In 1970, Aled Jones was born and later joined the choir at Bangor cathedral when he was nine years old. He gained widespread recognition in 1982 for his rendition of “Walking in the Air” from the animated film, The Snowman. As a young boy, Jones sold over six million albums before his voice changed at the age of 16. He then pursued studies at the Royal Academy of Music and went on to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He has since balanced a career in both singing and broadcasting. Jones’s duet, “One Voice – Full Circle,” which features his treble vocals recorded during his teenage years, has recently been released.
At the Royal Variety performance in Covent Garden, I had just turned 15 and was belting out the high note in a traditional Welsh folk song. This photo was captured during that exhilarating moment, which I found to be more thrilling than a typical day at comprehensive school. My mother had trimmed my hair and I had picked out a bow tie from Burton’s in Bangor. My trousers were also from there, and I often wore them with Simon Cowell’s signature high-waisted slacks.
Due to my age, I anticipated that the audience would applaud enthusiastically and rise to their feet even before I stepped onto the stage. I never felt any apprehension or stress. In addition, having the score with me was like a source of reassurance. As soon as I held it in my hands, I felt empowered and in charge.
As a young child, I had a natural talent for singing. I took my singing seriously and put in the effort to learn and have fun. There was one performance that made me nervous: when I was 13, I sang Memory by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Royal Variety Performance. Webber himself introduced my performance as the best rendition he had ever heard of the song. I was backstage thinking, “Oh my goodness, I better do well.” The director asked me not to use the sheet music because it was affecting the camera shot, and being inexperienced, I agreed. During the performance, there was a part between the first and second verse where I had no idea what came next. Without the sheet music, I had to improvise on the spot. Forgetting the lyrics in front of the Queen felt like a nightmare. Webber later praised my performance as even better than the original, but comedian Rory Bremner, whom I admired and followed, jokingly told me, “You just sang Memory, and you proved to everyone that you don’t have one!”
I did not sing with the intention of becoming famous or receiving praise. I sang because it brought me joy. When I was nine, my aunt passed away and left me a piano. I had a desire to learn how to play Beatles’ songs, so a woman working at my elementary school recommended that I attend lessons at Bangor Cathedral. Upon entering the cathedral for the first time, it was completely vacant. I was enamored by its alluring scent – the culmination of centuries of people performing. It wasn’t until later that I discovered it was actually the smell of a Calor gas heater.
During the initial lesson, I sang and was then asked by the teacher to step out of the room so that he could speak with my mother. As I waited outside, I couldn’t help but think, “I’m not good enough, he won’t teach me.” However, to my surprise, the teacher told my mother, “This is the most outstanding high-pitched voice I’ve ever heard. You should consider sending him to either Cambridge or Canterbury cathedral.” Later that day, while perched on the kitchen counter, I discussed my future with my parents. They responded, “We don’t want to send our only son away.” I reassured them, “I’m not leaving. I have football to play.” We ultimately agreed that the next best option would be for me to join Bangor cathedral choir.
One woman in the church, who often attended Thursday night services alone, wrote to a record label proposing that I be recorded before my voice changed. We ended up making an album, which was coincidentally purchased by a prominent producer from London at a concert in Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. The producer then used the music for a television show that aired on the BBC after the popular program Only Fools and Horses. The album sold 275,000 copies and I found myself at number two on the pop charts, just behind Bruce Springsteen. This catapulted me into a whirlwind of success for the next four years.
I chose not to reveal my fame, especially at school. Although it was not always easy. If I appeared on a popular show like Terry Wogan’s chat show, which I did seven times, I would often face bullying the next day. I had the distinction of being the most frequent guest on that show. During Christmas, kids would tease me by singing “Walking in the Air.” However, I usually managed to keep it under wraps. From Monday to Friday, I was just a regular boy, but on Friday nights, I would travel to London, appear on TV shows, and meet my idols such as Roger Daltrey.
During my childhood, I never felt like I missed out on anything, thanks to my parents. They never asked for any money from me. Even when I had the opportunity to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, I was more thrilled about going to Disneyland afterwards. I even declined a chance to have a whole episode of Johnny Carson’s TV show dedicated to me because I preferred spending time at home playing football and seeing my girlfriend. The only activity I wasn’t allowed to do was swim because every time I did, I would end up getting sick – and that still happens to this day.
Shortly after this picture was captured, my vocal range changed. Unlike some boys, my voice never experienced cracks or trembles. While working on an album, I noticed that the high notes were solid, but the middle ones were airy. One day, while riding in the car with my executive producer, I expressed my dissatisfaction and asked to skip returning to the studio. And just like that, we were done.
Instead of worrying about my career, I was simply disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to attend Happy Gathering, the beloved Chinese restaurant in my town that was our tradition after releasing an album. After making calls with my record label, I spent a grueling week doing interviews with people from all over the world about my voice breaking. I will always remember one segment from an American news report where they showed footage of miners emerging from the mines, weighed down by the struggles of their work, as if my voice breaking was a monumental event in Welsh history.
To bridge the gap, I did a lot of Christmas stuff, like script readings for BBC Radio 2. I knew I would never be able to shake off the child star who launched my career, nor did I want to. There was a tough stage in the 90s, however, years where I didn’t really do anything at all. I call them “the This Morning years”, when I used to lie on the couch watching Richard & Judy all day. But I knew that every Christmas the Snowman would rear its head, so I could do some shows and enjoy performing again. Then all of a sudden in 1999, I started doing Welsh media. I’ve been grateful and full of wonder for every opportunity since.
Someone once informed me that my vocal abilities would not reach their full potential until I reached my 40s. Now, at the age of 50-something, I have noticed an increase in strength and evolution in my voice. Thankfully, it is not deteriorating, so I do not anticipate a midlife crisis. However, I did recently purchase a battery-powered motorcycle, which is a stylish cafe racer that is not particularly speedy but also very secure. In the end, I will always be a choir boy at heart.