From an early age, Canadian Tara Mathew’s career as a classical singer was all mapped out.
“Even when I was three, my dad said he knew he had an opera singer” she says.
Pitch perfect, with an astonishing 5-octave range, she gained her music degree and was offered a rare and much coveted opportunity to continue her studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum in Austria.
And it was at that point that she gave it all up to travel to India to work with HIV and leprosy charities.
Five years later, she’s in England, and returning to a career in music – but this time she’s set to be a major star in the very different world of pop. Her unique and dramatic voice has earned her favourable comparisons to the likes of Mariah Carey, and her single He Said She Said is already making waves.
So how did she get from Oak Lake, Manitoba (population 400) to the bright lights of London? The turning point came when she was offered the prestigious place at the Austrian academy.
“It forced me to think about what I wanted to do. And I realised classical music just wasn’t me. There was a lot of pressure to go to Austria just because it was such an incredible chance. But when I really thought about what I wanted to do, I realised it wasn’t necessarily the same as what other people wanted for me. I had to be true to myself.”
Wanting to take some time out to think about it, while doing something useful, she travelled to India to work there for two months. She fell in love with Bangalore, and was still there five years later. It wasn’t only the country that captured her heart – she met her husband there too.
“I’d love to go back and live in India” she says “I have family there now – my husband’s family – and I feel at home there”.
The initial trip to India was organised through an international charity organisation, and Tara happily swapped stage for kitchen as she found herself helping to run a cafe and youth project. But she sang whenever she had the opportunity and, after her return to Canada with her new husband, she was invited back to India to sing in a TV charity concert. It was this trip that set the scene for the latest chapter of her life.
“I was a singer without management, and while I was there I met an English manager who was looking for a singer.”
The partnership was so successful it convinced Tara to move to England, where she now lives in Devon with her husband and small daughter.
Although her singing voice is still as perfect as when she was an operatic prodigy, her sensibilities are pure pop – as soon as she steps on stage she looks and moves like a pop star as well as sounding like one and she seems genuinely delighted to be in front of a pop audience with songs from her new album.
The single He Said She Said is fizzing with life, a sophisticated take on the old staple of relationships, so I asked whether her classical education influence her pop writing?
“When I write a song, it’s a way of expressing myself. I’m not consciously thinking about the technical side of things, what I’ve been taught or what I know my voice can do. I might realise afterwards that I’ve written something that might be difficult to perform for someone who doesn’t have my range, but I think it would show if I was just trying to show off my voice; the songs wouldn’t be as good”.
She has no false modesty about her amazing voice and nothing to prove – it’s a refreshingly honest and matter-of-fact attitude and whilst her stage presence is glitzy and professional, there’s no hint of the diva about Tara Mathew.
“I’ve got the easy job really; it’s my manager who does all the hard work!”
She has been known to perform cover versions live but the album is all her own work – there are lots of writers and singers she admires, but this is all about establishing her own voice.
So, Canada, India, England – what’s next for the opera star turned pop star?
“So long as music is a part of my life I could be happy anywhere,” she smiles.
It’s been a long and incredible journey for Tara Mathew - and it’s only just started!