we’d sing before dinner, then join everyone else for the meal. We were on a table with comedian Stephen K Amos at one of them and he was hilarious. And Ron Weasley was on the next table.
“Will Smith was a lovely guy. We did a lot for a charity called WellChild, which is one the Prince Harry’s main charities. We performed at the annual Helping Hands Ball which was star-studded.”
She adds: “I found that the loveliest people were the genuinely talented ones. The reality TV stars were the ones with an ego and attitude.”
All four members of Amore disbanded the group this year to work on solo projects.
“We missed opera and being part of a production,” says Victoria who moved back to Nottinghamshire six months ago with fiance Sam Ogrizovic, the Kimberley Cricket Club captain. The couple will tie the knot in September.
“I haven’t missed London once,” she admits.
Her focus now is to train with the English National Opera, but she needs to raise £2,000 to do so.
“You work with the best directors and conductors; it’s really exciting.
“I was worried that being from the crossover world they wouldn’t take me seriously because they are two very different worlds. All of us in Amore went into it quite naively thinking we could straddle both worlds but it became increasingly impossible when we had a record company who wanted us to sing songs out of our comfort zone.”
She means mainstream songs given the opera treatment.
She will be doing a few of them as part of her first solo concert tomorrow night, mixed in with more authentic opera songs.
“It’s more nerve-wracking than the FA Cup Final,” she says of the concert at Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield.
“Although there were so many people in Wembley Stadium, you couldn’t see their faces. But singing to people you know, sat right in front of you, is really hard.”
The venue is where Mansfield girls’ choir Cantamus used to rehearse. Victoria joined while still at school and sang with them all over the world.
Another was Lucy Kay, the Notts-raised runner up of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent.
“She’s a lovely girl and she’s done so well,” says Victoria.
“I saw her a couple of weeks ago and we sang together.”
That was at the memorial concert in Mansfield for Cantamus founder Pamela Cook, who died last year.
“I told her that if she needed any advice about the celebrity world then I was there for her. Because it is a shock to the system. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It can be quite brutal.”
She describes the concert as “incredible night.
Says Victoria: “Imagine 400 girls singing Raise Me Up together. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it now.
“Miss Cook was the biggest musical inspiration in my life. I still miss her every day.”
Her long-term ambitions are to sing on all the major opera stages around the world and it’s a journey she’s excited about embarking on once again.
“I want to be part of that buzz again; being part of a production and watching it go from an idea to the stage.
“Amore was amazing. I had two years doing things I never thought I’d do. But now I feel like I’m home and doing the thing I first fell in love with.”